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Tested - Focus ST lacks GTI pace

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By Jesse Adams

Hulk Hogan almost always won. But it didn’t matter. It was about the show.

One by one his bronzed, baby oiled, and ‘roided to the hilt opponents would step into the wrestling ring with unique costumes, million-dollar pay-off lines and signature moves, and one by one handlebar-moustachioed Hogan would send them packing.

We almost always knew the outcome, but we were glued to the set anyway in the off chance of an upset. It was pro wrestling in its heyday.

I’m reluctant to mention that I consider the hot hatch equivalent of Hulk Hogan to be the Golf GTI for fear of inevitable flak from all the VW haters out there, but the fact is that the GTI has long been the hot hatch benchmark.

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In a way this is a rematch. The previous ST’s claim-to-fame was its offbeat 5-cylinder engine that gave it some special character among a sea of 2-litre turbo four-bangers, but this time around the re-invented Focus ST has succumbed to the trend with a 2-litre turbo of its own.

This one comes from the brand’s new Ecoboost line, and on paper it body slams the old 2.5’s 166kW and 320Nm with outputs of 184 and 360 respectively. It also pile drives the current GTI’s 155 and 280.

AGAINST THE CLOCK

But that’s on paper only. Our test equipment turned up a disappointing 7.4 second best (Ford claims 6.5) in the 0-100km/h test and 15.2 over the quarter mile. So the GTI has the new ST up against the ropes in flat-out acceleration. Our data has a standard GTI at 6.4 and 14.6 respectively.

And while on the topic of inflated claims, it seems the eco half of Ford’s Ecoboost equation is also exaggerated.

Ford quotes an average petrol consumption of 7.2 litres per 100km, but over our tank-to-tank test week we saw 12.5. Yes, this included some full throttle performance testing, but c’mon guys, we’re not even close here.

Still, I wouldn’t say my perception of performance is all that lacking. There is that turbo-typical kick in the backside when the turbo boosts, and the amount of wrist-ripping torque steer suggests there’s more force going through the front wheels than there actually is.

But just as in every pro wrestler, the ST’s got a bag of tricks to counter its weaknesses. First off, this Ford’s chassis is well sorted and I’m impressed with how easily it adapts from road to track. I’d say firmness levels are seven out of ten, which is perfect in a hot hatch that’ll spend most of its life on imperfect South African roads.

GREAT CHASSIS

I was also happy with how composed it was around our test track, and in both medium and high speed corners it stuck to the tar like an Iron Claw to André the Giant’s face. It’ll flick the back out if you force it to, and likewise, it’ll understeer if you barrel in too hot, but treat it right and it corners with a nice, neutral balance. A proper limited slip differential would improve handling because the ST still manages to spin its inside front wheel wildly on tight corner exits.

Another weapon in the ST’s armoury, and one that it shares with some of its normal Focus siblings, is its cutting edge interior design and nifty Sync infotainment interface. It’s clear that Ford’s targeting the younger market with the Focus because the button and switch-bespeckled dashboard, which looks like it could control an intergalactic starship, would scare away older technophobes.

IT CAN READ TO YOU

The Sync system, as in other cars, uses Bluetooth to pair your phone to the car but here takes connectivity to a new level by actually reading aloud text messages via the voice of “Serena” – a stern and slightly electronic-sounding woman. You can also talk back to Serena and request certain songs stored in your playlist or dial phone numbers in your phonebook.

I found Sync to work reasonably well, when it worked. Song data and actual playback were often confused, and connection was sometimes lost.

But the real showstopper is the ST’s price. This model comes in two derivatives starting with a lower ST1 at an unrivalled R310 000.

At this level you have to sacrifice leather Recaro seats, dual zone climate control, a fancier TFT display in the dash and even floor mats, but mechanically it’s identical to the higher spec ST3 that comes in just over a normal GTI at R354 000. Both come with six-speed manuals only. Ford’s dual-clutch Powershift automatic would go down a treat in the ring if it ever becomes available in the ST.

VERDICT

The new Focus ST is worthy of having its name on the hot hatch Wrestlemania billboard as a headlining fight, but don’t expect it to take home the belt. Performance levels are just not good enough to pull one over on the Hulk. It puts on one hell of a show though. -Star Motoring

Follow me on Twitter: @PoorBoyLtd

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