Ford up to speed with new hot-hatch Focus ST

LAST week, Ford had motoring hacks from all over Europe in Barcelona to test its new-generation ST models — including a diesel that is definitely not as exciting as the petrol, but which may account for 45% of sales. This week, in Cologne, they unveiled the new RS, which should shake up the high-performance hatch market.

Ford up to speed with new hot-hatch Focus ST

Both these models represent the ‘fast and furious’ end of the Ford spectrum, but the ST is the more benign and will appeal to a much boarder community; the RS will appeal to drivers at the outer edge of the performance envelope.

Ahead of its official launch at the forthcoming Geneva Motor Show, Ford gave the RS its ‘reveal’ at its European HQ in Cologne on Wednesday, and it will get the adrenaline flowing among enthusiasts.

The RS will be powered by a 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine designed to output “more than” 316bhp and equipped with an all-wheel drive system that incorporates Ford’s established torque-vectoring system. It will deliver “class-leading cornering speeds,” say Ford.

Details of price (expected to be around €40,000) and delivery times will be revealed in Geneva, but the RS seems to be be a very impressive beast and is already being talked about as a potential ‘legend’.

It is the 30th car to wear the vaunted RS badge and, according to Raj Nair, group vice-president, global product development, the RS has a proud history of technical breakthroughs that have migrated to mainstream Fords.

“The new Focus RS is no exception. It’s a great example of our passion for innovation, through performance, and for creating vehicles that make people’s hearts pound.”

While I will reserve judgement on that until I drive one, this RS looks like it will be the high water-mark by which all such other performance hatches will henceforth be measured.

First, though, we must scroll the calendar back a week to when we drove the new ST — in both petrol and diesel guises — in Spain. The ST — the letters stand for Sports Technology — was launched in 1997 and embraced across the globe — 140,000 sold in 40 countries.

Approximately 500 STs have been sold in Ireland down the years and the new model will hit the streets here in March/April. The petrol version will be €700 cheaper than the diesel, which is a surprise, given that it offers the far greater thrill factor.

Ford say that the enhanced front-end body stiffness, which reduces cornering body flex, sharper responses and greater agility, new front springs and front and rear shock-absorber tuning, a revised electronic torque-vectoring system, a new, three-stage stability control arrangement and upgraded electronic power-steering combine to deliver ‘vastly improved’ dynamics.

Now, I couldn’t swear about the ‘vastly improved’ claim, but this is certainly one very well-sorted performance Focus. It will please both established customers and newcomers to the brand.

Having given the car a fairly comprehensive testing around Barcelona, I found very little to quibble with regarding either handling or performance.

I instantly liked the petrol engine, with its 250bhp and a sure-footedness that withstood multiple abuses, and even the day-glo orange colour scheme wasn’t that off-putting.

The engine is new — a two-litre, four-cylinder unit, which replaces the fondly remembered 2.5-litre, five-pot of the last ST. Nevertheless, the 6.5-second 0-100kph time, and the 248kph top speed, dampen any fears Ford might be going in the wrong direction here.

It also sounds great, albeit aided by trick acoustics.

After giving it my best attempt at a thrashing, I quickly concluded that no matter who the driver, they would need courage to get to the bottom of this ST.

Combined with a short-throw six-speed gearbox, the engine seems to have endless amounts of both torque and power and, when you factor in the balance, stability and astonishing grip levels, you’ve got a very complete performance machine.

Even though its a front-wheel-drive beast, this ST demonstrates few handling foibles, such as torque steer or even understeer. It is very well-sorted, indeed.

The diesel is a tad underwhelming, with a positively weedy 183bhp, but it is still damn quick. It is based on the regular 2.0 TDCi in the Focus, albeit with a 23% increase in power and, if the 8.1-second, 0-100kph dash and 220kph top speed don’t quite raise an eyebrow, then the potential economy of 4.2 l/100 km (67mpg) certainly should.

The ST — in either engine guise — is a little unique in that it looks (18” alloys, ST body kit, Recaro seats, etc) and acts like a serious hot hatch, yet it is a remarkably practical car and can as readily be used on the school run as on the cannonball run.

The five-door hatch layout is eminently sensible and you can heap vast amounts of gear into the big boot. There is also a wagon version (€1,000 premium), which is even more family friendly.

The ST is that rare thing — a truly useable day-to-day performance car — and the forthcoming RS will be a horse of another (vivid, no doubt) colour, altogether, to which we can look forward with justifiable anticipation.

COLLEY'S VERDICT

The Cost: €39,100 (petrol) and €39,800 (diesel).

The Engines: a two litre petrol with exceptional performance and decent fuel consumption and a two litre diesel with decent performance and exceptional fuel consumption.

The Specification: not lot overlooked here and wrapped up in a visually appealing package.

The Overall Verdict: excellent performer with excellent practicality.

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