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Ford Focus ST: the ultimate pocket rocket

24 August, 2016


Long gone are the days where the small car is simply a means of getting the groceries

After we took a close look at the amazing Ford Focus RS in the current issue of New Zealand Classic Car (September 2016), we’d happily buy one straight away. Except, well, you can’t. Due to the car’s popularity and demand, there’s a solid waiting list for them.

So with this in mind, we did what all hot-hatch lovers would, and hit up Ford New Zealand for the next best thing, the Focus ST.

After being handed the keys (well that’s not exactly true, as the car has keyless entry), and stepping outside, our first impression was how sporty the shape of the car was, closely followed by the colour. Covered in a colour called Tangerine Scream Metallic, it was certainly bright.

Long gone are the days where small cars were simply used to pick up the kids from school, or shoot down to the supermarket. The new ST, just like its sibling, the RS, could never be called boring. Exterior-wise, the ST comes standard with equipment such as 18-inch alloy wheels, performance, electronic stability control, an electronic limited-slip differential, LED daytime running lights, and a sports bodykit, making it a damn good package.

Setting off through busy Christchurch traffic, the decision was made to head west, up into the Canterbury foothills. If we really wanted to see how the ST performed and handled, then a climb up Porters Pass was just the place to put the car through its paces. Power for the ST is supplied by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder, which pumps out a healthy 252hp and 170 pound-feet of torque. Even with these power levels, which a few years back would have been considered earth-shattering in a top of the line hot hatch, let alone the step down, the car’s still rated as being good for 25mpg.

The only transmission available is a short-throw six-speed manual, which really emphasizes the Focus’s high-performance purpose. Sure, it can become a bit of a chore in heavy traffic and at stop lights, but once out on the wide open road, the car really comes into its own.

The ST gets significant suspension upgrades over its more run-of-the-mill models, and this can be felt in the stability of the cornering and climbing up into Porters Pass — and we can assure you hills are no problem with this much power on tap! The acceleration that the car offers is strong right through the rev range, even from higher speeds. Mashing the go pedal, even in sixth gear, is bound to put a smile on your face, and when entering the windy bits, the car’s sharp handling is sure to see that smile grow even wider.

In saying that, around town, the ride is still very civilized, even on Christchurch’s infamous bumpy roads. Something that did surprise us on our road trip was the handling in all conditions. Due to the recent snow in the area, the Focus had to contend with ice, grit-covered roads, and snow, and it took them all in its stride. If the gas pedal was treated with respect, it could leave even the heartiest 4×4 driver looking a bit embarrassed — as was the case more than once.

Turning our attention to the interior, the first thing we liked was the leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and of course the car has the usual stuff like plenty of cup holders, cruise control, CD player, and a six-speaker sound system. The front seats are still Recaro items, albeit a bit less body-hugging than those found in the RS.

The optional Sync 3 touchscreen infotainment system, which our test car had, is on the cutting edge of cabin technology, and well worth the added cost. The touchscreen display shows temp, radio, navigation, phone, and, when the car is put into reverse, the reversing camera. The rear seats are comfortable, but a little short on legroom compared to a few other compacts in its class, but cargo space is aplenty with 23.8 cubic feet of room behind the 60/40 split rear seat, and this becomes a very handy 44.8 cubic feet with the rear seat down.

So would the ST suffice for those who want an RS, but can’t handle the wait? You bet it would. It provides more than enough performance to keep those who love driving happy, and all for not a bad price either, starting from $52,840 plus ORC.

Who would best suit a hot hatch like the ST? Well, we don’t think it would suit just one demographic. With its ample storage space, comfortable interior, and awesome performance, we think it would put a smile on anyone’s face that chose to park it in their garage. While driving it through the city streets, it commanded many a stare, from young and old, and it wasn’t just because of the colour …

Becoming fond of Fords part two – happy times with Escorts

In part one of this Ford-flavoured trip down memory lane I recalled a sad and instructive episode when I learned my shortcomings as a car tuner, something that tainted my appreciation of Mk2 Ford Escort vans in particular. Prior to that I had a couple of other Ford entanglements of slightly more redeeming merit. There were two Mk1 Escorts I had got my hands on: a 1972 1300 XL belonging to my father and a later, end-of-line, English-assembled 1974 1100, which my partner and I bought from Panmure Motors Ford in Auckland in 1980. Both those cars were the high water mark of my relationship with the Ford Motor Co. I liked the Mk1 Escorts. They were nice, nippy, small cars, particularly the 1300, which handled really well, and had a very precise gearbox for the time.
Images of Jim Richards in the Carney Racing Williment-built Twin Cam Escort and Paul Fahey in the Alan Mann–built Escort FVA often loomed in my imagination when I was driving these Mk1 Escorts — not that I was under any illusion of comparable driving skills, but they had to be having just as much fun as I was steering the basic versions of these projectiles.

Fear and loathing the blue oval – part one

The slogan went something like ‘There’s a Ford in your future’. ‘Bugger off!’ were always the words that sprung to my mind. Ford and I have never really got on in the manner of many of my friends, so I’d say my relationship to the brand was distant. The accelerating blur of passing time has helpfully blanketed memories of a few Ford encounters which I probably wanted to forget but I have to admit, now I look at them, they are re-appearing through the mists of time. What comes to mind more readily, to quote some uncharitable wit, is that the letters Ford could stand for ‘fix or repair daily’. Still, I have to ’fess up, there were several Fords in my past.