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Focus ST ‘sharper, crisper’ than Golf GTI: Ford

New Focus ST arrives in Oz and Ford is confident it can outpoint big-ticket rivals

21 May 2020

FORD’S all-new Focus ST hot hatch enters Australian showrooms this week and the Blue Oval brand is confident the highly anticipated new model will upstage a host of high-end performance cars and still remain a volume seller.


Priced from $44,690 plus on-road costs, the new-generation Focus ST – which is armed with a 206kW/420Nm 2.3-litre turbo-four engine – is priced keenly against the majority of its mainstream rivals, but Ford Performance executives in Australia and abroad have more elite targets in mind.


In a teleconference with Australian journalists this week, Ford Performance Europe manager Stefan Muenzinger said: “There are a bunch of cars, I mean obviously we had a (Volkswagen) Golf GTI as it is, volume-wise, the biggest player in the segment however character-wise it’s quite different.


“We want a sharper, crisper vehicle than a Golf GTI, which I think we delivered.


“Then we looked at Hyundai i30 N, Honda Civic Type R, Seat Leon Cupra – they were the cars we owned and purchased and had as competitor vehicles.”


Australia’s Ford Performance product marketing manager Lionel Santoso went a step further to include the Subaru WRX in the local list of competitors, and even deemed the $69,300 Mercedes-AMG A35 4Matic as fair game.


“We also look at broader and even at the adjacent segments,” he said.


“So even WRX, which is not your traditional hot hatch given it’s a sedan, it’s an all-wheel drive, we take that into account as well.


“We also look at even some of the premium entrants to performance, things like the newly announced A35.”


Mr Santoso echoed Mr Muenzinger’s views of the Golf GTI being the benchmark for volume, which for reference chalked up 1312 sales in Australia last year and 198 through the first four months of 2020.


The Focus ST undercuts the current Mk7.5 Golf GTI by $2000 and outmuscles it with an extra 26kW and 50Nm on tap.


In fact, the new Focus can be listed among the most powerful of the mainstream hot hatches, albeit remaining well behind pinnacle models like the ballistic 310kW Mercedes-AMG A45 S or 294kW Audi RS3.


In terms of power, the 206kW Focus dispatches not only the Golf GTI – which is about to enter a new generation – but the i30 N, Renault Megane RS (Sport and Cup variants) and the WRX, while its 420Nm peak torque puts all of its key rivals in the shade with only the Civic Type R, A35 and Megane RS Trophy able to get close with 400Nm.


The engine combines with an electronically controlled limited-slip differential and launch control system to send the ST from 0-100km/h in a claimed 5.7 seconds in six-speed manual guise, providing the same mid-range performance as the last-generation Focus RS.


On price, the ST undercuts not only the Golf GTI but the looming swansong (213kW) TCR variant, the Type R, Golf R, A35, all versions of the Megane RS, BMW M135 xDrive and Audi S3. Only the WRX ($40,490) and i30 N ($40,990) start below it.


The fourth-generation Focus ST also costs the same regardless of whether you specify the manual transmission or the newly devised seven-speed torque-converter automatic – the first time an auto has been offered on an ST model.


According to Mr Santoso, the decision to offer an automatic transmission was made after detailed analysis of C-segment sales revealed a 75 per cent preference of automatics compared to manuals when there is a choice available.


“We recognise what Australian customers want and the 2020 Focus ST delivers the choice of both to suit the spectrum of hot hatch drivers,” he said.


“Automatic is standard, but manual is available for those seeking greater engagement.”


The transmission itself uses the same 8F architecture as the rest of the current Focus range but with a series of changes made to its shifting parameters to maximise performance and driveability.


“Upshifts are actually really, really quick in this car,” Mr Muenzinger said. “From a shift time perspective, they’re actually comparable with dual-clutch transmissions.


“The downshifts are not quite as fast as a dual-clutch.


“Some of the competitors, when you start playing with the shifter paddles you actually notice some noticeable delays.”


The automatic takes an extra 0.3 seconds to reach 100km/h from standstill (6.0s) while the top speed and fuel economy also suffer slightly compared to the manual (220km/h vs 250km/h, 8.1L/100km vs 8.8L/100km).


Unlike Volkswagen which will lob the more potent Golf GTI TCR later this year, Mr Santoso said there were no plans to introduce a hotter version of the ST, even in the wake of the hi-po all-wheel-drive RS being put out to pasture for this generation.


While Ford did not have any ST-specific figures on hand, the Blue Oval did manage to chalk up 3682 Focus sales last year, accounting for a slim 2.4 per cent share of the sub-$40,000 small-car segment.


So far this year ending April there have been 732 Focus sales nationally, a drop of 51.9 per cent compared to the same period last year.

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