Tight Fo­cus

Ford needs to blow its trum­pet — es­pe­cially for the likes of the punchy ST hatch

Herald Sun - Motoring - - The Tick -

A WEEK with the Fo­cus ST shows me what’s gone wrong at Ford. And it has noth­ing to do with the cars.

The new ST is a lit­tle rip­per thanks to a tweak this year that im­proves the cabin and its com­forts, as well as com­pli­ance in the chas­sis.

So it must be the Blue Oval brand’s sales and mar­ket­ing teams, who con­tinue to run scared about the end of lo­cal Fal­con pro­duc­tion in­stead of trum­pet­ing some great cars wear­ing Ford badges. Why else would the Fi­esta-Fo­cus-Mon­deo troika — all very good cars — be in de­cline?

A Cars­guide favourite from the kick-off, the Fo­cus ST in many ways has been even bet­ter than the hot rod RS model that was a sell­out in the past and should be a huge hit when it re­turns next year.

The ST is not as ex­treme, in the way it looks or the way it drives, but it’s a hot hatch that’s user-friendly and great for al­most any day-to-day use. With a fire­cracker ready to be lit for week­end fun.

The test car shouts its ar­rival with Tan­ger­ine Scream body­work and it’s easy to en­joy the turbo surge from the first mo­ments at the wheel. That’s what you ex­pect from 184kW and 360Nm in a com­pact-class car.

But I’m also quick to no­tice the dash­board does with­out the busi­ness and fussi­ness of the pre­vi­ous car, while its sus­pen­sion tun­ing com­bines more re­fine­ment with slightly bet­ter grip and feed­back.

Ford touts the new bon­net de­sign and the more ag­gres­sive nose treat­ment, the new colour for the al­loy wheels and the sporty red brake calipers.

But I’m just as in­ter­ested in the prac­ti­cal five-door body, which gives the Fo­cus the edge over hot-hatch ri­vals in­clud­ing the Re­nault Me­gane RS.

The op­tional safety pack brings emer­gency auto brak­ing, lane de­par­ture warn­ing, rear cross-traf­fic alert and auto high beams for $2000. To me, that’s good value.

But the ST de­mands to be driven and I’m quickly up to speed, en­joy­ing the six-speed man­ual gear­box — there’s no auto avail­able. The torque surge starts from about 2500rpm and means the car al­ways feels re­spon­sive.

I’m also happy in the wrap-me-up Re­caro front buck­ets, although the yel­low-on-black cabin trim­ming could be a lit­tle loud for some peo­ple.

The latest SYNC in­fo­tain­ment setup has more fea­tures and works well. The but­ton count in the cabin is down sig­nif­i­cantly and there are more log­i­cal con­trols on the steer­ing wheel.

Some things I don’t like. The turn­ing cir­cle is aw­ful, a com­mon trait in high-pow­ered front-drive cars that could over­stress the drive shafts.

As with many hatch­backs, it’s pinched for rear­ward vi­sion, which means re­ly­ing heav­ily on the re­vers­ing cam­era.

The punchy turbo en­gine also needs 95-oc­tane un­leaded

— min­i­mum — and will be hap­pi­est on 98 in hot weather.

Also, the car can be un­ruly at full throt­tle. The front wheels scrabble and fight for grip, which means the steer­ing wheel re­quires a firm grip if you un­leash all the power on a run to the red­line. A me­chan­i­cal lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial, like that in the Me­gane RS, is now re­quired in the ST. It would cost a lot but would make the ST more tractable.

Even so, it’s a car that’s sur­pris­ingly com­pli­ant and com­posed when you’re not go­ing flat-out. The latest sus­pen­sion tweaks might be stiffer in the set­tings but it does not feel that way. In fact, it’s more like the car has been given per­mis­sion to ride firmly with­out bounc­ing the body — and the oc­cu­pants — around too much.

So it’s a hot hatch that’s com­pli­ant when you’re drib­bling in traf­fic but has the sus­pen­sion con­trol — helped by 18-inch al­loys and big brakes — to help you re­ally hus­tle down your favourite twisty road.

THE TICK

The dou­ble-edged ap­proach — com­fort­able and user-friendly fam­ily hatch that’s also got a wicked side — makes the ST a real win­ner. I have ab­so­lutely no hes­i­ta­tion in award­ing The Tick to a car that Ford needs to shout about.

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