The Ford Focus ST and Toyota 86 are sporty cars that take somewhat different approaches to vehicular performance. Both are quick and take the corners aggressively but come wrapped in distinctively different packages.
The Ford Focus ST is a racier version of the standard Focus, the compact, front-drive four-door hatchback. The Focus ST packs a supercharged engine and assorted mechanical upgrades that set it apart from the standard Focus. You’re limited to a used Ford Focus ST dating back to the 2013 model year.
The Toyota 86, on the other hand, is a sleek and low-slung rear-drive sports coupe. Toyota developed it in partnership with Subaru. A mechanically equivalent version with brand-specific styling differences is sold as the Subaru BRZ. The car remains in production and dates back to 2012. For 2019 it’s offered in base, GT and TRD Special Edition trim levels. If you shop for a used Toyota 86 note that older models were sold as a Scion FR-S. The automaker shuttered its Scion division following the 2016 model year and renamed the car.
Do You Want Styling That’s Stealthy or Stunning?
The Ford Focus ST looks much like a basic Focus, with uncluttered styling. It boasts a wide trapezoidal grille and slim headlamps, a rather tall roofline and a sloping rear hatchback. The Focus ST attracts little attention, which makes it something of a stealthy sporty car. Exterior add-ons include cornering lights, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals and 18-inch aluminum and black wheels.
The Toyota 86 displays a more-extroverted appearance. It’s built low to the ground with muscular fenders at all four wheels and a curvy roofline. It features cat’s eye LED headlamps, a low and wide front grille, LED taillights and dual exhausts. For better or worse, the 86 won’t get lost in a crowded parking lot. It rides on 17-inch alloy wheels. The TRD Special Edition version adds 18-inch wheels and specific exterior trim treatments.
What About The Cabin?
The ST delivers a spacious five-passenger interior. There’s plenty of legroom for six-footers to stretch out in the front seats. A pair of adults can wedge themselves into the back, provided the front seats aren’t adjusted all the way rearward. The car’s hatchback design affords a spacious and easy-to-load cargo hold. There are 23.3 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seatbacks. Fold them down and you have 43.9 cubic feet of cargo space.
Ford nicely styled the Focus ST’s interior. The driver faces large and legible analog gauges. There’s also an 8-inch touchscreen for the car’s infotainment system. It resides above analog controls for the audio and climate control systems. Options include dual-zone air conditioning, a power moonroof, leather sport seats, heated front seats, carbon fiber trim, ambient lighting and an 8-way power driver’s seat. You can have the car fitted with a Sony premium audio system and navigation.
Meanwhile, given its low-to-the-ground stance, the Toyota 86 can prove challenging for the less-than-limber to enter and exit. It seats four, but the rear-seat room is minimal. Front-seat space, on the other hand, is sufficient for taller riders. Cargo room is limited, too, at 6.9 cubic feet.
Like the exterior, the 86’s cabin affords an authentic sports car look, with round air vents and gauges. Most controls are analog. Front-seat occupants sit on sport seats that provide added lateral support. The cabin also includes a leather-trimmed tilt/telescoping steering wheel and aluminum pedals and scuff plates. There is a 7-inch display atop the center of the dashboard for the car’s infotainment system. Standard items include an 8-speaker audio system with Bluetooth, a USB port and HD radio. A navigation system is optional.
Performance is Paramount
The Ford Focus ST stands up well in performance to other front-drive “hot hatchbacks” including the Volkswagen GTI and Honda Civic Si. It packs a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a lively 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. The only transmission offered is a six-speed manual. Car and Driver magazine clocked its 0-60 mph time at 6.3 seconds. The EPA rated its fuel economy at 22/30 mpg city/highway. The ST’s handling is lively through the turns, though the ride is rougher than with a standard Focus.
The Toyota 86 comes powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder “boxer” engine with 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque. The engine’s cylinders are horizontally opposed, rather than configured inline or in a V-shape. Subaru and Porsche favor this type of engine design because it lowers a car’s center of gravity to enhance its cornering abilities. Though it’s not as powerful on paper as the Focus ST, Car and Driver managed a quicker 6.2-second sprint to 60 mph.
The Toyota 86 comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission. A 6-speed automatic transmission is optional. The EPA rated it at 21/28 mpg city/highway with the manual and 24/32 mpg city/highway with the automatic. The 86’s rear-wheel-drive configuration makes it feel more nimble than does the ST. Aggressive drivers can “drift” the 86’s rear end through twisty turns for quicker cornering.
The Bottom Line
Both the Ford Focus ST and the Toyota 86 are both sporty, though they’re far from equals. The Focus ST looks like a “normal” four-door hatchback. It has a roomy interior, useable back seat and a generous 23.3 cubic feet of cargo space. Toyota wrapped the 86 in seductively cast styling. The downside is that entering and exiting could be difficult. It also has only 6.9 cubic feet of cargo space.
Another critical difference is that the Ford Focus ST is front-wheel drive. The Toyota 86 is rear-drive, the traditional sports car configuration favored by skilled drivers for its more-aggressive cornering abilities. Unlike a front-drive model, a rear-drive car tends to lose traction on slick roads.
Ford offers the Focus ST with manual transmission only. Toyota offers the 86 with manual or automatic transmission. That favors the 86 among car shoppers who don’t want a car equipped with a stick shift and a clutch.