As a recent college grad looking for a job, pretty soon I'll be buying a new car. Appropriately, I've been test driving ALL THE THINGS, and recently I test drove all the performance cars Ford has to offer: the Fiesta ST, Focus ST, Taurus SHO, and Mustang GT. There's no make or car segment I wouldn't drive (except a crossover) so I looked at all of them as potential next cars. Thoughts below.
I'll start with the little guy. There's a lot to like about the FiST. It's easy to place while driving or parking because of its size, and visibility is good. There's decent space up front, including headroom with the sunroof, and everything is easy to use. It's been talked about before, the little ST is a giant killer. The engine makes plenty of torque in the lower rpm range and isn't laggy, but it also doesn't run out of breath before redline. The handling is superb, and confidence inspiring. Conveniently, there's a back road running into the woods by the dealership, and I was consistently going 10 mph faster in the Fiesta compared to the Focus. Inside, the shifter, clutch and Recaro seats are all good, although it should be noted that the non-Recaro seats offer less support than the regular Fiesta seats. If you'll be driving hard, get the Recaros, people. On the highway, the Fiesta is much more quiet and composed than say, the Fiat 500 Abarth.
The Fiesta wasn't perfect though. The way the car is laid out, from the drivers seat you can't see the hood, the dash stretches out before you and the windshield is large and steep, all of which combines to impart a minivan-like feel. The sunroof, which you pay extra to get, is small, and pushed far enough back to make it fairly useless for people in the front seats. Speaking of stuff behind the front seats, the back seats are useable, but if you'll be carrying adults very often, you may want to get something bigger. Overall, if you're an enthusiast on a budget looking for something efficient and practical that can tear apart a back road or autocross, this will be perfect for you.
Following the same five-door formula as the Fiesta, the Focus gives you more space, power, and amenities standard, as well as a particularly nice clutch. That clutch. I don't know that I've driven a car with smoother clutch take-up than the Focus ST. It isn't as light as the clutch in the Fiesta, but I'd take it any day. Anyway, where was I? Power is good, and torque comes in early, without noticeable lag. There's plenty of grip, and the steering is immediate, which is good for back road driving. This is the only car of the four that I didn't drive on the highway, so I can't speak to whether or not the quick steering makes it darty at interstate speeds. The cabin is nice, with the steering wheel, shifter, pedals and Recaros all pleasant to use. Material choices definitely felt nicer than the Fiesta.
I only had two real complaints about the Focus, one of which is torque steer. I exited a corner in second gear, put my foot on the floor, ad rather than shooting toward the next corner, I was fighting to keep the car out of a ditch. In a straight line on level ground, you should be fine, but it's something to be mindful of on a back road. The other issue is price. If you want Recaros, and you don't want contrasting color inserts, you have to option the car to nearly 30K. There are also some penalties in weight and fuel efficiency compared to the Fiesta, but it's a bigger car with bigger engine, so that's expected. In the end, you need to compare Fiesta and Focus with the options you want and decide if the price premium is worth it. For me, it would be.
I'm a fan of big, fast sedans. I drive an Impala, and I like the Charger, 300 and SS, so I was excited to get to drive this twin-turbo beast. There's room for four adults inside, there are lots of nice features (looking at you, cooled seats) and the trunk is MASSIVE. The Taurus excels as a people mover. More importantly, how does it drive? I didn't get to do any back road blasting in it, but I can tell from the few corners I went around that it's...OK. Grip is decent with the help of the AWD, and the body is pretty well controlled, but there's a lot of weight over the nose, and a lot of weight in general, and you feel it. In a straight line, the SHO is very quick, as in "No officer, I didn't know how fast I was going. Why do I need to step out of the car?" quick, and you don't notice the speed building. The exhaust is quiet, and with all the sound deadening and mass of car around you, it takes a lot of the thrill out of the speed. It's also a shame that the SHO, like the SRTs and the SS sedan, is auto-only. Rather than being a sports car that happens to be nice inside, this is a nice car that happens to be fast. It's good, but I'd like some more drama...
There are several things that I'm a sucker for when it comes to cars, and a few of those things are long hood/short deck proportions, V8 sound and power delivery, and manual transmissions. The Mustangs at the dealership combined those with something else I'm fond of, factory rebates! All Mustangs at the dealership are manuals with the Tech and Track Packages. I climbed into the car, excited as a school kid. I turned the key, and the Coyote V8 growled to life. The jimmies rustled softly. The engine is exceptional, revving all the way to 7,000 rpm, but it still has not problem burbling along behind a minivan at 1,200. The shifter is good, and the clutch isn't too heavy, and the standard seats, while not heavily bolstered, still provide decent support. The Mustang is composed on the highway, and thanks to the torque from the V8, downshifting to pass isn't necessary. Between the Challenger, Camaro and Mustang, the Mustang definitely has the best visibility, and is the easiest to place on the road.
The only place the Mustang falls short is the handling. The ride is busy over bumps, the rear axle doesn't feel very well located, and the car is softly sprung and damped. Out the same road, a 2013 Challenger felt more planted. The Camaro has more grip and better controlled body motions, but the trade off is having no idea where the right wheels are on the road. Fortunately, there are a host of upgrades available for the Mustang to fix the handling. It's a great value right now, and it's on my short list.