Ford Focus ST vs. Mini Cooper S

By Zack Klapman and edited by Christina Selter.

The British (sort of) are running! For many moons the Mini Cooper S has been my king of hatchbacks. I’ve done thousands of miles in a 2006 Cooper S, and aside from being a bit harsh over potholes, and being blinded by a Service Engine light, the driving experience is one of my favorites. You feel the road. You can feel the tires, the g-forces, and you can get into a gap in traffic that would scare a Vespa rider. Rear seats up, there’s less trunk space (6 cu. ft.) than a decent overnight backpack, but seats down and you have 23 cu. ft.

For 2012 the Mini Cooper S comes with a 1.6L turbo-charged engine that makes 181hp and 177 torque (at only 1,600RPM). The power number is pretty low by today’s standards, but at least it only weighs about 2,600lbs, so it feels quick. Sitting so low also makes things feel faster. Stuffed with gear and springing across terra firma; it’s a Kangaroo on DayQuil with a face everyone loves. Starting at $23,000, the Mini provided so much to its driver it was a hard car to beat, until now.

2012 Mini Cooper S Paceman

Meet the 2012 Ford Focus ST. The Leatherman that replaced the Swiss Army knife.

See, the other hatches around (GTI, MazdaSpeed3, WRX) were fine, but to me, the Mini Cooper was the best rounded. The GTI is expensive and a little underpowered, the MSP3 is ugly, and the WRX has gone soft. I have more fun in a Mini than any of them, it’s big enough for me, and it has better curb appeal. It’s a bit noisy, and tight, but I give concessions for feel and personality. It’s a mathlete, athlete, and part-time model.

The Mini has done amazing things with what it has, but the Focus ST is a bit more with the times. “Excellent fighting style, Rocky, now meet MMA phenom Anderson Silva. He’s going to knock you out with his own ear.”

It’s obviously bigger (25” longer); The Focus has as much room in its trunk as the Mini does with the seats folded. Call that blood doping, fine. Shall we talk power and handling?

2012 Ford Focus ST

The same way athletes find new ways to train, Ford has redefined what a FWD car should feel like. 252HP and 270 torques shouldn’t be ok through the front wheels, right? There should be torque steer, under-steer, and smoky non-steer.

Wrong. There isn’t. This car sticks like you couldn’t imagine. The turn-in is amazing. Sticky? Try .96g of lateral force making appointments for your chiropractor. That’s .01g behind a Lamborghini LP670, with 5 doors, and FWD. Lift off the throttle in a corner and it over-steers. No car “shrinks at speed” faster. You sit up higher than in the Mini, so you feel (slightly) more body lean, but wow. “Wrong wheel drive.”? Only if you must have drifting or burnouts in your life.

The torque rips you out of corners, the brakes didn’t fade, the 6-speed manual is good, if you set the cruise control you get 32MPG (highway), and it’s comfortable around town.

2012 Ford Focus ST

The 2012 Ford Focus starts at $24,495, but with the (amazing) Recaro seats and MyFordTouch, ours was $28,170. Even without those, the materials in the Ford make it feel more expensive than the Mini. Besides, to get the Mini with better seats and Mini Connect, you’re at $26,000.

The Mini was the original king of hatches. It was (and is) one of the most rewarding driver’s cars of all time, and unlike the other cars that usually receive that accolade, you can actually fit things in it. But evolution is unstoppable, and so the Ford Focus ST is is the new king of this particular jungle.

2012 Mini Cooper S Paceman

(Note: All vehicles provided by manufacturers for comparison test purposes. Photos provided by Ford and Mini.)