Focus on the positives
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 Japanesederived 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 that are 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 fivedoor 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 bi-xenon 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 bumgripping 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 read-outs 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.
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 wellmannered.
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 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.
Ford’s new hot hatch, the Focus ST, stacks up very well against the competition in its sector on all key variables