Car reviews - Ford - Focus - ST
11 Oct 2012
NO FEWER than 30 engineers in five countries were employed to get just the right engine note inside the new Ford Focus ST, which was officially launched in Australia this week.
The Blue Oval’s latest hot hatch arrives as a clear challenger to the iconic Volkswagen Golf GTI, undercutting the perennial segment leader on price (as announced two months ago) while exceeding it on performance.
At $38,290, the Focus ST is $2200 cheaper than the equivalent five-door Golf and even $700 less than the three-door, giving VW something to think about ahead of the launch next year of the next-generation model revealed at the recent Paris motor show.
Ford describes the German-built Focus ST as its first global performance car because it is sold in the same specification in 40 countries
The ST develops 184kW of power and 340Nm of torque (360Nm when using the overboost function) from its 2.0-litre turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine.
This puts it in the middle of the front-drive hot hatch war, placing it ahead of the Golf GTI (currently with 155kW/280Nm and next year with up to 169kW/350Nm), on a par with the upcoming Volvo V40 T5 R-Design (187kW/360Nm), but behind both the Renault Megane RS265 (198kW/360Nm) and the car that will be the new king of the hill from early 2013, Opel’s remarkable 206kW/400Nm Astra OPC.
Aside from its sharp price and a hot new hero colour called Tangerine Scream, Ford Australia hopes one of the factors that will set the Focus ST apart from its hot hatch rivals will be the company’s new ‘active sound symposer’ that amplifies specific engine frequencies into the cabin.
A development of the ‘sound tube’ concept used on the previous Focus XR5, the symposer employs an electronically controlled valve attached directly to the intake manifold – rather than between the manifold and air intake as on the previous version – that opens and closes according to driver inputs measured by engine revs, throttle position and gear selection.
The goal was to boost engine volumes into the cabin in the 200 to 450Hz frequency range that Ford assessed as the most pleasing to performance enthusiasts.
This is achieved through the use of a composite ‘paddle’ that vibrates with air impulses at low frequencies to create a “throaty” engine note, but is much quieter when cruising in higher gears.
According to Ford, the international team of 30 engineers from suppliers of the intake manifold, electrical hardware and software, battery tray and electrical connectors came together with the car-maker to accelerate development of the symposer.
They had to “balance noise, vibration and harshness issues, materials, manufacturing and assembly considerations to bring the symposer to life”.
Ford air induction system engineer Christopher Myers said discerning hot hatch drivers not only want their engines to sing, they want them to roar.
“For ST drivers, it’s not enough to have a car that is fast or feels fast – it also has to sound fast,” said Mr Myers.
“Part of this is the design of the exhaust, but we went further and engineered the symposer both to dial up the nice sounds the EcoBoost delivers under the hood but dial back the interior sound volumes at part throttle. “The turbo gives us great power across the rev range, but it presents a special challenge from a sound perspective as it absorbs much of the beautiful engine music.
“The symposer helps us bring the throaty sounds that drivers love.”
The Focus ST ups the ante over the previous five-door Focus hot hatch, the XR5 Turbo, which was discontinued in June after more than six years on the market.
Powered by a turbocharged Volvo 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine producing a relatively modest 166kW and 320Nm, the XR5 Turbo was priced from $36,490 with a standard six-speed manual gearbox.
For almost two years, though, Ford Australia sold a limited-edition called the Focus RS, a three-door model with flared wheelarches priced at $59,990 and with the turbo boost turned way up to produce some 224kW and 440Nm – putting even more grunt through the front wheels than the forthcoming Opel Astra OPC.
No automatic transmission was available on either the XR5 or the RS, and the same applies to the new ST, putting it at a disadvantage to its rivals, even though hot hatch drivers may traditionally prefer a manual.
Harnessing the performance, taming torque steer and reducing understeer were the dynamic challenges that faced the ST engineers, resulting in the car coming with a bunch of electronic systems with the requisite acronyms.
These include Electronic Power Assisted Steering (EPAS), Torque Steer Compensation (TSC), Torque Vectoring Control (TVC), Cornering Under Steer Control (CUSC) and three settings for the electronic stability control (DSC) system.
Of course, the suspension has also been uprated with stiffer springs and shock absorbers, a different rear sway bar and firmer suspension joints, and lowered 10mm.
As we reported in August, the ST features a 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, cruise control (unavailable in the XR5 Turbo), dual-zone climate-control, automatic bi-Xenon headlights with distinctive model-specific black surrounds, an auto-dimming interior mirror and rain-sensing wipers.
Also standard are satellite navigation, tyre-pressure sensors, a rear-view camera, daytime-running lights, Bluetooth connectivity, nine-speaker Sony sound system, keyless entry and start, and additional instrumentation (a three-gauge cluster for oil pressure, oil temperature and boost pressure).
The Focus ST is distinguished by a one-piece interpretation of Ford’s signature trapezoidal grille, side skirts, a diffuser in the rear bumper, a roof spoiler, a dual centre exhaust outlet (shaped like a Kia grille) and 18-inch alloy wheels fitted with Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres.
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