December 22, 2014

Ford Focus ST loses its sparkle

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The UK has always had an appetite for fast Fords and in some ways I’ve always thought the British have been its most loyal followers. I don’t see any other country adoring the Dagenham hot hatch like we do. Like a proud father, I feel somewhat protective now that Ford has made the new Focus a global car. More importantly, this is the first of the firm’s “One Ford” global strategy – in other words a worldwide model.

And, for those who know their Fords, Jost Capito, the company’s performance guru, has now defected to Volkswagen. That’s a shame because Jost is a proper petrol head.

So, what’s new? Firstly, the previous 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo has been replaced by a more conventional 2.0-litre turbo-four tagged ‘EcoBoost’. Like the Focus model, EcoBoost is Fords new worldwide engine strategy plan; more performance, less emissions – and will be seen on all petrol Fords.

Power is up by 10 per cent over the old five-cylinder meaning you now get 250bhp. That’s not a great deal when you’re weighing it up against its main competitors – Volkswagens Golf R has 270bhp whilst Renaults Megane Cup has 260bhp. That’s hugely important especially when most of the customers Ford want will only switch over with more power on offer.

And as we’re on the subject of power let me bring you up to speed. With 265lb ft of torque available – 1,750 to 4,000rpm you would have thought this was a sufficient amount. Actually, the power delivery is extremely disappointing. Off the mark boost is impressive but as it passes 3,000 rpm, it not only sounds strained but feels it too. I wouldn’t call it pleasingly quick either even though Ford reckons a 6.5 second sprint to 62mph. And to add to the driving frustration, beyond 5,500 rpm the engine really struggles to reach the limiter.

The ST’s gearbox ratios are well stacked to make the most of what the engine has to offer – second and third gear are what you’ll be using mostly on a early morning hoon. Yet when you’re pressing on and exploring the grip limits, the electronic systems intervene and swipe off too much speed dumbing down a decent attack on a fast, sweeping road. The ESP and traction control are always active which is enough to frustrate things further as you’re trying to get to know the ST.

According to Matthias Tonn, Ford Europe’s chief performance engineer, they wanted to do it “the old school way.” I’m not quite sure what he means, but the ride is firm but well damped. It copes with everyday road conditions and doesn’t feel as stiff as the Megane 260 Cup. Only the Golf R has a far better ride quality and handling characteristics.

The overall setup has been thought through giving more than one option to drive fast. However, cruising is what the ST does very well and leans more towards tidy handling instead of outright hooliganism. Only quick direction changes into tight corners unsettles the chassis.

There is plenty of understeer on offer as the cars’ overall mass rolls into play as you dive into a series of bends or attack tight corners. Day-to-day driving isn’t very exciting but the ST does transmit a safe feeling when swift driving takes your mood. Only the Renault and Volkswagen are sharper and more focused on this level. Summary; the ST feels heavier and not as well balanced.

Ford isn’t going to beat VW in the interior quality stakes yet the ST but feels far more solid than its predecessors with no trim rattles throughout some hard driving.

What is different though is the angled and sweeping dash design. Ford have steered away from the conventional and although the infotainment interface is cluttered and busy, you do admire Ford trying to be different. I’m not too sure about the small gauge pod on top of the dash, though.

The ST’ seats however, are sublime. There’s plenty of adjustment for the standard Recaros and they are brilliantly supportive and properly comfortable. Add in a multi-adjustable steering column, finding and good driving position is easy.

Driving quickly is what this ST is designed for but despite a 10 per cent increase in power over the old model, it’s actually 20 per cent more efficient. That translates into a 39.2mpg combined with 169g/km CO2, equating to £195 road tax. This alone could be enough to excuse the fact that the ST is no hot-hatch but more a grown up, and dare I say it, responsible performance car.

Never the less, I only managed 20.6mpg after a hard days driving.

So, what do I think? The new Ford Focus ST will have a lot to deal with when the new Vauxhall Astra VXR arrives and the rest of the fraternity are put together in a group test. However, as a standalone car it doesn’t have the excitement of what I was hoping for. It’s a let-down dynamically and has lost the sparkle of its forebears.

As a day-to-day car its usability ticks all the boxes, but any would-be buyer looking for excitement won’t find it with the new ST.

The only niggling positive is the price and running costs. Starting from £21,995 for a five door fast Ford, is extremely appealing. And it’s also available as an estate. Maybe I’ll warm to it once I see more on the road. For now, I would sacrifice the monthly finance payments and look at one of its competitors.

Engines petrol 2.0 four-cyl turbo
Power, hp 250
Torque, lb ft 265
0-62 mph, secs 6.5
Top speed, mph 154
Mpg combined 39.2
CO2, tax 169


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Comments

  1. Steve Baker says:

    A bit of a sloppy article if you dont mind me saying:

    You appear to have missed the 3 settings for ESP and TC: On/Sport/Off. ‘Sport’ turns off the TC and the ESP allows greater slip angles. ‘Off’ turns off TC & ESP although the torque vectoring control (braking inside front wheel) and understeer control (braking outside rear wheel) remain active.

    No mention of the active sound symposer and variable ratio rack with 1.8 turns lock-to-lock.

    Also if you are in the market for an estate this is a pretty unique proposition (Golf R, Megane 265, VXR etc). However even for the hatch I don’t even see the £32k Golf R as a competitor because the ST price even undercuts the basic Golf GTi.

    .