– Awesome engine and gearbox
– Awesome ride and handling
– Awesome value for money
– Average rear-seat legroom
– Some torque-steer on launch
– Reduced boot space
The new Ford Focus ST is freaking brilliant! Now that we’ve delivered our verdict in the first line of this review already, you might as well stop reading and buy one down at your local dealer, assuming they aren’t sold out already. But if you’d like to know more, then read on.
As an honest-to-goodness hot hatch, the Focus ST certainly looks the part. While the regular Focus is already a good-looking car, the ST ramps up the boy-racer factor with a unique front clip, side skirts, cool 18-inch wheels, the obligatory tailgate spoiler and a new rear bumper with nicely-machined central exhaust tips. There is absolutely nothing left unfinished, as Toyota 86 owners can attest.
The build quality is pretty solid, even if certain hidden corners under the tailgate have a haphazard appearance. There’s a big gap at the front edge of the bonnet, apparently to let air into the engine compartment, but it’ll always look like the bonnet isn’t fully closed.
Inside, it’s a standard top-spec Focus interior, with the same premium soft-touch areas on the dash, the front doors and all the armrests, with a pretty little blue screen at the top of the centre-console. The key difference in the ST, aside from the manual shifter and third pedal, is that pair of thick Recaro bucket seats up front. That, and the pod on top of the dash with three gauges, one for turbo boost-pressure.
Those part-fabric part-leatherette seats are tight and grip like glue, and yet, they’re comfortable for regular-sized people. Sumo wrestlers might disagree though, but there’s always the rear bench seat for them, with adjustable headrests and decent all-round headroom. Rear legroom isn’t particularly great though, just about adequate for medium-sized passengers, but appearing cramped compared to, say, the lowly Nissan Sentra. The boot isn’t that big either compared to a sedan, but good enough for monthly groceries and a couple of trolley-bags. In fact, we appreciated the grocery-bag hooks, but the floor is a lot higher than in the regular Focus to fit a full-size spare tyre. There are pockets on all doors and open cup-holders up front, but the rear bench loses the middle armrest and rear cup-holders.
Our Focus ST was fitted with the usual power accessories, a full-colour screen on top of the centre console, configurable with the million steering-wheel buttons. There is also Bluetooth, cruise control with speed limiter, fog lamps, front/side airbags, and a good CD/MP3 stereo with USB/AUX ports and Bluetooth streaming. It also came with a dual-zone a/c that was unstressed in February weather but had no rear vents, while there is a keyless-start button but the key-fob lock/unlock buttons still need to be used. There’s no sunroof or HID headlights, but we didn’t need either. In fact, the standard halogen headlights are surprisingly bright, although HIDs would’ve added to the cool factor.
Ford finally brings in their small “EcoBoost” engine to the GCC. The direct-injection 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder is a sweet motor that packs almost as much punch as the one in the expensive VW Golf R. Making 250 hp at 5500 rpm and 340 Nm of torque between 2000 rpm to 4500 rpm, power is sent to the front wheels via a standard 6-speed manual. The shifter has slightly long throws, but is probably the slickest one we’ve experienced since Honda’s heyday. Add to that a mildly-weighted clutch pedal with a low engagement point, and the ST becomes pretty easy to handle in traffic, without causing a leg cramp like most other sports cars. Even better, the engine is so powerful that you can cruise and even overtake on the highway in sixth gear all day.
We timed the 0-100 kph run at 7.1 seconds on a desert road with ESP off, a ton of wheelspin, and revving well into the redline, otherwise a 2-3 shift comes up right after 100 clicks. We suspect it could be a little faster if you can manage the wheelspin on a grippier drag-strip, but otherwise, the car is much quicker once it’s already rolling, unlike the VW Golf GTI which runs out of steam by 120 kph. Pounding around has its toll though, as we managed a burn rate of 12.8 litres/100 km, and that too with a lot of highway driving.
On hard take-off, the ST offers up torque steer in spades, with a little tug on the steering wheel, but it’s not a big deal as long as you have one hand on it. The real action starts once it gets moving. Throw the car smoothly into tight corners and the 235/40 tyres just hang onto the road like glue. There’s a “torque-vectoring” system that quells understeer, and it does wonders for this car with almost no tyre squeal, to the point where you start wondering if it has all-wheel-drive. The super-sharp variable-ratio steering is nicely-weighted, offers good feedback, and does 1.8 turns lock-to-lock at lower speeds. Hit the strong meaty-feeling brakes mid-corner, and the rear just slightly slides out by an inch before regaining grip again, even in the lenient “ESP Sport” mode.
There is the slightest hint of body roll, and we wouldn’t have it any other way, because the independent-suspension tuning allows the ST to offer a remarkably smooth ride, at least for a sporty car. It still jumps up and down on uneven roads, but the bumps are somewhat smoothened over rather than sharply poking at your ribs like the Renault Sport Clio does. The steering is firm, but still light enough to park one-handed, and while rear visibility is limited, rear sensors help a lot. It’s also relatively quiet for a sporty car, with the engine rather muffled most of the time, the exhaust getting throaty only on full throttle. Wind noise is low, and road noise reaches moderate levels at speed. This car surely won’t be fatiguing on the daily drive to work.
With this car, Ford has become what Honda used to be, and what VW is slowly moving away from — affordable fun. While the others are busy selling crossovers, econo-tubs and automatics, Ford is finally offering us their hidden gem from Europe, a back-to-basics hot hatch that’s fast, involving, practical, and most of all, awesome value. It’s the best all-round car we’ve driven in years, and would recommend one in a heartbeat.
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Test Acceleration 0-100 kph:
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