SHARPEN UP AND FOCUS

Garage

ALEX INWOOD

DOWNSIZING BE DAMNED, AS INWOOD HOPS INTO THE FIESTA’S BIG BRO

T HIS IS SOMETHING of a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ situation.

Regular readers will know I’ve been running a Performance Blue Ford hatchback with an ST badge on its rump for the past four months.

And now… I’m running a blue Ford hatchback with… well, you get it.

However, take a closer look at the image above and you’ll notice some important distinctions. That’s right: I’ve traded up. Literally. Where once sat the pint-sized Fiesta ST, there is now a Focus ST. Physical dimensions aren’t the only things to have grown. Performance is up by a considerable margin (206kW/420Nm plays the Fiesta’s 147kW/290Nm), and so too is the price. Now that Ford has repositioned the ST as the flagship of the Focus range, it carries a sizeable $44,690 sticker. That’s a hefty $12,000 more than the talented Fiesta.

I’ll admit to having mixed feelings about the switch. Whereas the Fiesta ST has been earmarked for entry into the Hot Hatch Hall of Fame, the reaction to its bigger brother hasn’t been as rapturous. Wheels compared the manual version of the Focus ST against the Civic Type R and Hyundai i30N in our last issue and the fast Ford finished last.

But there was a silver lining. Where the Focus couldn’t quite reach the dynamic highs of the other two, the key takeaway was that the Ford had the most endearing personality of the lot. It was, we agreed, probably the best of the three to live with over an extended period of time. Perfect long-termer material then...

This particular car has one other important distinction. Until now, all of our seat time has been in manual versions of the Focus ST, but this car has the seven-speed automatic.

I have no qualms about ditching the third pedal. The manual Focus ST’s gear change is nothing special and auto versions also gain the added equipment benefit of adaptive cruise control (manual versions have to make do with regular cruise). And unusually, there’s no financial penalty for picking the auto. Both versions of the Focus ST carry the same sticker price. My car carries one option: $650 for paint.

Elsewhere, first impressions have been positive. Shoehorning in the same 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo as you get in the Mustang has given the Focus ST a distinct character. It snarls into life and fills the cabin with a brawny baritone at idle. And because it has more capacity than other hot hatches (more than 2000cc is rare these days), the torque it produces is mighty. Having 420Nm on tap from 3000rpm makes the Focus ST feel muscular and barrel chested. Andy Enright summed it up best when he said “it feels like a muscle car”.

The ride quality has improved from Fiesta to Focus, too. After four months of being shaken by the more firmly sprung Fiesta, the longer wheelbase Focus (which also has adaptive dampers) rides with greater maturity. There have been a few quibbles, however. The Recaro seats are broader than those in the Fiesta ST and don’t support my upper body with the same kind of zeal. And then there’s the issue of torque steer. Feed in the power with some lock on and you’ll feel the steering wheel twist and buck as the front axle succumbs to the pressure of being asked to turn and channel 420Nm to the road surface.

Mostly this is fine – a little torque steer can add to a car’s character – but as we’re now in the depths of winter and the roads seem to be constantly wet, there have been a few eye-opening incidents where vicious torque steer, wheelspin and understeer have all combined into a triumvirate of disappointment.

Already I can tell the Fiesta ST is a better hot hatch, but the Focus has a more intriguing personality. There’s a lot to unpack here. Stay tuned.

ALEX INWOOD

REPORT ONE INTRO

FORD FOCUS ST

Price as tested: $45,340 

This month: 350km @ 10.3L/100km