The old Focus, a wonderful handling car in even the most run-of-the-mill models, had the underwhelmingly horsepowered ST170, with which the firm misjudged the ‘power and more power!’ fashion, and the fidgety RS, which had enough power but all the predictability of Pete Doherty. The thing made the average country road seem like a special rally stage in Kielder forest.
So with the new generation Focus hot hatch, Ford is trying to be more middle of the road, combining its engineers’ abilities to produce high grip, great-handling cars while giving it enough power to keep drivers who care about big bhp numbers happy too.
The ST has been put together by the people at TeamRS who did such a superb job with the Fiesta ST. Their main priority is to produce sweet handling cars – not just bung in a large motor in the hope that ridiculous power will sell a torque-steering handful of a car.
But don’t imagine the ST is underpowered. With 223bhp produced from a Volvo-sourced five-cylinder 2.5-litre unit with a turbocharger it’s no slug, but gone is the edgy character of the old 212bhp Focus RS, where a racing differential was often blamed for its torque steer and tramlining tendencies.
The new Ford Focus, and even the ST incarnation, has essentially the same suspension as the old Focus but such was the impressiveness of its chassis that all the engineers have had to do is hone and tune it. Add in that the new car is stiffer, and you got a fine base on which to perfect hot hatch suspension.
Our test car came in a bright orange colour that was exactly the hue of B&Q, I noted, as the car disappeared, chameleon-like, alongside the cabs of one of the DIY firm’s lorries as I swept past.
But it certainly turns heads. Whether it was the in-your-face colour or aficionados spotting the deep front bumper, jagged 18-inch alloys or the aluminium detailing I’m not sure, but the effect is certainly striking – the ST looks special without teetering on the brink of being naff.
Ford has done a good job with the interior, too. Recaro seats, a chunky leather steering wheel, aluminium inserts on the handbrake and gearlever, metal pedals and extra instruments plonked on top of the dash for important performance things like how much turbo boost you’re using, give it enough of an edge over a standard Focus. So all the elements are in place, but does the Focus deliver on the road?
It certainly sounds the part with the combination of whining turbo and bellowing engine. And with direct steering, an accurate short-throw gearshift and plenty of grip despite 223bhp trying to escape from the front wheels, it is very quick through all its six gears.
The stiff suspension, large wheels and low profile tyres mean you know what is going on below you but the ride is not unduly crashy.
The ST is a solid, grown-up feeling car and has an air of class about it. It does not have a boy-racer ambience (even in orange), but instead is a very professionally, thoughtfully sorted vehicle.
Ford Focus ST-2 3dr
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £18,292
CO2 emissions (g/km): 224
BIK % of P11D in 2006: 31%
Graduated VED rate: £190
Insurance group: 17
Combined mpg: 30.4
CAP Monitor residual value: £7,400/40%
Depreciation 18.15 pence per mile x 60,000: £10,890
Maintenance 3.54 pence per mile x 60,000: £2,124
Fuel 14.13 pence per mile x 60,000: £8,478
Wholelife cost 35.82 pence per mile x 60,000: £21,492
Typical contract hire rate: £359
At a glance
We don’t like
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
THE Focus, Astra and Megane all have generous kit levels, including sports seats, while the MINI has BMW’s approach to speccing: i.e make most things an option. Even manual air conditioning is £630 extra. But creature comforts aren’t the be-all and end-all here – drivers want performance and in this respect the Astra wins with 240bhp. The Megane has 225bhp, the Focus 223bhp and the MINI 210bhp.
TO get all that power down on to the Tarmac, these cars generally need top-end, low-profile sport tyres, and big brakes to stop them, too. As a result, expensive replacement rubber and pads mean the Megane and Focus would cost more than £2,000 in garage bills and parts over three years and 60,000 miles. The cheapest is the MINI, with a total cost of only £1,422. The Astra comes in at a very respectable £1,620.
DRIVERS don’t choose a hot hatch to try and save fuel, and none of these cars are designed for long trips between petrol pumps. The MINI, with combined economy of 32.8mpg, has the lowest fuel cost at £7,854, while the Focus and Astra are joint bottom at nearly £8,500. But taking an educated guess at the sort of driver who chooses one of these cars, anybody who manages to hit the claimed fuel figures deserves to have the keys taken away from them.
ALL MINIs have extremely strong residual values and the John Cooper Works version is no different. This is reflected in the 17.64 pence-per-mile cost in depreciation, which equates to just over £10,500 in cash lost terms over three years/60,000 miles. The Focus only loses about £300 more, which is a good performance for a volume brand, while the Vauxhall and Renault are some way behind. The Megane would lose £2,300 more than the MINI.
THANKS to strong residuals, decent fuel economy and low servicing costs, the MINI is comfortably the cheapest in wholelife costs with a figure of £19,860 – £1,600 less than the next-best Focus. Weaker residuals for the Megane make it much more expensive at £23,600. However, it’s worth remembering that the initial outlay to get the MINI up to a similar specification as the others could easily run into thousands of pounds.
EMISSIONS AND BIK TAX RATES
WITH the lowest P11d price and lowest emissions it should follow that the MINI is the cheapest for company car tax. A 22% taxpayer would be faced with a £99 monthly bill – but the Megane is only £10 more expensive and emits only 2g/km more so ends up with an identical bill. The Ford and Vauxhall have higher emissions and so are in the 31% BIK tax band, but there’s not much in it. The most expensive, the Astra, is only £8 a month more than the MINI and Megane.
IT comes down to the MINI and the Focus, as the Astra and Megane are great cars but are too far behind on costs to win. The MINI is the cheapest to run, but in the hot hatch world that is not the over-riding consideration, and it is not well-specced either, while the Focus is not prohibitively expensive but is bigger and more practical than the MINI, and delivers a fantastic driving experience.