Friday, 24 August 2012 10:24 AM
New Ford Focus ST owners may well venture onto the race track at one of a large number of run-what-ya-brung UK track days, and Ford engineers want them to do this.
Sure, at motorway cruising speeds or to the shops and back, the third generation Focus with its fire-red ‘ST’ badge is a quiet, calm and easy-torque-laden cruiser. Indeed there’s barely a noise to be heard when the revs are low.
Slot it into 2nd and floor the gas, however, and it’s an entirely different beast. It’s a growly, eager beast that’ll smash 62mph in 6.2secs and haul ass on to 154mph. Today, at the track, I managed around 130mph; testing chassis, suspension, brakes, engine and ergonomics to the max. Today, hot hatch fans, was a good day. And the ST can be yours for under £22k.
We’re at the Longcross proving ground near Chobham, Surrey; an old and vast ex-military installation that used to have tanks bombing around it. Miles and miles of tarmac – much of it in very similar (choppy and bumpy at times) condition to our own wonderful British back lanes – lays out in challenging twists and turns of elevation changes, with little run-off before it’s “hello, scenery”. And there’s a huge and daunting high-speed banked bowl wrapped around it all. Indeed, a perfect unrestricted spot to test machine, man and, with speeds of 140mph accessible, the ol’ kahunas, too.
So, Focus MK2 ST fans will be reading this with interest, as will ‘general’ hot hatch fans looking for a new pocket rocket that brings the power and performance, but, in keeping with the so-tight-times we’re living in, want all the grunt but with as little tax-attracting CO2 as possible. For you guys, you need to know that this new ST is rated at 169g/km of CO2, with a quoted combined economy of 39.2mpg. But, today, we worry not about the taxes on everything that’s fun in life; we’re burning fuel and bespoke Goodyear rubber in the name of ST science.
I’ve driven every hot Focus built – the MK1 RS, the MK2 ST, RS and RS500, and now this new ST. ST fans will want a side-by-side-ST-slugfest, but I’m not sure I see the point in that.
Yes, the 225bhp MK2 Focus ST is seen by many as one of the finest fast front-drivers on the road, but it’s pretty 2.5-litre-juicy when seen in today’s austere light and has a mechanical limited-slip differential at the front. The new 2-litre ST gets 247bhp, a computer-controlled front-end, and has to deliver real-world economy a decent CO2 performance like the old ST never really had to. So, to be short, if you’re liking what you see with the new ST, go drive it; don’t compare it.
Manoeuvring into the all-leather Recaro driver’s bucket seat, which forms part of the top-spec ST3 interior, and the handsome seat delivers handsome comfort and support. More portly drivers might find a bit of a squeeze, but that’s the price for full lateral support.
Like any Focus, there’s plenty of driver’s adjustment and with a few slides and tilts I get the leather-wrapped, ST-badged steering wheel where I want it, and my seat low in the chassis. Gauge fans will note the trio of dash-top-mounted read-outs; the most enjoyable being the turbo boost gauge that slams hard into the red when the blower is making its full 1.8bar of boost. At this red-gauge-point you’ll be going quick, in any gear.
On start up the ST makes little announcement of its evil intentions, but a prod of the power-pedal will release some of the 2-litre, 4-pot’s growl potential. Previous ST fans raved about the sound from the 2.5-litre, 5-cylinder motor, and the Ford sound engineers have used the latest sound-harnessing techniques to bring you something similar; although a 5-pot and 4-pot will always play a different tune. At full bore the new 4-cylinder engine has a deep bass growl that I found satisfying enough, and not too loud for you stealthy-types out there.
Clutch and (6-speed) manual gearbox operation are both smooth and progressive and this latest-turbo-tech motor picks up its torque quickly. I never missed or fumbled a gear-swap during these few flying hours either.
Out on the fast bowl and the ST turns in lap after lap of fast fun; never really ducking under 100mph and digging hard into the old tarmac with even and controlled suspension compression helping the Goodyears – developed for the ST – chew hard into the surface. The ST has that pleasant feeling of a central-point-pivot that the chassis ‘turns’ around, and the lowered and stiffer suspension and thicker anti-roll bars all work in reassuring harmony.
Through the twists, turns and elevation changes of ‘the snake’ alpine-style switchback track, there's still plenty of grip and little tyre squeal. And when she does want to drift, the back-end gently breaks traction while a touch of opposite lock through the sweet quick-rack steering brings the car right back in line without drama. This is all enjoyed with the traction and safety electronics fully engaged.
These electronics control the differential – by braking the front wheels independantly to tidy things up – and I found some wayward fun here and there while still feeling safe in the knowledge that the advanced computer was keeping an eye out. You definitely don’t need to be a racer to enjoy the ST (I’m not!) on the back lanes, but cracking suspension, powerful and feel-some brakes and tons of turbo torque will, I’m sure, give a little gift of the Senna to us all.
The new Ford Focus ST is an entirely worthy successor to the MK2 ST’s killer hot hatch crown - it’s real-world fast, feels assuredly safe, and looks mean. Fast Ford fans will already to be on their way to test drive one; other brand hot hatch fans will surely want to know more…
It's one very photogenic car
The brakes offer the right amount of inital bite, followed by more and more power as you press
Driving position fitted me like a leather glove
Full leather on ST3 spec, but you get the same great Recaro shape with the lower specs
Turbo boost gauge in the middle. The needle starts to move early in the revs making for easy driving around town, and big fun on the track
2-litre, 4-cylinder, turbocharged petrol engine makes 247bhp. Top speed is 154mph, 62mph comes in a touch over 6secs
Hello, what's this? It's the Focus ST Wagon in bright white with dark grey wheels. Not driven it yet, but loving the wagon style
By Daniel Anslow
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