Evan J. Smith
February 5, 2014
Photos By: Ken Miele

If there’s one trend that’s easily recognizable, it’s that fans of MM&FF love V8 power. The V8 has been the leading performance engine for the Mustang since the beginning, and for most other performance Fords over the years—but as we know—the times, they are-a-changin’.

The Coyote V8 isn’t going anywhere, but Ford has made a serious investment into the Ecoboost lineup and the performance is impressive. In it’s four-banger trim, the Ecoboost produces 252 horsepower (in the Focus ST) and the six-cylinder produces 356 hp in the SHO, Flex, Explorer and the F-150. We’re expecting over 300 hp from the Ecoboost I-4 that will land in many 2015 Mustangs and we know enthusiasts will push output way up. It will be interesting to see if four-cylinder Mustangs can smoke some older V8s.

Being that we are Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords, we decided to take a look at the Focus ST. Haters can flip the page, there’s plenty of great V8-based stories in this issue. But if you want to learn how to out-run the gaggle of hot hatches and unrespecting Camaro and Challenger owners (and some Stang owners, too) read on.

Our tech Q&A guru “Yo” Ken Miele needed a new cruiser to handle his 120-mile daily commute, so he was after respectable mpg and decent power, all wrapped in a fun package. So Ken stepped up to a Focus ST with the ST2 package.

Amazingly, he nearly cracked into the 13s in bone stock trim and with only two mods he ran a series of traction-limited mid-13-second passes. He stated that with just a few more basic mods and traction he could have a 12-second Focus. Naturally, well be shooting for that.

For his mods, Yo Ken turned to Torrie McPhial of Unleashed Tuning in St. Augustine, Florida. McPhail has his own ST and has spent countless hours working with the SCT crew on the best solutions for Ecoboost upgrades. “The down pipe is simple,” stated McPhail, “because the factory pipe is so restrictive.” The result is an easy-to-install piece, that while non-emission compliant, can add loads of power.

“Obviously taking the cat out of the equation increases flow, but biggest thing that we had to accomplish is to actually get wide open throttle when your foot initially goes to the floor—with the factory tune. And that’s one of the areas that we can make large gains in bottom-end and middle-range torque. This, and we increase boost throughout the whole rpm range, plus we add spark advance,” he added.

One difference between the Ecoboost engines and the Coyote and other recent V8 stuff is that the Ecoboost is run with a Speed Density system. “Well, one of the things is nice is that it has a wide-band,” explained McPhail, “so you can dictate what [a/f ratio] want and it will follow along, as long as you stay within the range of the fuel system. With SD, it just pays attention to the map sensors and multiple pressure sensors for fueling instead of a mass air meter.”

And while the ST doesn’t have the bark of a V8, it certainly has the bite. You can’t deny the performance is impressive, read on and you’ll see. Back in the day, stock 5.0 Mustangs struggled ran low 14s with a pretty good driver, and they’d go 12s if you had bolt-ons including slicks.

The 2014 GT is capable of high 12s stock (low 12s with traction) so I don’t think you’ll be blowing off any new V8 Mustangs with your ST, but if you want to get the most from your new Focus, read along as Ken explains how he ran 14.08 stock and 13.45 at 105 mph with just two mods.

We worked with SCT and its popular Livewire TS Performance Tuner and Monitor along with Torrie McPhail of Unleashed Tuning. The Livewire offers many features for tuning and data logging. Best of all, it’s simple to use, as we loaded the tune in minutes.

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Ken’s Track Attack (In Ken’s Words)

As many of you know, the Focus ST is very tricky to launch, as are most front-wheel drive cars, and a good launch can make or break your run.

Ridding the clutch works, but I don’t like to use that technique. I think that might have made my runs quicker, but I didn’t want to chance wearing the clutch prematurely.

Anyway, it was a warm 85 degrees on my baseline track day. One the first run it went 14.90 at 97 with Traction Control “off,” but that resulted in lots of tire spin through First and Second gear.

I shifted at 6,000 First to Second, and 5,700 for the rest. The ST likes 5,600-rpm shifts—anything over that causes the engine to fall of. Even stock, the ST makes lots of low-end torque, 270 lbs at 2,500 rpm along with 252 hp at 5,500.

If there is a downfall, it’s torque steer in First gear. The sweet spot to shift is 5,600 rpm, and that was my goal on the next pass. The second run with TC on was a little better, but I still over revved First. The rest of the shifts were right on. I still left to high and it spun hard. I had a little head wind, which explains the slower mph. But it improved to a 14.40 at 96.

The last run was great. I lowered the tire pressure from 38 to 26 psi, and with the TC on I left around 2,500 rpm and applied throttle smoothly. There was very little tire spin on launch, but a good amount on the gear change.

I hit the shift points right at 5,600 rpm and despite the fact that I never cooled the car down, and the only change was tire pressure, it ran an amazing 14.08 at 100 mph! Sticky tires would make this a 13.80 car for sure.

Next came round one of our performance mods consisting of a SCT Livewire tuner with a tune from Unleashed Performance ($599) and a downpipe ($285) also from Unleashed. What we got was a massive improvement in performance, down to a stout 13.45 at 105. McPhail stated that in his testing, he has seen 265 rwhp and 360 torque (stock is 240/280 respectively).

To be fair, the weather during the second round of testing (all runs were made at Atco Raceway, Atco, New Jersey) was cooler by about 20 degrees, but the traction was not nearly as good, obviously because of the cold.

My first run with the mods was bad—I went a 13.79 and the 60-foot time was 2.27. It broke the tires loose all through Second gear!

The hero run of 13.45 at 105 mph run was a little better, but drag radials would bring 12s. I left with the Launch Control set to 2,500 and TC on, but I was only at half throttle. I feathered it to get some traction and made the 1-2 gear change.

The tires broke loose, but not as bad as the run before. I shifted at 6,000 and went through the traps at 6,000. I was happy and knew I was not going to get a better run, the other cars running slicks were spinning so I figured I was done for the night.

Here are a few important notes. I had the TSB for the bang (during the 1-2 shift) done by Ford. With that, the hydraulic clutch line does have more restriction, and gear changes for drag racing are noticeably slower.

The engine likes to be shifted about 6,000 now, but the clutch responded so slowly that it would flare to 7,200 rpm. I even noticed the clutch slipping on the 2-3 gear change.

I powershifted once, and with the extra power it just drove through the clutch. The clutch recovered, but no more power shifts for this clutch. I give it a quick blip off the throttle now. I did not power shift during any of my drag testing.

Currently my mods are, Unleashed Tune and cat-less down pipe (a catted version is available from Unleashed, but we didn’t have a chance to test it). I was using Nitto Motivo All-Season Ultra High Performance tires (235/40/18-inch) set at 24 psi. These tires work well on the street and at the track when it was stock and ran 14.08 (2.15 60-foot). I would say the air was about 0.15 better the second time out. So your looking at 0.75 or more drop in e.t. with just two mods. Lastly, the vehicle weight was 3,375 lbs. with me in the car.

If I had a good set of tires and a clutch that responded quicker, I can see high 12s. Who said the ST would not run good with a small turbo? This thing responds well to tuning and is a great platform for all types of racing or serious street fun.

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