Focus ST vs Focus SE

Focus ST vs Focus SE

Last Updated June 13, 2023 | C.J. Tragakis

Sadly, all good parties must come to an end.

After hitting North American shores in time for the turn of the century, the Ford Focus will disappear from the west following the 2019 model year. The Ford Focus and Fiesta nameplates will live on across the pond, but American automotive enthusiasts will not enjoy the same exciting innovations.

In 1998, the Focus made its grand introduction at the Paris Auto Show, replacing the Ford Escort as the Blue Oval’s signature compact vehicle in European markets.

Focus SE front end

Dubbed a “world car” by many in the industry, the Ford Focus broke down barriers shortly after its debut and gained notoriety due to its handling, fuel economy, and overall practicality. Prior to arriving in the good ole’ USA, the Focus was recognized as the European Car of the Year for 1999, and American automotive enthusiasts could not wait to get in on the fun.

The 2000 Ford Focus measured nearly five inches longer than the recently departed Escort model and featured a number of amenities that had become commonplace around the time of the new Millennium, including antilock brakes and side airbags, as well as a slew of flashy infotainment options.

Over the next decade-and-a-half, Ford released a number of different trim options for the Focus in both the sedan and hatchback style. The customization options are one of the many traits that helped the Focus reach its peak popularity across the globe, and the Ford Motor Company offered seven trim choices for its final years in the North American market.

In addition to the base “S” trim, Ford also featured the Focus SE, SEL, Titanium Trim, Electric Trim, ST, and RS packages. The Focus ST offered a performance-oriented 2.0 EcoBoost engine while the Focus RS featured an even more powerful 2.3 EcoBoost engine, which is the same motor found in an EcoBoost Mustang.

Focus ST front end

You can’t really go wrong with any of the Ford Focus trim packages, but for this piece, we are going to concentrate on the SE and ST levels. Both options have plenty in common, but there are enough notable differences to consider prior to joining the Focus community. Many of the differences are easy to spot, but noticing some of the discrepancies will require a peek under the hood and inside the cabin as well. Here's a break down of the differences between the Focus ST and Focus SE, both inside and out, as well as what type of driving each vehicle is suited for.

Focus ST vs Focus SE Engine

We will get to the exterior differences between the Focus ST and Focus SE a little later, but when comparing and contrasting two vehicles, it is always a good idea to begin under the hood.

The Focus ST burst onto the scene in 2013, thanks in large part to its 2.0L EcoBoost engine. Paired with a shifty six-speed manual transmission, the four-cylinder motor can produce an impressive 252 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. Not to be outdone, the ST can travel from 0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds and boasts a quarter mile time of 14.5 seconds.

The impressive totals are far greater than that of the standard Focus, making the ST an ideal option for performance drivers and thrill-seekers alike. Speaking of performance driving, the Focus ST has carved out a nice little niche for itself within the autocross circuit since its inception.

All of that horsepower combined with the six-speed manual transmission makes the Focus ST nothing short of nimble around all of those cones, and the sporty hatchback is an absolute blast to drive.

Focus ST & Focus SE engine bay comparssion

In terms of performance numbers, the Focus SE falls much closer to the base model Focus S. The SE’s engine has evolved during its time on the market, with the most recent models featuring a 1.0 EcoBoost motor. The three-cylinder engine produces a pedestrian 123 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque. The modest horsepower and torque numbers equate to less-than-impressive totals on the dragstrip as well, with a 0-60 time of 9.4 seconds and a 17.2-second quarter mile mark.

The Focus SE’s engine is actually less powerful than the S trim, but the Special Edition package is best known for its topnotch fuel economy. The Ford Focus SE gets 30 mpg in the city and a whopping 40 on the highway, while in contrast, the ST is lucky to reach 30 on the interstate.

As far as raw power goes, the Focus SE is several rungs below the Focus ST, but if fuel efficiency is the name of the game then the former would be your best bet.

Focus ST vs Focus SE Exterior Differences

The Focus ST is comparable to the Fiesta ST and Focus RS in a number of ways, but there is no mistaking a Focus ST for a base model Focus when looking at the car’s body.

The hatchback body style is the biggest and most obvious feature that helps the Focus ST stand out from many of the other Focus trim options. In contrast, the Focus SE offers both sedan and hatchback models. If you are looking at a hatchback, the vehicle in question could either be a Focus SE or Focus ST, but if it’s a sedan, then it is the former.

Focus ST wheel shot

Ford hatchbacks are nothing new to European fans, but American hot hatch fans were overjoyed when the Focus ST debuted for the 2013 model year. Prior to the release of the famed RS in 2016, the Focus ST was the lone hatchback-only trim level offered under the Ford Focus nameplate.

The Focus SE features a hatchback option too, but the decorative badges on both the SE and ST can easily differentiate the two from one another. The distinct “honeycomb” Focus ST grille features an “ST” emblem on the bottom left, with a twin located below the right taillight on the rear of the vehicle. Speaking of the rear, the center exhaust setup is also a hallmark of the Ford Focus ST.

In contrast, the SE’s grille closely resembles the base model Focus and only features one special “SE” badge on the back. Additionally, unlike the center exhaust on the ST, the Focus SE features a standard dual exhaust system that is commonplace throughout other non-performance oriented Focus trim packages.

Focus SE rear end

If the overall body shape and the decorative badges are not enough to set the two models apart, you can also determine the difference between a Focus ST and a Focus SE by simply glancing down at the wheel area. The Focus SE sends its 125 horsepower to four 16” wheels, while the Focus ST sits on a quartet of 18” x 7” aluminum rims.

Focus ST vs Focus SE: Other Notable Differences

If you are ever lucky enough to ride inside a Focus ST and a Focus SE, you will notice a number of differences throughout the inner cabins of both vehicles.

As is the case with the emblems on the grille and on the rear of the exterior, the “ST” logos are prominently featured on the inside, particularly on the headrests of the two front seats, as well as on the steering wheel. Speaking of the steering wheel, the Ford Focus ST’s wheel comes wrapped in leather, with heating features available on the more recent models.

Some of the other fun interior features in which the Focus ST contains include the door sill scuff plates and aluminum pedals, along with the many entertainment enhancements that come standard from the factory.

In regard to the seating area, the Ford Focus ST contains cloth sport seats, which can be upgraded to Recaro full leather-trimmed front seats. Those Recaro seats are especially prevalent for the racing and autocross crowds. On the other side of the coin, the Ford Focus SE features cloth bucket seats with optional heating capabilities.

Red Focus ST shot

The SE’s inner cabin is complete with chrome accents and cloth materials throughout, with a number of popular features available upon request, including a leather steering wheel, driver and passenger heated seatbacks, and a vinyl/rubber cargo mat among many others.

So, which Focus trim level is better: The Focus SE or Focus ST?

If you are searching for a high-performance, racing/autocross machine, the answer is obviously a Focus ST, but if you are in need of a quality daily driver with good gas mileage, you might want to look at the SE. Additionally, the Focus SE allows you to choose between a sedan and a hatchback.

The 2018 Focus SE is reasonably priced at $19,245, while the ST costs $25,170. If you are active on any performance driving circuit, the extra cost of the ST is well worth it. Additionally, if you are searching for the best Ford Focus ST parts on the market, look no further than CJ’s!

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This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.