Project Focus ST – Working on the basics with Eibach, Falken Tires, Rotiform and KW Suspension

Project Focus ST – Working on the basics with Eibach, Falken Tires, Rotiform and KW Suspension

by Mike Kojima

In today's market it seems like the Sport Compact car of just a few short years ago is dead, as in really dead.  Car enthusiasts at least in our Southern California locale are abandoning the segment in droves.  By my definition a Sport Compact is a small front wheel drive sedan.  You hardly ever see a fixed up car like this anymore on the street or at events.  Is the segment a victim of a fickle youth market?  Was the whole Sport Compact scene just a fad?

The answer to all of this is yes.  What killed people's interest? In my opinion it was a number of factors.  The top one is that the manufacturers themselves killed the scene.  In years before, Sport Compacts were small sporty cars with nice styling.  Somehow to me, the OEM's lost their head somewhere in the mid 90's and each generation of compact car since then got bigger, uglier, de-contented of performance gear and more sluggardly.

Instead of building compact cars for young people purchasing their first new car, the brilliant product planners at Honda, Nissan and Toyota started to seemingly tailor their entry level cars for middle aged and older people with no money.  They started stressing things like interior space for the money over multilink suspension, variable cam timing, 4 wheel disc brakes, limited slip differentials and sleek styling.

Looking at the latest Civic, Sentra and Corolla offerings, there is nothing that even slightly appeals to me, not one bit.  Not any of my middle aged to 20 something friends either.  Nor even our parents!  The new generation of Japanese compacts scream cheap and boring.  Not even middle aged people want to project that image!  Unlike the mid 90's Civic, no one lusts for these current cars.

So even if you wanted to buy a cool compact car, the Japanese who have traditionally excelled at the segment have zero to offer.  The few kids now a days are fixing up much older cars because of this and the world is running out of them.

Somebody took notice of this lack of fun compact cars and it was Ford.  Ford probably studied a lot about the Sport Compact of yore and built the new Focus and Fiesta, probably studying what  was the prior appeal of the Japanese compacts.  Sleek styling, decent interiors that don't scream cheap (properly textured plastics and fabrics don't cost much more than crappy looking glossy and hard plastics!), decent suspension calibrations, decent brakes and zippy powertrains.

We are really impressed by Ford's offerings of late and driving the Turbo Focus ST gives me an ear to ear grin, just like my old Sentra SE-R used to.  The Focus reminds me of my Turbo SE-R but without the butter like tranny and 90's econo car quality.  The Focus ST has a really nice interior, good NVH and good body structure just the right sort of platform to tweak on.  Follow along as we get started with our tweaking.

Do us all a favor and buy these cars so they are continued to be made. Coming from an OEM background, I know firsthand that product planners, fast tracking, self promoting execs and bean counters hate these sorts of car and look for anyway they can to kill them.  Usually cars like this are made possible by a small core of passionate car guys that risk their careers to make sure cool cars get built.  This sort of crap is why I left the OEM world myself. Buy these cars and prove the bean counters wrong if you want choice!

Hey Japanese car companies, Ford is kicking your ass and you need to wake up!



Even with a stock engine our Focus ST could easily spin the stock tires so we figured that upsizing them would help.  Since the Focus is a daily driver and the car's owner has a long 2 hour commute to and from work, we ruled out a pure dry max grip race inspired street tire.  We decided that we would compromise a bit and use a tire with more all weather capability and a longer treadwear potential over maximum dry grip.  We settled on Falken's new flagship ultra high performance tire, the Azenis FK453.  Most of us are familiar with the Azenis 615K, well the FK453 is designed to be a better all around tire.

The FK453 has an asymmetrical tread design with wider blocks on the outside shoulder to reduce tread squirm and put more rubber on the ground.  The finer pitched inner blocks help evacuate water for better wet grip.  Three wide circumferential grooves help evacuate water at high speeds to reduce hydroplaning.  These features help improve wet traction over the 615K.  The FK453 has a tread compound with more silica in it which helps wet traction and wear resistance over more sticky polymer heavy tread formulations while still offering decent dry traction.

The FK453 has a stiff carcass with more expensive but higher heat resisting rayon reinforcement.  This gives the FK453 a a Y or W speed rating depending on size.  This is the highest speed rating category.  The stiff carcass helps the FK453 have good handling and stability properties. 

Our Focus ST got shod with wider Rotiform IND wheels in 19X8.5 with a positive 25mm offset.  The tire size is 245/35-19 vs the stock 235/40-18.  The IND is a nice quality cast wheel. We would have preferred a wider 18 inch wheel with a more aggressive fitment but the owner of the car did not want to deal with any sort of rubbing and he really liked these wheels.  A cool feature is that Rotiform can customize offsets, colors and bolt patterns for you own fitment!  Rotiform offers a line of lightweight forged wheels as well.

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