FORD is poised to rile the hot-hatch hierarchy from October with Volkswagen Golf GTI-beating pricing and performance for its long-awaited go-faster Focus ST.
Kicking off from $38,290 plus on-road costs, the ST (for Sport Technologies) five-door hatch costs $1800 more than its predecessor, the XR5 Turbo.
However, the German-built high-performance small car still undercuts the benchmark Golf GTI, which is $700 dearer in three-door form and $2200 more for the five-door.
Additionally, the Ford is a whopping $11,700 cheaper than the $49,990 Golf R, which is more closely aligned to the ST in terms of performance but boasts all-wheel drive against the ST’s front-wheel drive layout.
There is no automatic gearbox available in the ST for now, while both hot VWs offer a dual-clutch transmission option for $2500.
Nevertheless, Ford Australia general manager for marketing David Katic expects to make an impact with the Focus ST.
“Keen Australian drivers have a real love of the ‘hot hatch’ genre,” he said.
“Focus XR5 and Focus RS were tremendously successful vehicles for Ford Australia and carved out a cult following. The Focus ST not only continues this tradition of hot hatches from Ford, but takes it to a new level.”
The ST offers a different nosecone fascia featuring a larger trapezoidal grille opening, along with side skirts, a redesigned rear bumper with “diffuser style” vents, and a roof-mounted rear spoiler.
All Aussie-bound cars will include unique steering wheel, gearshift knob and pedals, darker headlining and cabin trim, and lowered Recaro front bucket seats with partial leather/cloth inserts and cushions that adjust and tilt – finally addressing widespread complaints that drivers of the XR5 Turbo sat too high.
Cruise control (unavailable in the XR5 Turbo), dual-zone climate-control, automatic bi-Xenon headlights (complete with distinctive model-specific black surrounds), an auto-dimming interior mirror and rain-sensing wipers are standard.
Finally, Ford will include the ST in its ‘myFord Capped Price Servicing’ scheme, with more details closer to the car’s October launch.
The ST differs from the rest of the LW Focus range in adopting a variable-ratio steering rack that allows the driver to go from lock to lock without having to change hand positions.
There is also a specially calibrated electric power steering system designed to quell torque-steer using the company’s ‘Torque Steer Compensation’ technology, while the electronic stability control system has been modified with three settings: Normal, Sport (with disabled traction control for more oversteer) and Off.
Additionally, the ST employs Torque Vectoring Control that applies brake torque to the inner wheel through a corner to help counteract understeer; similarly, Cornering Under Steer Control applies torque to create yaw torque, based on the vehicle’s understeer behaviour prior to the ESC intervention, according to Ford.
Suspension changes run to upgraded shock absorbers and altered springs that drop the ride height by 10mm all round, as well as new rear knuckles and a revised anti-roll bar design, while specially developed 235/40ZR18 Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres on 18-inch alloy wheels are fitted.
Powered by a variation of the 2.0-litre direct-injection turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder petrol engine found in the Falcon and Mondeo, as well as Volvos and – soon – Jaguars, the ST delivers 184kW of power at 5500rpm and 360Nm of torque between 2000 and 4500rpm, via a six-speed manual gearbox.
Modifications for the ST include unique engine management calibrations, redesigned intake and exhaust systems, and an exhaust ‘sound symposer’ – a sound tube that artificially amplifies the engine’s low-frequency sounds into the cabin via an electronically controlled valve attached to the intake manifold that opens and closes according to throttle inputs.
While the changes are enough to propel the Focus ST from zero to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds – four-tenths faster than the 155kW/280Nm GTI five-door manual – the 188kW/330Nm Golf R is about half a second faster at 5.9 seconds.
The ST strikes back with better average fuel consumption figures, at 7.4 litres per 100km against 7.7L/100km for the GTI and 8.7L/100km for the R.
By the time the Focus ST goes on sale in October, Renault will have launched the upgraded Renaultsport Megane RS265 Trophy Phase II in August from about $42,000, with power rising from the current RS250’s 184kW to 198kW and torque up 20Nm to 360Nm, for a 6.0-second 0-100km/h sprint and 8.2L/100km consumption.
The second half of 2012 is already shaping up to be a golden year for hot hatches, as they defend their territory against the sensational $29,990 Toyota 86 (and its sold-out Subaru BRZ twin) as well as the high-flying Hyundai Veloster and Honda CR-Z sportscars.
In addition to the Focus ST and Megane RS265 hot hatches, new kid on the block Opel will pitch its Astra GTC from August, with the range-topping Sport variant priced from $34,990 and brandishing a 132kW/230Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo to push it to 100km/h in 8.3 seconds.