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Car reviews - Ford - Focus - XR5 Turbo 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, dynamics, styling, comfort, space, refinement, stability control, curtain airbags
Room for improvement
Limited options (no auto, sunroof, satellite-navigation), no driver’s footrest, no cruise control, el-cheapo Turbo badge

Ford logo28 Apr 2006

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FORD is back to what it does best – building fast, affordable and fun four-pot screamers. Think 1960s Lotus Cortina, 1970s twin-cam Escort or 1980s Laser TX3 4WD Turbo and you get the idea.

Except now it’s a five-cylinder fast Ford that is carrying on the tradition.

And unbelievably, less than 12 months since the giant-killing VW Golf GTI and marvellous yet underrated Renault Megane Sport Cup have redefined the genre, the Focus XR5 Turbo might just have the goods to blow both of them away already - and to take on the likes of Holden's incoming new Astra Turbo and HSV's even hotter Astra VXR.

It is that good.

No, you can’t have it with any sort of automatic gearbox – let alone one as brilliant as VW’s twin-clutch DSG. A sunroof is out of the question too, as is satellite-navigation and even cruise control. And what sort of "driver’s car" dispenses with a driver’s left footrest?

But we promise you, if you want an affordable state-of-the-art hot-hatch, absolutely none of these things will matter once you’ve come to grips – metaphorically and literally – with the Focus’ fantastic dynamics.

You may not be surprised to learn that this Focus is a superb steerer and handler – it’s a given in small Fords these days.

You may, however, be delighted by just how high the limits of adhesion are how talkative the steering is how absent torque steer is – despite having 320Nm of it barrelling through the front wheels and how gracefully this thing corners.

The XR5 Turbo is deceiving, because step-off acceleration is merely strong, not scorching. Certainly the VW feels livelier here. Yet all it takes though is a quick glance at the speedo to realise just how much speed the low-blow 2.5-litre engine unleashes.

And once you plant your foot – whether it’s in second gear (instantly zinging up to the 7000rpm redline/rev-limiter), or doing the same in third hitting 140km/h, the Focus is very fast, accompanied by a superbly measured six-speed manual shifter.

The reason for this is bloody Volvo, supplier of the XR5’s double overhead cam five-cylinder turbo charged engine.

Never mind the 166kW of power savour the towering torque plateau instead, accompanied by a beautifully unique baritone exhaust note that emphatically says this is not a four-cylinder under the bonnet.

Four-cylinder phobics not wanting the bowser or weight woes of a heavy V6 can now have the best of both worlds with five on the trot.

And that, right there, adds another dimension to the Focus no current hot-hatch rival can match – a horse’s heart of a motor. Perhaps not as sparkling as the lovely 2.0-litre TFSI Golf unit, nor as tearaway-raucous as the Renault’s, but a beaut little in-line unit all the same.

At speed the Ford feels solid too, rooted to the road, giving the driver the sort of body control you might expect in a larger Euro car.

The XR5 Turbo leaves the driver wanting more. Up the ante by flooring the accelerator and there’s no drama or hysterics – just more speed, more neutral handling, and even more fun.

On the launch drive's winding (but busy) public roads, both wet and dry in patches, it’s obvious that there is even more talent left to be explored in the XR5 Turbo – the sort of controlled sliding, progressive oversteer sort of handling that brings out the boy/girl racer in us all.

Yet, when you’re feeling like taking it easy, there’s the reassurance of switchable stability control, an impressively compliant ride considering the rubber this roustabout is rolling on, very little road noise, steering that can be tuned to Normal or Comfort instead of just sharper Sport mode, and the everyday ease and practicality that modern small cars possess. Who needs to compromise!

The essence of a hot-hatch then – this is what the fastest Focus to hit Australia so far is all about.

That it looks great thanks to those gorgeous 18-inch alloys, excellent Recaro bucket seats front and rear and nicely trimmed cabin is almost secondary – although the Golf clearly has the edge as far as interior specialness and presentation is concerned.

And the same applies to some of the iffy exterior detailing – namely the tacky ‘Turbo’ badge that looks like an afterthought, and rear wheelarch ‘spats’ that look like a supermarket carpark scrape.

Irrelevant quibbles all. The new XR5 Turbo rises above these, and takes its hot-hatch abilities, right to its formidable rivals, and possibly beyond.

We’re already aching for more time at the wheel.

Welcome to the classic fast Ford club, Focus. In this country at least, it has been a very long time coming.

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