The concept of doing more with less was one of the Ford Motor Company's biggest selling points in the development of its EcoBoost engine technology. Utilizing a brilliant combination of turbocharging and direct fuel injection, the innovative EcoBoost engine represents a happy medium between fuel efficiency and optimal performance from the motor.
In other words, the EcoBoost technology improves a vehicle's fuel economy without sacrificing any of the engine's power.
The meteoric rise of the EcoBoost in the United States, combined with the growing popularity of sports hatchbacks overseas, pushed Ford to take yet another step towards becoming a globally cool automotive brand with the introduction of the Ford Focus ST in 2012.
Viewed as a poster child for what Ford's engineers envisioned for the EcoBoost engine, the Focus ST packs a whole lot of power into a small package. A true joy to get behind the wheel of, the Ford Focus ST quickly established itself as a favorite among the autocross crowd and performance driving circles.
The hot hatch is fast, but unlike many performance-oriented cars, the Focus ST's power is both accessible and manageable, which provides a fun and safe driving experience. You are free to push your ST to the limit on the highway and the track while making larger vehicles look silly at the same time.
There is a lot to like about the Focus ST, but as is often the case within the automotive landscape, the people demanded more: More power, more performance, and more thrills. In 2016, Ford once again answered these cries by introducing a little European flair to the United States' automotive market, debuting the all-new Focus RS.
A sporty hatchback was nothing new to the American public, particularly since the Focus ST and Fiesta ST were in their infant stages. But a hot hatch that could put down roughly 350 hp was virtually unheard of until the debut of the Focus RS.
The Ford Focus RS took everything that people loved about the ST and turned it up several notches. Closely resembling the Focus ST in appearance, the Focus RS raised the stakes even higher, and the performance stats don't lie. From the more aggressive exterior to the more powerful 2.3L EcoBoost Engine, the Focus RS turned the established order upside down, without entirely reinventing the wheel.
So what are the differences between the Focus ST and the Focus RS?
The Ford Focus ST and the Focus RS are both perfectly capable, high-performance machines and both hot hatches can allow you to live out most of your wild ambitions on the autocross course, the track, and (done safely and legally), the roadway. Having said that, the Focus ST and the RS do have their fair share of differences, and it is important for you to do your due diligence before you delve into the hatchback market.
Focus ST vs Focus RS Exterior Differences
Before we dive into the engine and performance differences between the Focus ST and RS, we want to make sure that you can pick them apart from one another visually. On the surface, there is not a whole lot that separates the Focus ST from the Focus RS. Both vehicles are built on a basic hatchback overall frame and are molded into the same shape.
Taking a closer look at both models, however, you will be able to notice a number of exterior differences between the Focus ST and Focus RS hot hatches. Both body styles can be described as "aggressive," but the Focus RS features a number of characteristics to ensure that it will not be confused for another hatchback in a crowded parking lot.
The front of the Focus RS contains a large opening for the intercooler in the lower portion of the front bumper and an innovative fog light layout that creates a sleek appearance and differentiates it from its hot hatch relatives. The Focus ST looks sharp up front as well, with a wide grille and glossy set of headlights that basically screams "performance." If the "ST" and "RS" emblems can't help you distinguish between the two front ends, glancing at the RS' robust bumper should do the trick.
The rear of the vehicle contains arguably the most noticeable difference between the Focus RS and Focus ST. The more powerful Ford Focus RS announces its presence to the world thanks to the large rear wing straight from the factory, which is fit for a high-performance vehicle such as it.
The Focus ST comes with a standard rear spoiler too, although its version is more understated and blends in with the overall shape of the hatchback. Additionally, in the rear, the Focus RS features a dual exhaust, while the Ford Focus ST is equipped with a center-mounted single tip setup.
Since both hot hatches are so fast, chances are that you will not be able to closely examine each vehicle, unless you come across one of them in a parking lot. If you happen to find a Focus RS and a Focus ST parked next to one another, however, you will certainly notice the size difference between the stock wheels. The Focus ST comes standard with 18" x 8" wheels, while the Ford Focus RS leaves the factory sitting on a quartet of 19" x 8" wheels.
Between the many notable body differences and the distinct paint schemes for both vehicles, there are plenty of exterior characteristics that separate the Focus RS and Focus ST.
Focus ST vs Focus RS Under the Hood
The Ford Motor Company went to great lengths to differentiate the Focus ST and RS models from one another on the outside, but none of those exterior differences would matter much at all if it were not for the powerful EcoBoost engines located under the hood of both hatchbacks. The pair of four-cylinder EcoBoost motors allows the Focus ST and (especially) Focus RS models to trump larger vehicles in certain performance driving events.
Let's take a closer look at what makes the Focus RS and Focus STs run.
