What's hot: Fabulous grip, hot-hatch performance, comfortable on-road, superb seats.
What's not: Could it be a tad too refined? Needs more ‘noise' at the pipes, and manual only.
X-FACTOR: Absolutely positively one of the best of the hot-hatches for on-road balance and daily-driver appeal. It is also sinfully quick… (the line starts here sinners)
Vehicle Style: Small performance hatch
Price: $38,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans:184kW/360Nm (overboost) 2.0 litre turbo | 6spd man
Fuel consumption listed: 7.3 l/100km | tested: 9.4 l/100km
I'm guessing, but I figure there are probably three things you want to know about Ford's new updated Focus ST.
The answer is "yes" for the first, then "no" and "not quite".
So, if you're shopping for a GTI and don't take a look at the Focus ST, then you'll be buying with only half the picture.
But if you want something as barking mad on-road as the Megane - and we mean that in the nicest possible way - then you'll have to buy the Megane, the Focus ST is quite a bit more civilised.
And as quick as the WRX? No, and certainly not around a mountain road. But the WRX has the inherent advantage of all-wheel-drive, and an extra dollop of power - 197kW against the Ford's 184kW.
But like all in this ‘small car performance segment', there is little in it, little to separate this rat-pack on power and performance alone.
So, yes, we've no doubt the WRX will show its heels to the Focus ST on a mountain road shoot-out, but the Ford stormer will be clinging to its pipes.
The updated ST is, in every way, a very appealing and well-resolved car. Fast? Certainly, but also beautifully trimmed, comfortable and as solid as a vault.
And you will want to drive the wheels off it.
- Eight-inch colour touch-screen, satellite navigation and Sync 2 infotainment
- Voice control access to navigation, climate control and mobile phones
- Bluetooth connectivity, high-end audio, MP3, USB port and audio streaming
- Emergency assist (available across the Ford vehicle range)
- Keyless entry, push button ignition, auto stop/start
- Leather and fabric monogrammed Recaro sports seats
- Leather trimmed multi-function wheel
If you've spent time with the outgoing Focus ST, you will find familiar surroundings here. Style changes are minimal in this ‘tight as a drum' interior.
It looks good, still, materials and surfaces are welcoming to the touch, surfaces align as they should and there is a crafted quality to the fit and finish and to the feel of the trim materials. It also looks and feels particularly robust.
There is a new flat-bottomed steering wheel, and subtle revisions to the dashboard, but things are largely as they were with nice clear sporty dials under a deep binnacle.
There are oil temperature and boost gauges mounted high on the dash, and appealing brushed metal garnishes scattered throughout.
The deeply-bolstered Recaro seats can't pass without comment: these are superb sports seats.
Slide in over the leather and textured fabric sides, press the body into the ‘winged' backrest, and the heavily bolstered sides and base grip like a bear-trap.
And you want seats like these if throwing the ST through a set of bends.
The big Goodyear Eagle F1 235/40 R18 tyres down below hang on like nails. But whatever ‘Gs' you might manage at the wheel, there is no way these seats are going to let you slide about.
Lastly, there is a full suite of passive and dynamic safety features, including dual front/side/curtain airbags, ABS, ESC, torque vectoring, plus disc brakes front and rear, among a host of features contributing to the Focus' range 5-Star ANCAP safety rating.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine/trans: 2.0 litre DOHC Ti-VCT EcoBoost turbo petrol engine | 6-spd manual
- Power/torque: [email protected]/[email protected] (with overboost)
- Bore/stroke: 87.5mm/83.1mm
- Turbocharger: Borg Warner single-scroll
- Suspension: MacPherson strut (front); independent ‘control blade' (rear)
- Brakes: Front 320mm, rear 271mm
- Wheels and tyres: 8" x 18" ST alloys, 235/40 R18 Goodyear Eagle F1
No question, the Focus ST is fast.
Nail it off the line and it bolts: you'll find 100km/h in the low ‘sixes', an unscientific 6.2 to 6.5 seconds on our reckoning (in changing conditions).
That's not hanging around, but both the WRX and Megane RS 265 will beat it to the first post. (The Megane is like a brick in the back of the head).
Once moving, however, then things even up. The RS feels particularly strong in the mid-gears, will happily stretch to its 6500rpm redline, and overtaking at highway speeds is just a matter of point and shoot.
It helps, when really rowing things along, that the gearshift is as slick as a buttered monk, but this is a very rapid road car.
And, sure, hot-hatches are meant to be fast.
But it is the way the Focus ST goes about ‘being fast' that is the key to its character. There is a special handling balance to the ST and a very particular on-road feel that sets it a little apart. Fast, yes, unsophisticated, no.
Even on the goat tracks that pass for secondary roads in South Gippsland, where the tarmac is a necklace of broken edges and the surface is a third-world quilt of patches, we failed to find the bump-stops and neither did we have the wheel jarring uncomfortably in our hands.
Instead of the brittleness that commonly accompanies a ‘sport' suspension on broken tarmac, there is a firm elasticity to the way the ST contours the road and soaks up imperfections.
This gives it a settled feel (which you will appreciate on a long drive), and has it free of nervousness at the front end.
It also turns-in and gets around a corner with sublime ease.
Being front-wheel-drive, a quick lift on entry will sharpen the line, but, like the GTI and RS 265, the ST needs a little more patience through the apex before you put the hammer down.
Despite the torque vectoring, there is some tugging at the wheel should you suddenly release all 360Nm, but it's a manageable torque steer and, in a way, feeling the power scrabbling at the tarmac adds to the enjoyment. (Well, I enjoy it...)
It's a hot-hatch through and through, the Focus ST, but a little more grown-up; it makes concessions to comfort that make it just so much easier to live with.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Ford's new Focus ST is effortlessly quick, it strains at the leash exactly as a hot-hatch should and, like others of the hot-hatch rat-pack, put it on a track and it will blast a lot of fancied machinery into the weeds.
There are no unresolved or half-baked edges to this car, no fierce compromises in the handling or performance. It goes like a brat, it's as toey as a Roman, but is impeccably well-mannered at speed.
And it has a vault-like feel - over-engineered and so ‘tight' at the wheel - with a chassis absolutely free of creaks and groans, even when giving it a lash.
We'd like a bit more noise from those pipes at the rear, but, as far as the drive is concerned, that's about it for complaints.
It enjoys a reasonable price advantage over the similar Golf GTI ($41,990), and a bigger one over the equivalent Megane RS ($43,990). The new Ford Focus ST, though really no more than an update, is one terrific buy.
(And what about the cranking new colours...?)