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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Mazda Phil
Mazda Phillink
Thursday, January 16, 2014 6:04 AM
Glad to see a FWD sport compact at MotoIQ, though I have to admit I'm fairly disapointed you picked the Focus over the Mazda 3/Mazdaspeed 3 (though admittedly, I may be biased.) Looking forward to the build all the same.
Thursday, January 16, 2014 6:14 AM
Motoiq is sponsored by: Eibach, Falken Tires, Rotiform and KW Suspension
Thursday, January 16, 2014 6:48 AM
Why are people always surprised when us tall guys fit into normal or "small" cars? What do you think we all drive, Escalades? I fit just fine in my 350Z at 6'10". (with the help of a Corbeau racing bucket seat)
The Focus seems to be in line with Mike's description of the Sport Compact. And Ford has finally given us the turbo car that Europe has had for years. Too bad I don't like FWD anymore. Otherwise this would be a great car to have.
b drecksage
b drecksagelink
Thursday, January 16, 2014 8:00 AM
How convenient. ..I just bought a 2014 st1 in november. Looking forward to more articles.
Thursday, January 16, 2014 8:10 AM
@awdaltima Good reading comprehension.

Looks like a fun car. Wouldn't be my choice on the wheels, but it's not my car either. I guess they give it a bit of a rally vibe.

Thursday, January 16, 2014 8:13 AM
Very cool project. I was just looking at these (and the Fiesta). They really do represent the few true sport compacts on the market these days.

As for Rotiform, although they usually cater to the stance scene, their quality seems top notch and they have some very innovative wheel designs.

@awdaltima: Was that supposed to be a helpful comment? Yea the KW / Whiteline joke has been around for a while, but one look at the website and you would know that they are not "sponsored" by Eibach, Falken, or Rotiform. And if they were who cares?

Besides, if you read the article you would know this is more like a "customer car". Why would any level of "sponsorship" matter.
Thursday, January 16, 2014 8:24 AM
@ Jeffball: 6'10"? Damn, ate your Wheaties, didn't you? :)

But yeah, my 6'8" brother in law fits just fine in a 90s Accord, which is probably smaller inside than the Fucus.

@ awdaltima: I don't remember another car having Eibachs on it. Usually, it's Whiteline.

I've never seena Rotiform car either.

In any case, if you've got an interesting product using unique products, and can write, I highly suggest you submit something to MotoIQ for publishing.
Thursday, January 16, 2014 9:50 AM
Favorite part of the whole article...

"Look Toyota Honda and Nissan, this is what you should be doing, making desirable small cars instead of shitboxes."
Thursday, January 16, 2014 10:24 AM
Also disappointed here that this wasn't a MS3 instead. But I am biased as well because I own a MS3.

Wheel choice wasn't expected. Don't get me wrong because I think Rotiform makes some nice looking wheels, but 19" is too big for the car. TBH from a performance perspective I would even think about downsizing to a 17" from the stock 18"
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Thursday, January 16, 2014 10:28 AM
awdaltima- KW and Falken tire advertise with MotoIQ but we have no affiliation with Rotiform or Eibach. What is your point? At MotoIQ we stick with quality companies whose parts preform well. We use a lot of KW because there stuff is one of the best for the cost point and they have a super wide application range covering more platforms than any other suspension manufacture of coilovers as far as I know. I currently don't know of a better set of off the shelf coilovers for this car.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Thursday, January 16, 2014 10:29 AM
Leon, we wanted to go 18" as well but the owner of the car really wanted 19's. We don't own every single project car. What we like about Rotiform is that you can order custom bolt circles and offsets.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Thursday, January 16, 2014 10:31 AM
Jeffballs, you don't know just how tall he is. My head comes just past his navel!
Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Thursday, January 16, 2014 10:46 AM
Don't know the last time Ford made the FESTIVA(see above paragraph) but I was hoping we might see a project FIESTA ST or Focus ST this year! Ask and he shall receive right! Glad to see some coverage on these Hatches. Also very impressed with what Ford is doing. I'm hoping to see what these Ecoboosts are capable of!? Keep it coming! Thanks guys!!
b drecksage
b drecksagelink
Thursday, January 16, 2014 11:45 AM
Yeah..I already posted...hope to see some tuning related articles
Thursday, January 16, 2014 11:51 AM
Looks just like a German design? All these parts (except the rear sway bar) look to use exactly the same design philosophy as my Mazdaspeed3.

As far as reducing the wheel hop, there are already upgraded motor mount options available from a number of vendors (CP-E, Cobb, JBR...) that are almost the same as what's been available for the MS3 for years.
Thursday, January 16, 2014 12:01 PM
@Mazda Phil, I almost picked up a MS3 as a project car for MotoIQ, but I decided one project car was enough (S2000).

