Ford’s 184kW Focus ST in SA!
FORD’S GTI FIGHTER ARRIVES IN SA: Stunning looks, brilliant performance and aggressive pricing, will the new Focus ST be able to take the fight to Volkswagen’s Golf GTI?
Author: SERGIO DAVIDS
The Focus ST has had an interesting journey into hot hatch fame. The Mondeo ST250 concept shown in 1999 was the first to bear the Blue Oval's performance moniker although the pleasure was only extended to the Focus range in 2002 (and again in 2005 to the outgoing model).
The current Focus, launched in SA in 2011, has again proved to be incredibly popular in the large hatchback/sedan market though there remained a question begging to be answered: “When will the new ST arrive in SA?”
Wheels24 rocketed around the French countryside for a preview of the new ST earlier in 2012 and it has now finally arrived on our shores. We got behind the wheel of the US automaker’s hot hatch at the Aldo Scribante race circuit in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape.
ENGINE DOWNSIZING, BOOST TO PERFORMANCE
The new ST is available in two specification levels, ST1 and ST3, with the latter boasting R44 000 more in extras. An ST2 spec is available in Europe an ST2 spec but will not be offered in SA.
The Focus ST’s assertive design is courtesy of a new fascia sporting a redesigned grille, bulging side skirts and dynamic rear bumper with diffuser-style vents. The roof spoiler improves high-speed stability and reduces drag.
The ST sees the rollout of Ford’s first turbocharged Ecoboost engine in SA. The 2.0 engine is capable of 184kW at 5500rpm and 360Nm from 1750 - 4000rpm.
The hot hatch rockets from 0-100 km/h in 6.5 seconds and has a top speed of 248 km/h. The new Ecoboost engine combines direct injection with turbo charging and sees Ford downsizing from the previous models growling five-cylinder 2.5-litre. According to the automaker this translates to better economy, performance and reduced production costs.
The Ecoboost engine sees a claimed 20% improvement in fuel economy over the previous generation fuel guzzler, with the new model rated at 7.2 litres/100 km and CO2 emissions of 169 g/km.
Three driving modes - the default Normal, Sport (tightens up steering and suspension) and off (for unbridled fun without electronic interference) - are on offer.
The ST's handling is outstanding and it’s in the corners that you’ll become smitten with the new hot hatch. Without much steering wheel action you can whip it around chicanes or countryside bends with ease - the steering has been improved to provide a precise ride with plenty of feedback.
The suspension setup of the new ST complements the advanced driver assistance features. Cornering precision is enhanced by new shock absorbers and springs that lower the chassis by 10mm compared with other Focus models.
But how does it sound, I hear the impatient petrolhead ask? The ST delivers a throaty growl courtesy of a sound symposer - essentially a tube with valves and a resonator, it filters the engine induction noise to create an exhaust symphony.
It’s hard to imagine this is related to the vanilla Focus hatch though it retains the space and practicality of its siblings that promise less fun.
It’s an incredibly fun hot hatch while being refined in terms of comfort and features and well suited for hot hatch enthusiasts and families, alike. Want to earn the “cool dad” title? Show up in one of these at your kid’s school.
The ST1's cabin styling is identical to the current Focus sedan's and offers a high level of standard specification including keyless start, a tyre deflation detection system and cruise control.
The ST3 benefits from leather Recaro seats with warmers, a centre console from the upper specced GDi hatch and an enhanced display.
To further justify the ST3 version price, it adds auto folding mirrors, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, rain sensitive wipers and bi-Xenon high intensity diode headlamps including LED daytime running lights, auto-dimming rear view mirror and automatic wipers.
My two biggest gripes stem from the lack of satnav and the Sync system. The ST does not feature satnav nor is it an optional extra. I realise this would’ve raised the price but in an age of advanced mapping software (Audi’s use of Google maps, for example) it’s bizarre that a satnav unit isn’t even offered as an option.
The ST also sees the US automaker's Sync system making its SA debut. The system integrates your phone with the vehicle’s voice command functionality. It replaces Ford's previous Bluetooth Voice Control system and allows you to store contacts, messages and music.
Drivers yank at a lever on the steering column to activate the voice command system and issue commands (“call John”, “send message", "select track", for instance). It will read back messages to you, even those with emoticons or abbreviations (think smiley faces and LoL), though not anything deemed “obscene” by designers. We tested that claim, yes.
In terms of music you can begin playing your tunes by stating the genre, artist or song title. This is a welcome touch but you will have to sort out your music into various categories beforehand or you won't be able to use the full functionality of Sync.
In theory it all sounds good but in practice the system proved, shall we say, temperamental. Either our cellphones were incompatible or Bluetooth failed to sync. SA runs generation one whilst globally the automaker offers generation two.
Once you’re synced up though you’ll have a system that’s quite intuitive and your own “command centre” from which to operate.
The ST faces off against the Volkswagen GTI, Megane RS and Mazda3 MPS. All have made a name for themselves and offer high-performance thrills in different degrees.
So why choose an ST?
For starters, there’s the price. At R309 530 the base ST1 is R35 770 cheaper than a GTI and R100 000 less than the Megane RS. Even if you splash out the extra R50 000 for the ST3, you’ll find that a similar specced GTi (starts from R R345 300) doesn’t quite compare as those optional extras start adding up (though it does have sat nav at R28 000).
The GTI has VW’s popular DSG auto while Ford has no plans to introduce an auto variant; it claims this detracts from driver engagement.
Ford states it will bring 160 units into SA by the end of 2012 with more planned for 2013 and beyond.
MORE FROM FORD
Ford’s new Fiesta will make its debut early in 2013 with the automaker’s 1.0 Ecoboost powerplant.
If you’re keen to get behind the wheel of the ST, Ford is running a nationwide driving experience for potential buyers at select venues from October 2012. Click here for more information.
The ST is offered with a five-year or 90 000km service plan with 20 000 intervals. You might notice one "missing" service - we raised the matter with Ford SA who said it plans to address this discrepancy.
The new model is equipped with a 16-inch spare tyre.
Ford 2.0 GTDi ST1 – R309 530
Ford 2.0 GTDi ST3 – R353 700