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Driven: Ford unleashes refreshed Focus ST

Focal point: The mid-life update to Ford’s Focus ST brings visual changes inside and out and improvements to the suspension set-up and NVH levels.

Subaru and Volkswagen the targets for Ford’s updated Focus ST hot hatch

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Ford logo30 Apr 2015

By TIM NICHOLSON

FORD is gunning for the iconic Subaru WRX with its revised Focus ST hot hatch – and hoping for a boost in sales volume when it arrives in Australian showrooms during May.

The performance flagship of the facelifted Focus range lands on Australian shores several months before the mainstream variants as production of the ST at Ford’s German plant kicked off ahead of the Thai plant that will produce the Ambiente, Trend and Titanium.

These Thai-built versions are set to arrive in the third quarter of the year.

The Blue Oval brand has made a number of revisions to the LZ-series Focus ST, including exterior and interior upgrades, a slight boost to fuel efficiency, tweaked suspensions settings and improvements to noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels for a quieter ride.

Speaking with media at the first drive of the ST in Healesville, Victoria, this week, newly appointed Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman said overall Focus supply has been down in the past 12 months, which has impacted sales, but he added that there will be enough stock of the new ST.

“Supply is not an issue,” he said. “It has been a bit of a challenge for us in the last year and that has been limiting some of our sales. So I don’t really want to say that the last year’s sales are an indicator of what would come going forward.

“We have sold circa 650 to 700 (STs) on average the last three or four years.

That’s the sort of volume.”

Mr Whickman said he expected a slight lift in sales for the updated Focus ST, but highlighted the dominance of the WRX in Australia’s performance small-car segment.

“We are sort of around between 10 to 15 per cent of the sub-segment. Obviously the dominant player is the WRX,” he said.

“I would suggest that we would probably do a little bit better than what we have been able to achieve in the last year or so because we have been supply constrained. But at the end of the day the customer is going to be the arbiter of that and supply and demand will be matched.” Ford has taken to comparing some of its models to direct rivals in its advertising as a way to highlight certain features of the car, but Mr Whickman said the company would not employ this strategy for the Focus ST.

“An ST, I don’t think it needs the kind of marketing approach that perhaps we have taken with some other vehicles – a mainstream Mondeo or Kuga. I want to make sure the consuming public out there knows the facts then they can make a choice,” he said.

“An ST is a different cup of tea … I think someone (who) comes into the sub-segment and has a series of choices, they are pretty well informed already.”

As previously reported, the Focus ST is priced from $38,990 plus on-road costs – a $700 increase compared with the previous version.

This places it in the league of other vaunted offerings in the segment including the Volkswagen Golf GTI (from $41,990), the Renault Megane RS265 Cup ($43,990) and Holden’s just-launched Astra VXR ($39,990), all of which it undercuts. It matches the entry-level WRX’s $38,990 pricetag.

New to the Focus ST compared with the two-and-a-half-year-old outgoing model is fuel-saving automatic engine idle-stop, adaptive bi-Xenon headlights, the latest Sync2 infotainment system, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and, as part of an optional $2000 technology pack, rear cross-traffic alert.

Two new colours have been added to the palette: ‘stealth’ grey and ‘deep impact’ blue.

Little has changed under the bonnet, with the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost petrol engine – found in a number of Ford models including the Mondeo and homegrown Falcon – still pumping out 184kW of power at 5500rpm and 360Nm of torque from 2000-4500rpm.

This offers more punch than the Golf GTI (162kW/350Nm), but cannot match the WRX (197kW/350Nm) or the Astra VXR (206kW/400Nm).

The ST is matched with a six-speed manual gearbox – there is no automatic option – and fuel consumption has dropped by 0.1 litres per 100 kilometres to 7.3L/100km over the model it replaces. This is a direct result of the idle-stop system, according to Ford.

Other changes under the skin include rejigged sports suspension with new front springs and a sportier new shock absorber tune at the front and rear, thanks to stiffer bushes on the front lower control arm and rear spring links.

Ford has also tweaked the electric steering system’s calibration as well as the car’s electronic control systems to ensure they meet the “specific sporting requirements” of the ST.

Exterior revisions include Ford’s prominent trapezoidal grille, a new sculpted bonnet, sharper headlight design, rectangular fog-lights and a restyled rear end.

However, the ST’s big visual changes occur in the cabin.

The fussy centre stack control layout is gone in favour of a simplified set-up that houses the 8.0-inch touchscreen for Sync2 that features satellite navigation, audio controls and climate control.

As well as the aforementioned flat-bottomed tiller, other interior highlights include a soft-touch dash, Recaro sports seats with colour panels and stitching that match the exterior paint scheme, ambient lighting, illuminated ST scuff plates, a satin chrome-topped gearlever and other chrome touches throughout.

New 18-inch alloy wheels and red callipers at the front and rear top off the hot-hatch look.

In addition to rear cross-traffic alert, the $2000 tech pack has active emergency braking for speeds up to 50km/h, a blind-spot monitor, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, automatic high beam and a fatigue-busting ‘driver impairment monitor’.

Among the hi-tech dynamic features onboard is an ‘enhanced transitional stability’ (ETS) system that works to maintain traction during quick directional changes.

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