@awdaltima, Eibach has been around since about the beginning of cars and make some of the highest quality suspension related components around and they have the highest level Motorsports participation to back it up. We all work with budgets on our project cars and these Falken tires fit the bill for the intended use of the car. Never heard of Rotiform myself. As for why so many MotoIQ project cars use KW? Because I really believe they are the best bang for the buck; they get you like 90% of the performance for 60% of the cost. Sure, you can go get that last 10% for another 40% cost or the other way being 50% cost and 50% performance. I think KWs are really the best value for performance and I'm not the only one. There's a reason why the majority of track S2000s use KWs; it's because they work very well and are quite reasonablely priced.

@Der Bruce, change 'or' to 'and' ;)
Thursday, January 16, 2014 2:30 PM
Just another 2 cents. I really would be surprised to see anyone pick up a MS3 right now as they are still only offering a 2013 model and the initial review of the 2014 non-MS 3 have been so outstanding.

I expect the 2014 MS3 will be a serious contender (if not the dominant one) when it arrives but for now the ST's are where its at.

(plus between the Recaro options and the styling the ST's look better inside and out).
b drecksage
b drecksagelink
Thursday, January 16, 2014 3:53 PM
Well the ms3 has a mechanicAl limited slip were the focus st doesnt. I got a base st cause im cheap, but I would have glady paid extra for a mechanical lsd.
Thursday, January 16, 2014 5:00 PM
"...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."

Lol, harsh.

I know most people think that rear discs and rear multi-link suspensions are better, but how much actual gain could you get from something like that, especially with 60% front weight distribution... I've even heard of top-level autocrossers going to great lengths to make the rear suspension as non-independent as possible on FWD compacts with gigantic anti-sway bars on the rear, and little ones or none at all on the front. I've never seen a test or experiment that compares the stopping distances of rear discs to drums, though... *Nudge, nudge...*

What do you mean by "sleek styling"? I would venture to say that Asian cars--both Japanese and Korean-- all seem to be getting flatter and flatter windshields and headlights encroaching further and further on the windshield in order to make them /more/ aerodynamically streamlined than their predecessors.

Also, it sucks that everything on this car is so hard to access... Poor Howard :(
Thursday, January 16, 2014 7:30 PM
@Monkius, I think rear beam axles are fine if the surface is smooth. My old 200SX SE-R handled just fine on smooth surfaces and I took a few auto-x trophies in it in my local region. It's when the surface gets bumpy that the independent rear really starts to shine.

As for rear discs vs. drums, I think discs are better able to dissipate heat making them more robust for heavy use.

And yeah, to make a FWD car rotate, you have to use a massive rear bar. You'll often see the FWD race cars lifting the inside rear in corners.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Thursday, January 16, 2014 8:29 PM
Monkius, I am mostly talking about the Honda's that had front multi link suspension. If you have ever raced a Honda up to the EK, you would know what I mean, those cars were the peak of FWD greatness. The Infiniti G20 also has front multi link and handles pretty well.

Current FWD's that have rear multilink are usually doing it to get a deep trunk or more rear seat room but I will take that if they have good toe control and a decent camber curve.

Rear disc brakes do make a difference. Try racing with drum brakes, hell try working on drum brakes, it sucks. Sure for a single stop the stopping difference sometimes isn't much on most FWD cars but do it for an entire race. Drums are more prone to premature lock up and hardly work in the wet.

There is no reason for drums to exist anymore. I don't even understand how they can be cheaper other than the tooling must have been amortized for them when I was 5 years old.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Thursday, January 16, 2014 8:31 PM
Also people who remove FWD cars front swaybars are doing it wrong in many cases, they will argue all day about it but I will beat them on the track.
saturn racer
saturn racerlink
Friday, January 17, 2014 5:28 AM
I am astonished that ford racing hasn't cornered the market on limited slip diffs for this and the fiesta st yet. Offering an lsd, and a reflash for the traction control system that could only be done using an IDS as a package would be genius.
Blair Ellis
Blair Ellislink
Friday, January 17, 2014 6:04 AM
I see that you guys use KW almost exclusively on your project cars, because, like you said, they are some of the best. I have an application question about them. I own an 04 Forester XT and like the cars ground clearance and would prefer to keep it close to stock height at the very least in winter. My question is this, how close could I get to stock with a KW setup for an Impreza (which should just bolt right on)? They don't make a Forester specific set at this time that I know of. Thanks for your time and I look forward to a response.
Friday, January 17, 2014 6:21 AM
"There is no reason for drums to exist anymore. I don't even understand how they can be cheaper other than the tooling must have been amortized for them when I was 5 years old."

