One way ST

The sharpest Fo­cus is the hot hatch to live with

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test - PAUL POT­TINGER CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR paul.pot­tinger@cars­guide.com.au

THE best— the smartest— buy­ing of any car type is surely the hot hatch. Please ban­ish any im­age of young mis­cre­ants in chil­dren’s head­wear driv­ing Ja­panese de­rived and hor­ri­bly en­hanced doof-doof de­vices.

Since the 2005 edi­tion of Volk­swa­gen’s Golf GTI, a sum of some $40K will buy you a hatch with the fam­ily ca­pac­ity of most small SUVs to which we’re hope­lessly ad­dicted, but pos­sessed of driv­ing dy­nam­ics to ri­val sports cars priced in triple fig­ures.

The trick is to take an in­ex­pen­sive, mass-pro­duced shop­ping trol­ley and im­bue it with per­for­mance dy­nam­ics with­out for­sak­ing daily drive­abil­ity. The best are a sub­lime blend of mild and wild — and the Fo­cus ST is just that.

VALUE

A tag of $38,290 for a five-door is sound enough. Some at this price or even more have only three por­tals. Stan­dard kit is ex­cep­tional. There are Re­caro sports seats, dual-zone cli­mate con­trol, heated and fold­ing ex­te­rior mir­rors, au­to­matic bixenon head­lights, au­todim­ming rear vi­sion mir­ror and rain-sens­ing wipers. Sat­nav is no ex­tra (but on a small­ish screen) nor are the nine speak­ers, Blue­tooth, flash ped­als and key­less en­try/ig­ni­tion.

Last year, man­u­fac­ture of the Aus­tralian is­sue Fo­cus shifted to Thai­land but the ST re­mains a Euro Ford.

TECH­NOL­OGY

The foun­da­tions are from the class-lead­ing Fo­cus hatch. The ST uses the tur­bocharged Eco­boost found var­i­ously in the Fal­con, Jaguar XF and Volvo S60, here tuned to a for­mi­da­ble 184kW/360Nm.

That’s some way above the GTI, though the Ford is but a few tenths quicker from 0-100km/h at 6.5 sec­onds. The ST is six-speed man­ual only, which re­stricts its ap­peal to peo­ple who like driv­ing.

The ex­pe­ri­ence is en­hanced by vari­able-ra­tio steer­ing of al­most alarming di­rect­ness. It’s as adept in the carpark as when hook­ing hard and fast through a favoured open road bend.

That process is lent surety by the torque vec­tor on the front axle that coun­ters the dreaded un­der­steer and goes far to­ward re­mov­ing the need for (and ex­tra weight en­tailed by) driv­ing the rear wheels too.

DE­SIGN

Ford can’t quite crack the up­per mar­ket in­te­rior thing. The ST’s cock­pit is a bit meh, es­pe­cially against the plush in­nards of Opel’s As­tra OPC. The bum-grip­ping Re­caros serve well the ST’s re­mit but the in­stru­men­ta­tion and cen­tre stack of lesser models is no less fran­tic here. There’s a plethora of read­outs be­tween the di­als but no dig­i­tal speedo— an an­noy­ance of the milder models, a prob­lem in the ST.

You won’t lose it in carpark though, es­pe­cially not in the sig­na­ture yel­low you see here. The hot hatch en­hance­ments aren’t sub­tle, nor are they too much. It sits lower than a nor­mal Fo­cus on 18-inch wheels wrapped in 235/40 Goodyear rub­ber.

The buck­ets eat a bit of rear leg room. At 316 litres, the boot’s about par.

SAFETY

Rear park­ing sen­sors and re­vers­ing cam­era are the cher­ries atop the five-star safety cake. Th­ese are op­tional, but shouldn’t be, in the GTI and Re­nault Me­gane 265.

DRIV­ING

It’s an al­most pleas­ant sur­prise when, un­der hard ac­cel­er­a­tion, you feel play­ful tug­ging through the ST’s steer­ing wheel. Oth­er­wise it’s re­fined and well-man­nered.

This is among the least la­bo­ri­ous man­u­als you’ll drive, sum­mon­ing torque early and smoothly and pulling away like a diesel (but with no turbo lag). Nor will you be eas­ily caught out of gear; at just north of idle the ST pulls cleanly in fourth. Only an ele­phan­tine turn­ing cir­cle com­pro­mises it in town.

In those ever rarer mo­ments of open road en­joy­ment, the fast Fo­cus shines. This is the most smartly tuned sus­pen­sion of any hot hatch, rid­ing rougher roads with­out de­nud­ing sport­ing ap­ti­tude. Ex­cep­tional front end grip and ra­zor sharp turn-in make it the front-drive cor­ner­carver par ex­cel­lence. The ex­alted ri­val Re­nault is just that bit more adept but I’d rather live with the Fo­cus.

VER­DICT

Com­pe­ti­tion is fe­ro­cious and about to be­come more so. For now, the ST is our hot-hatch choice, smoothly blend­ing drive­abil­ity, prac­ti­cal­ity and the abil­ity to in­duce smiles.

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