The Ford Focus ST, especially in the bright orange paintwork of our test car, catches eyes, but isn't easily caught. We test this fast and furious machine.
What is it about?
Fast Fords have been around a lot longer than fast VWs. Think back to the original Ford Cortina GT and Ford Lotus Cortina. In those days, VWs still had sluggish flat-four engines in the boot. It actually took VW another 10 years to come up with the Golf, and 13 to launch the GTi.
Then, in the decades that followed, snobbery dictated fast VWs were for yuppies and fast Fords were not.
Then the Mks III and IV Golfs started putting on weight and losing their reputation for reliability, and Ford had the audacity to come up with a better car.
Ford's answer to the new Golf GTi is the Focus ST - the 3-door version, subject of this test, nearly R6 000 cheaper. And I think it's better.
A lot of work has been done to make the ST 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 complemented by rear wheel arch spats and a purposeful tailgate spoiler.
Inside there are great looking figure hugging leather-trimmed Recaro sports seats, (an extra-cost option - cloth is standard), and brushed aluminium inserts.
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 as well as electric windows and mirrors, plus a 6-speed front-loader CD/radio that's custom built into the centre console.
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-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, a sports striping pack, and those leather seats.
The idea of a big engine in a compact car is appealing, results in the Focus hitting 240 km/h, touches 100 km/h from standstill in about 7 seconds yet returns an average 11.4 litres/100 km.
Power for the ST -166 kW at 6 000 r/min, backed up by an even 320 Nm of torque all the way from 1 600 r/min to 4 000 r/min - comes from another part of Ford's worldwide empire, Volvo.
Hence that macho sounding five-cylinder beat - it's the T5 engine as seen in the S40 and V50.
It fits perfectly because, under the skin, the Focus is closely related to the Volvo models and shares their front crash structure (the Mazda 3 is another cousin) - although Ford has been able to tune the engine to the Focus's requirements and boost power and torque outputs slightly.
The ST body sits 15 mm lower than the "cooking" versions on 30% stiffer springs and recalibrated dampers.
There is a brace between the front suspension struts, as in a rally car, and the front subframe is made of thicker steel.
The rear anti-roll bar is stiffer, which creates greater weight transfer across the rear wheels to counteract the heavier nose, and the steering wheel requires 8% less movement for a given directional change. The brakes are bigger, too.
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.
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.
At the same time it offers exemplary ride quality. Most hot hatches have stiff suspension and low-ratio tyres, and the ride STINKS. But not this one.
And if you manage to get it onto a race track you'll find it can be pushed it into a glorious power slide round a long left-hander then linked into an equally wonderful drift round the following right-hander.
All totally under control, and a very good testament to the fundamental safety of the chassis.
It has legs as well. Sixth gear gives around 50 km/h per 1 000 revs, so high speed cruising is reasonably relaxed and economical.
There's a turning circle of 11,7 metres, and luggage capacity ranging from 224 litres to 968 litres with the rear seats folded flat.
Suspension at the front is independent of the MacPherson type with offset coil springs and gas-filled dampers. At the back is an independent control blade multi-link system mounted on a reinforced sub-frame.
- Ride quality
- Keen pricing
Ford is taking VW and Opel full on with the Focus ST, and it has produced a better package than either of the competitors.
The VW GTi might have a cachet with those who put snob value above all else (why I don't know) but in truth it's got lousy ride quality and so-so performance compared to the Ford, while the Opel Astra OPC might have equally good legs, but it really is a shame about the face - and, again, ride quality.