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On the road with Ford's hot Focus ST

2006-02-23 13:15

Ford Focus ST is available in 3-door and 5-door

John Oxley

The road from Sun City to Jo'Burg is diverse. There are places where you can open the car up, a couple of places where it's tight and twisty, and places where it's narrow and crowded.

But most of all, the roads are ROUGH! Potholed, much repaired, or just plain worn out.

And that's where we fell in love with the Ford Focus 2.5 ST.

NOT just for it's brilliant acceleration - 0 - 100 km/h in 6.8 seconds puts it in the same league as the Porsche Boxster 2.7 and the Audi TT 1.8T - nor for its top speed of 241 km/h.

It wasn't even the brilliant handling - arguably the best in the hot hatch sector at the moment.

No, it was the RIDE!

Yes, you read that right.

For Ford has managed to get brilliant handling and roadholding without deferring to the bone-jarring teeth rattling ride that makes most sporty cars - from Alfas through to VWs - not much fun to drive unless the roads are absolutely smooth and ridge-free.

And then of course, you get to the price.

At R233 000 for the 3-door ST and R250 000 for the 5-door, there's NOTHING that comes close when it comes to the ST's combination of performance, comfort and practicality.

Quick off the mark

Both the VW GTI and Opel GSi are almost pedestrian when compared to the ST's quoted acceleration figures, lacking almost a second in the 0 -100 km/h sprint, while even the mighty Renault Sport, closest to the Focus on power output, lags behind.

And all of the above lose out when it comes to ride comfort, relying on stiff suspension to keep them on the island.

Make no bones about it, Ford HAS stiffened up the Focus ST front and rear. It's necessary when you get to this level of performance.

But they started out with an exemplary chassis, so the guys at Ford TeamRS (Ford's tuning and motor sport arm) could get great handling without having to compromise.

Yes, suspension is lowered (by 15 mm) but the secret is that the wheels still travel through the same range as other Focus models, so ride isn't adversely affected.

And to make sure the grip is up to scratch, the ST comes with wide 18 inch alloy wheels shod with 225/40 R18 tyres.

It also gets the latest stability control programme (EPS) specially tweaked by the TeamRS guys to allow much sportier driving, as well as ABS with EBD and optional brake assist.

Quick steering

Steering is rack and pinion, with just 2.4 turns lock to lock, and the hydraulic assistance has three settings - Sport, Standard and Comfort, and there are BIG brakes, 320 mm ventilated discs at the front, and 280 mm discs at the rear

Of course, you'll be wondering what's under the bonnet, and that's another area where the Focus ST scores over its opponents, for it has a 2.5-litre all-alloy 5-cylinder with twin independent variable valve timing from sister company Volvo, suitably altered to suit the characteristics required by TeamRS.

The trick here is that the Ford engineers opted for less power than the engine is capable of - for instance it produces a very reliable 220 kW in the all-wheel drive Volvo S60R - in order to ensure the power gets down to the road, but more importantly, it retains great mid-range.

Power peaks at 6 000 r/min, but the torque curve is remarkably flat for a turbo-charged engine, with 320 Nm available between 1 600 r/min and 4 000 r/min.

I spoke to TeamRS director Jost Capito at the launch of the ST in Sun City, and he told me the intention was to produce a car that can be driven comfortably to work every day, without the problems often associated with high powered cars in traffic, then let loose over the weekend.

True enthusiast

"I am so excited by this car that I park mine outside the kitchen window at night so I can look at it when I'm eating my breakfast," he said.

This is a man who came from Porsche, and who is boss man not just of the tuning side of the business, but the whole of Ford's motor sport programme.

In fact he was flying straight from South Africa to attend an FIA meeting in Paris to discuss future competition rules...

But I digress.

So we have this really quick engine, and on the road it translates to slick and very quick overtaking, with minimum exposure to oncoming vehicles.

Yet you don't need to paddle the smooth 6-speed gearbox (also taken from Volvo) - in fact in sixth it accelerates faster than many hot hatches do in third, making it very driveable in all conditions.

The Focus ST isn't all about performance, though.

Good looking

A lot of work has been done to make it look good, inside and out, and to stand out from the crowd.

Thus it gets aggressive bumper enhancements as well as a colour coded deep front, mirrors, door handles and body side mouldings.

Brushed aluminium accents and chromed dual exhausts are complimented by rear wheel arch spats and a purposeful tailgate spoiler.

Inside the car "sporty" rules, with great-looking figure hugging leather-trimmed Recaro sports seats, and brushed aluminium inserts contrasting to the leather trim creating a modern athletic ambience.

There's a thick leather-clad steering wheel with bold thumb grips and three brushed aluminium-finished spokes; the centre spoke is distinguished by a bold red ST logo.

A red six-speed gate graphic, purpose-designed performance pedals with rubber pads set in cast aluminium and unique ST scuff plates complete the ST design theme.

There's individual aircon control for driver and front passenger, (5-door) as well as electric windows and mirrors, plus a 6-speed front-loader CD/radio that's custom built into the centre console.

Memory stick

There's also a USB slot in the glovebox where you can slot in a memory stick or MPC player so you can listen to your own music choices.

The steering wheel has tilt and height adjustment, while the seats have 8 or 10-way adjustment which includes height, reach and backrest movement, plus adjustable thigh support (leather trim).

Other features include remote controls for the sound system (to the right of the steering column), a "Marie biscuit" spare wheel, and Ford's passive anti-theft system (PATS).

The Focus gains 5 Euro NCAP stars, and gets front, side and curtain airbags.

It also gets 20 000 km service intervals, a 5 year/60 000 km maintenance plan, 3 year/100 000 km warranty, 5 year/100 000 km anti-rust warranty, and 3 years/unlimited km roadside assistance!

Options include a powered sunroof at R6 400, a sports striping pack at R2 000, and leather seats (for the 30door,which comes with cloth as standard) at R8 200.


Ford sales and marketing boss Nigel Harris would like to sell around 150 ST models a month, and I don't think that's a big "ask" considering the state of the hot hatch market at the moment.

The VW Golf GTI is in very short supply, with long waiting lists, whereas there are 100 STs already at Ford dealerships, with another 150 on the water, so you won't have to wait long.

The Opel GSi doesn't seem to be that popular, possibly because it doesn't look different enough from other models in the Astra range, while the Megane RS is also selling in limited numbers.

Certainly the Focus ST has everything going to make it a top seller in the hot hatch stakes.

All that's left is to get "bums into seats".

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