I remember driving the first hot Focus, way back in 2003. At that time it was called the ST170, developed a whole 127kW from its naturally aspirated 2.0 litre engine, and that was enough to keep it up with the competition. The next generation hot Focus (at least in the New Zealand market) was the Focus XR5, with a Volvo sourced 166kW 2.5 litre five-cylinder turbo.
But time (and manufacturer ownership) moves on and now the Focus ST has a turbocharged 2.0-litre four cylinder Ecoboost engine. While the engine develops 184kW and 360Nm of torque that’s not the actual big news about the car, as this is the latest facelift of the Focus range itself. The work includes a slightly changed nose, new interior and an updated SYNC2 system.
This new version of SYNC has a new interface and new abilities. For example, you can now say “I’m hungry’ and it will direct you to a local restaurant. I’ve seen this on a you tube video and tried it myself and it works
well. However when you say, “I’m tired” as I did to experiment with the system it directed me to a Thai restaurant, rather than accommodation. It also doesn’t understand ‘I need to pee” “I need to urinate” “I need a toilet” or any combination of the above. It does rather thankfully respond to “public restrooms” though.
The voice control for the radio seems a touch redundant as you can change stations, volume, or tracks using the keys on the steering wheel rather than waiting for the system it wait for you to speak after you have pushed the voice control button on the steering wheel. The one advantage is when you have an iPod connected and you can use the voice control to select the artist or playlist, which usually involves a lot of fiddling about with the system interface buttons.
The rest of the system is easy to use, the home screen being divided up into four segments, one for sat nav, one for entertainment, one for heating and ventilation, and one for your phone. Phone integration is very simple, although my $70 phone kept on asking for authority to allow the PBAP (Phone Book Access Profile) connection to be made. Its probably due to me being tight fisted when it come to communication devices than anything else.
When it comes to performance there’s very little that will keep up with a well drive Focus ST. the problem comes when you are on less than perfect tarmac. There’s so much torque making its way from the gearbox to the Michelin sport tyres that torque steer is pretty much a constant companion, as traction through the front wheel drive chassis becomes the limiting factor. This, even when torque is electronically limited in first gear, as it has been in previous hot Focus’s. It’s faintly reminiscent of the last generation Mazda3 MPS, which coincidentally also had a similar power output and was just as much of a handful on a rural road. If you can predict how much grip is available and adjust the throttle pedal appropriately then you can make very, very fast progress.
The problem occurs when you underestimate the level of grip from the front wheels and therefore overload the front tyres. It then becomes very untidy as the front tyres struggle between devoting the available traction between power and steering, and the front end starts to wander all over the road. If anything was a track day car, this is it. On smooth tarmac you can play with the throttle, adjusting the way the car reacts on the throttle and having a good time.
The Ford Focus ST is something of an acquired taste. There’s no doubt it has plenty of power, but the nature of front wheel drive dictates that you can’t always use the power available. Concentrate on your footwork however, and the Focus ST can be a very satisfying performance hatch.