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About That Car
By Frank S. Washington   

ANN ARBOR, MICH. – Guilt-free power. That’s the way one engineer described the 2013 Ford Focus ST. Another way to put it is that the four-door hatchback is a rocket on wheels.

Most of the fun involved with Ford’s Focus ST is under the hood. That’s where the Focus’ 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine is housed.

 It had a single scroll turbocharger that Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT) has finessed a hefty 254 horsepower out of and an even heftier 270 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm. Mated to a six-speed manual transmission, this car was made for drivers in the real sense of the word.

Zero to 60 mph time was not available but the top speed for the Ford Focus ST was 154 mph. That’s swift. The guilt-free part comes in the form of 23 mpg city driven and 32 mpg on the highway. Better is that top performance comes with regular fuel in the tank.

The Ford ST is a world class compact performance car with only three competitors: Mazda’s Speed3, Volkswagen’s GTI and Subaru’s WRX. Enthusiasts have known the Focus ST was coming for at least a year.

It first went on sale in Europe but there was fear that the U.S. would receive a watered down version of the car. Not the case. The Focus ST sold here is identical to the European Focus ST. On the warped and ruddy rural two lane roads headed west from here, I got the chance to experience some of the car’s characteristics.

Acceleration made my heart pound. Even though there wasn’t much traffic I had to be careful because it took just a touch on the throttle and a couple of seconds, if that long, for the Focus ST to get to 80 mph. A speed that the car seemed quite comfortable at; this was on sweeping roads where some speed limits were half that.

At first, I had trouble down shifting especially from sixth to fifth gear but once I got familiar with the gear location, that took about 15 minutes, I became one with the Focus SY’s gearbox.

Under authoritative acceleration, which I did a lot, the work that the SVT team on the car’s sound symposer was evident. The Focus ST’s exhaust note was rhythmic; the cylinders pumped in unison, like an orchestra. You had to be there.

I could hear the wind racing over the top of the car but I wouldn’t characterize it as wind noise. Overall, the car was pretty quiet. It went over asphalt patches on the road with the solid thump of a quality build and I found the suspension firm but not harsh.

I was particularly pleased with how the Ford Focus ST stayed flat while I went through S curves and the like. That’s when I could tell that the car’s build quality was really good. It had a sport suspension, the shocks and the springs had been stiffened, an anti-roll bar was added to the rear suspension and the car was 10 mm lower than a regular Ford Focus.

But there was nothing regular about the ST version of the Ford Focus. The turning ratio had been tightened and all it took was 1.8 turns of the wheel to get from lock-to-lock. Engineers had made the steering quicker once the steering wheel started turning. That to me made the Focus ST very responsive to my input in the turns.

There were a couple of places where I had to really grip that wheel as not to let the car get away from me. A combination of speed, torque to the front wheels and washer board road surfaces got me close to wheel skip a couple of times but it never happened.

The car had Recaro seats. Although Ford said it was a five-passenger hatchback, I don’t think so. Those back seats looked good but snug if someone tried to sit in the rear of the vehicle.

There are three trim levels of the Focus ST and I had the ST2 package. That’s the middle setup. It provided me with partial leather Recaro seats, MyFord Touch with a Sony sound system, dual automatic climate controls, a navigation system and a really funky paint job called Tangerine Scream Tri-Coat.

Prices start at $23,700 but my test vehicle listed out at $28,170. That seemed more than reasonable to me.


Frank S. Washington is editor of About That Car.

2013 GMC Sierra Denali AWD
By Frank S. Washington

DETROIT – I just got through test driving a GMC Sierra Denali 1500 AWD Crew Cab pickup truck.

It was powered by a 6.2 liter V8 that made 403 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. The engine was mated to a six-speed automatic. My all-wheel-drive Sierra had an 8.6-inch rear axle with 3.42 gears and an automatic locking differential.

GMC said it had a specially tuned suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, StabiliTrak, skid plates and recover hooks. The crew cab pickup also looked pretty spiffy with its 20-inch chrome finished aluminum wheels which are standard on the Denali trim line.

My test vehicle was also equipped with GMC’s heavy duty towing package which meant that it could pull up to 10,700 lbs. That’s more than five tons. Now here’s the downside -- I didn’t have anything to tow.

Still, I used my test vehicle for everyday stuff. And since it was a top of the line Denali, the pickup had all the comforts of a well-equipped sedan. The point is there’s no reason someone shouldn’t be comfortable while working.

The Sierra Denali had leather trim seats, power door locks, dual zone climate controls, a heated steering wheel and automatic dimming mirrors. Winter hadn’t arrived while I had my test vehicle but some nights it got down into the 40s and the heated steering wheel came in handy.

I thought the best thing about my Sierra Denali was the rear view camera. It kept me off my neighbors grass as I backed out of my driveway. Even though I had the short box, trying to keep any pickup truck going straight while backing up is a challenge.

That rear view camera also came in handy when I was trying to get out of or sometimes into parking spots in parking lots. It’s a perilous time for backing into another vehicle causing dings and dents which these days cost more than a few dollars to fix.

Crew cab means that my GMC Sierra had four seats. The back pair was not jump seats. They were comfortable and matched the front seats. That is they were full-size. I had no problem getting into the rear passenger compartment. There was head and legroom to spare. And because the floor was flat, I think the area would be really comfortable even on long hauls. 

Other creature comforts included heated and cooled front seats, a navigation system, traffic alert, a sunroof, a premium audio system, Bluetooth, remote start, tire pressure monitor and rear park assist. My only quibble was that pairing a smartphone to the vehicle was not intuitive. I didn’t bother to open the owner’s manual to get the directions.

However, my test vehicle had OnStar. This system continues to impress me. I didn’t use the voice controls to get directions but I did use an OnStar live voice that was attached to a person. Directions were downloaded to my navigation system and off I went.
A live brain was important since I had been given such and such drive rather than avenue. MapQuest couldn’t make the distinction, even though I gave it the name of the business. It told me no such address existed. There’s something to be said for human assistance.

The ride on my Sierra was pretty smooth for a pickup truck. There wasn’t a lot of bounce, the vehicle cornered well and the engine didn’t have that low level groan. I thought that was significant.

As I said, my GMC Sierra Denali AWD was the top of the line. The base price was $48,635. Add on options, a freight charge and the total as tested came to $53,694.