Focus ST vs Focus RS Performance Stats
|Specification||Focus ST||Focus RS|
||2.0 L EcoBoost
|Quarter Mile Time
||30 hwy MPG
||25 hwy MPG
||$36,120 ($41,120 for 2018)
What It All Means
The Focus ST was viewed by many as the older brother of the Fiesta ST when the two compacts were released at the same time, but when the Ford Motor Company introduced the RS, the ST's impressive stats seemed less eye-popping than before.
The 2.3L turbocharged motor allows the 2018 Focus RS to easily surpass its rivals, including the Volkswagen Golf R. It can even top an EcoBoost Mustang on a 0-60 run. A 350 horsepower output is virtually unheard of for the segment, but the Ford Focus RS enters uncharted territory that driving enthusiasts and thrill seekers alike cannot get enough of.
In order to compensate for the massive motor shoved into such a small engine compartment, Ford engineered a high-spec aluminum and high-tensile cylinder liners to place into the Focus RS. Additionally, Ford upgraded the RS' exhaust system with a higher cooling capacity to handle the 2.3L's thermal stress. The state-of-the-art exhaust combined with the distinctive intake system enhances the twin-scroll turbocharger while increasing both boost and responsiveness.
The Focus ST is no slouch itself, with its highly respectable 252 hp and 270lb-ft of torque. The ST trails the RS by 1.8 seconds in a 0-60 sprint, but the Focus ST can certainly hold its own on the autocross course and in performance driving events. If you wish to increase the 2.0L motor's boost even higher, the Ford Focus ST is equipped with a K03 turbocharger that leaves plenty of room for aftermarket adjustments if you so choose.
Focus ST vs Focus RS Drivability
A major factor that you should consider when you weigh the differences between the Focus RS and ST is the drivability of each hatchback. The Focus ST raised that bar upon its initial release, and naturally, the public demanded even more. There is very little to dislike about the Ford Focus ST's drivability, but many in the performance driving crowd felt as though the vehicle's front wheel drive setup left room for improvement when it comes to the hot hatch's torque steer issues.
Once again, the Ford Motor Company answered the bell and made a key change to the more performance-oriented Focus RS.
The most prominent difference that sets the Focus ST and Focus RS apart is that the RS is an all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicle, while the ST has front-wheel drive. The all-wheel-drive setup allows the Focus RS to accomplish things other sports hatchbacks cannot, thanks in large part to its overall grip on the road's surface.
In addition to the improved grip, the Focus RS offers four distinct drive modes – Normal, Sport, Track, and Drift. As the name implies, normal mode is set up like any normal car, with a quieter exhaust, lighter steering, and a softer suspension. Sport mode represents a happy marriage between a daily driver and a performance car, including the addition of a more menacing sound note, a more aggressive engine calibration, and better steering response.
The real fun begins with the Focus RS track mode. Obviously, track mode is equipped for the closed course, and its raw power and lightning-quick responses provide an incredible racing experience. Not to be outdone, Focus RS drift mode is about as extreme as it gets. Drift mode calls for hanging out the rear end of the vehicle around the track, which will enable you to accomplish performance driving like you have never imagined!
The Ford Focus ST isn't built for the track like the RS is, and the front wheel drive is far more conventional, but don't let that scare you off. The Ford Focus ST offers some incredible handling capabilities that are unmatched by any in its class. The front-wheel-drive setup makes the Focus ST less likely to oversteer, which will create a unique driving experience, particularly on the autocross course.
Simply put, both the Focus ST and Focus RS are a blast to drive, but given its lofty expectations and price tag, it is no surprise that the RS offers more.
Focus ST vs Focus RS: Which Hot Hatch Wins?
We've covered the biggest differences between the Focus ST and the Focus RS in great detail, and there are a number of small discrepancies that further separate these two hot hatch relatives from one another, including different seats, a redesigned shift lever for the RS, and different paint codes.
So, which hot hatch is right for you? Well, that all depends on what you are hoping to get out of your vehicle and what your budget is. The Ford Focus ST is a wonderfully unique sports hatchback that can create a drive experience closely resembles a muscle car at a much more reasonable cost.
Speaking of which, one big advantage the ST has over the RS is its much lower price tag. The Ford Focus ST is over $10,000 cheaper than the RS, making it a much more reasonable option, particularly if you plan on using your hatchback as a daily driver. Additionally, because they are more prominent on the roadway, there are far more aftermarket Focus ST modifications available at retailers, such as CJ Pony Parts.
On the other hand, while the cost may scare a few people away, what the RS offers in return more than makes up for its steeper asking price. Between the turbocharged 2.3L engine, the AWD setup, and the many driving modes, the Focus RS is a true phenomenon that has yet to be duplicated by any of its Ford hatchback relatives or non-Ford rivals. If you want the highest performance capabilities possible on the track, the road course, or any related event, you can't go wrong with the Ford Focus RS!
Either way, both hatchbacks are great and you will be more than satisfied if you select the Focus RS or the Focus ST!