This is a question that I have often asked myself. Disc components are so cheap these days and installation/setup is much easier. Also it continues to boggle my mind that my '83 RX-7 GSL had four wheel discs, but my '99 4Runner Limited doesn't???
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Friday, January 17, 2014 8:05 AM
Hey mike,

"The strut mounts by clamping into the spindle like a lot of German cars. This is very strong way to mount the strut but it makes installation a lot harder because the spindle must be removed to get the strut in. Typical German, better but harder to work on...."

You really think the clamp-style struts are better? I have no data, but just eyeballing it, the strut is held to the spindly over such a short span that there has to be a huge stress concentration in the strut body. A Japanese-style 2-bolt mounting ear style strut spreads cornering loads much farther up the strut body and seems like it would be laterally stiffer/allow lighter struts.

FYI: As soon as they were cut loose from the Focus platform, Mazda went right back to putting ears on the struts. Only now with the biggest bolts you have ever seen. Go find your 23mm wrench!
Friday, January 17, 2014 8:50 AM
@ Mike: Yeah, I've often wondered how the hell something with an inner machined surface and so many damned parts can represent cost savings over a disc brake setup. LOL @ amortized since you were 5 though.

As for no front swaybar, I'm your huckleberry... :)

@ Blair: I've seen stock Impreza struts/coils on a Forester, and it looks pretty dumped (tires sit about 1" or so from the fenders). I assume that a shortened KW setup would absolutely slam your Forester.

@ Dave: Doesn't the weight savings from the thinner strut (assuming it's even lighter with the added material from the ears in the first place) end up being offset with a heavier spindle?
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Friday, January 17, 2014 9:30 AM
Dave, there seems to be a large engagement contact area and the stress is spread for 360 degrees around the tube instead of concentrated right around where the ears weld on. I think it's much stronger but a bitch to work on. Well not really, it just makes things take longer. Once you get the hang of these cars it's not too bad. Just go straight to dropping the crossmember.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Friday, January 17, 2014 9:32 AM
Rockwood, I am also faster with less torque and a more narrow powerband :) At last my car is.

Friday, January 17, 2014 9:48 AM
@ Mike: on the Jetta, I made a tool out of a large prybar and a wrench to split the pinch a little. Made it so I didn't have to press it out (though I did need to use the deadblow a fair amount).

You are, eh? I look forward to you busting out your garage queen and proving it next season. :)
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Friday, January 17, 2014 10:32 AM
Already proven it handles better in the last encounter. All of the advantages was in the turns and it only handles better now.
Friday, January 17, 2014 10:36 AM
So, you bringing it out? :)
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Friday, January 17, 2014 10:39 AM
Where my schedule allows
Dusty Duster
Dusty Dusterlink
Friday, January 17, 2014 11:58 AM
Hey, now, Project Grey Mustang 5.0 doesn't have KW suspension on it; it uses Koni and Steeda parts. :-P
Friday, January 17, 2014 12:10 PM
And neither does Project G20 Racecar, mainly because KW doesn't make a setup for it... ;-p
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Friday, January 17, 2014 9:29 PM
Neither does Project Silvia's Girlfriend. Oops, I'm getting ahead of that project...
Sunday, January 19, 2014 4:48 PM
Being a former VW/Audi/Porsche mechanic. And being originally for the northeast (PA)
An "unofficial" part of an oil change was a little squirt of penetrating oil on each strut.
For me it was always just easier to support the control arm, remove the endlinks and just unbolt the control arm, and use a gear puller on the bottom of the strut.
It was harder on the Audi because of the double balljoints.
But it was still easier than hammering the crap out of the clap to open it enought.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Sunday, January 19, 2014 5:22 PM
Did you do that so when you eventually had to service the struts it would be easier?
Tuesday, January 21, 2014 10:21 AM
Why did you not use adjustable endlinks? Seems like 1.5inches lower would be too far for stock links. I encountered this issue with my Mazdaspeed 6 which has not only a similar front suspension set up but I lowered my car about an inch as well.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, January 21, 2014 7:15 PM
The endlink locations are moved on the KW's.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 10:29 AM
*To Mike.
Yes to make the eventual removal easier. You think it's hard getting it off when new, try getting that strut out after the parts have spent a hundred thousand miles marinading in salty slush.
You don't (can't) unbolt endlinks. You just cut them off.
Friday, January 24, 2014 9:59 AM
I though Ford was using a funky upper ball joint system on the front of the hot Focus. Rather than bolting the strut directly and turning at the top, there was a ball joint at the strut to hub joint and the strut was rigidly mounted at the top. Maybe I dreamed that or it's Europe only?

Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Friday, January 24, 2014 11:41 AM
I think that's the Focus RS.
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