Wednesday 21 February 2018

Cars: How single Focus gets its double act together

High-powered ST acts as family car too

High performance: Ford Focus ST
High performance: Ford Focus ST
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

For once, I can't complain about the drawbacks of trying to drive a performance car on Irish roads. Usually, all I can do is push it to the legal limit and only imagine/long-for its capabilities. But with this Ford Focus ST2, I had the best of both worlds.

As you know the ST is a high-performance take on the family-hatch Focus.

It benefits from all sorts of engineering and technological upgrades and tweaks so it can go like the clappers or just saunter along.

As luck would have it this time, I was able to drive it around Mondello race track at a rate of knots and then use it as an 'ordinary' car on the roads.

I must have done reasonably well at Mondello. You sense that when you get a knowing grin or two from those in the pits when you return from a stint. I normally don't get too many but I'm sure I detected at least three this time.

The unusual thing about my ST test car was that it was a diesel, with its two-litre engine pumping out 180PS.

I drove it hard around the track, naturally, but here's the thing: on one lap I managed to do the full circuit without leaving third gear. Into and out of tight corners and flat out down the great back straight; in third, at the rev limit, but with nothing remotely approaching that choking, harsh noise diesels can emit when stressed out.

That is what you call flexibility in an engine where its low-rev pulling power and high-rev ability combined. I enjoyed the experience.

And then, with all that latent madness out of my system, I took it to the public roads for a few days where I treated it much like I would an ordinary small-family hatch. Well, most of the time. It would be unforgivable to ignore its moderate sprintability from a standing start or from traffic lights (0-100kmh in 8.1 seconds is okay but it felt quicker than that).

I just had to be careful because there was a hint of torque steer too. And, despite an earlier impression, I thought the turning circle quite wide and not at all conducive to sharp turning or reversing into parking lots.

Other than that, I skipped around town, suburbia, motorway and country roads as usual, the only tangible clue (apart from the ST insignia and seats) being an extremely firm playback from the suspension. Wicklow roads were not made for this.

I'd go further and say some city routes, given their current state of rupture, at times made for more vibrant travel than I or some of my passengers would have deemed comfortable. That is the price of a sporty, specially tuned suspension.

But regardless of location or underfoot conditions, I'd take the fuel consumption any time. This matches the 4.2-litres-per-100km (67.3mpg) of the standard 1.6 litre 95PS diesel Focus. Well that's what they say. Obviously, that figure would not take the likes of my Mondello drive into account. But the needle moved slowly on general drives.

It is a car you can drive like a normal hatch and that, I suppose, is the attraction in that you get two-in-one.

But you'd want to be legally getting your kicks at somewhere like Mondello to justify the significant outlay. We are talking the guts of €40,000 grand here. Whew!

I think the harsh ride remains its major flaw and I think the Volkswagen GTD is better in that department.

But I liked the energy regardless of what mode or mood I was in - there was always the promise of real acceleration behind every revolution of the engine.

The sports Recaro seats fitted me well and I remember them keeping me tightly secure on the twists and quick turns of Mondello.

Certainly no space is lost or compromised by this being decked out as a sports car inside. And there's a fine boot.

Even allowing for the ride being a bit harsh and the price, I can see where the enthusiasm would come for a car like this. Like me with track and tarmac, you get to sample the best of both worlds.

Facts & figures

Ford Focus ST2, 5dr, 2-litre diesel (180PS, 6spd, 110g/km, €190 road tax).

Standard equipment includes: Recaro seats with partial leather trim, 18ins ST alloys, full ST body kit, front fogs, specially tuned suspension, rear diffuser, central dual exhaust, automatic lights and wiper, LED daytime running lights, range of airbags and safety equipment. Optional extra on test car: Sync Gen 2 with 8ins touchscreen.

Prices start at €39,100. Those for ST2 spec begin at €39,800. Test car with option costs €40,250. Remember: delivery and related charges are extra.

My side of the road

I often wonder how mums manage with the shopping and a tired child on tow in supermarket car parks. It can be a dangerous interval as she tries to keep the child safe and get the shopping on board - often in the rain. This past week I saw an angry little boy dart away from the car while mum opened the door. A car had to brake hard. We all need to drive much slower in car parks.

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