Before I’d even seen the car I’d nicknamed it the blue whale. A play on the blue oval of Ford, it’s colour and it’s porky weight. In all honesty, I didn’t expect much from the Focus, my last outing in a Ford ST product was spent picking up bits of engine on the M5 after my Mondeo ST200 spectacularly exploded. It was a confused car the Mondeo, it looked like a BTCC rep and sounded the business but in reality it felt like a top spec rep mobile with a fancy exhaust note. The Accord Type R I owned later, while similar in spec to the ST200 would leave it for dust on any road you choose to race them on. I expected much of the same with this ST.
For a bit of perspective, the road and conditions I was testing the Focus on weren’t exactly in its favour. The twisty tarmac of a Scottish mountain side, gale force winds and rain that penetrated waterproof jackets like the Avenger Gatling gun of the A10 Warthog, couldn’t have been worse for a torquey front wheel drive car. To make my assessment harder, I’d been back to back driving a Renault sport Clio 200, a Fiat Panda 100hp and my own FN2 Civic Type R on the same day. Both the Honda and the Renault more set up for attacking apexes than the big Ford and the little Panda not far off half a ton lighter.
Despite this handicap and considering the conditions, it was a pleasure to jump in the Ford. Those heated leather seats, something I’m normally quite vocal against, proved rather inviting. The driving position I found pretty much spot on, the wheel comes up close to your chest and feels more natural than the FN2. The seats don’t hug you like the more race style buckets of the other two cars but they’re comfortable and no doubt fantastic while munching miles. In typical Ford fashion the Focus was a doddle to get going, the gearbox and clutch are so easy to use, although for my tastes, the shift action was lacking some mechanical feel.
I’m actually surprised it’s taken me this long to mention the engine. It’s undoubtedly this cars party piece. Point the wheels straight and ease your right foot closer to the bulkhead and you get that surge towards the horizon only a turbocharged motor can give you. Complementing that torque delivery from rpm a K20 probably idles at, is the five cylinder warble reminiscent of Audi’s group B monsters. The exhaust note on this particular car is very well judged, enough to make you giggle and blip the throttle repeatedly just to hear it on the overrun but not ASBO. Surprising for a car you expect to come with a free Burberry cap and The New Monkey blasting through the sound system.
Once you’ve teleported down the straight and find yourself braking into a corner, the blue whale surprised once again. It wasn’t that sloppy rep mobile with a decent engine note I’d expected, it braked well, turned in well and being mindful this wasn’t my car, wasn’t that unruly on corner exit as you unleashed the warp speed again. And it was that warp speed that had me captivated. Having had limited experience with genuinely fast cars, the majority of them NA at that, it’s torque delivery and access to power was so easy it’s almost lazy and that appealed to me big time.
Getting more confident in the car and pushing further beyond 7 tenths, things do start to unravel somewhat. The brakes feel like they’re stopping a fair amount of mass and even on a cold windy day, they were smoking when I pulled up after a short run. Body control felt on the soft side, especially in comparison to the Honda and meant direction changes didn’t quite have the eagerness the tight and twisty roads demanded. One thing to think about however, this is an ST not an RS. To criticise this chassis for being on the soft side is to wear slippers in a 100 meter race and complain you can’t keep up with those wearing spikes. I have no doubt the RS, with it’s more complex suspension setup would hide its bulk far better than the ST but that would be at the detriment of comfort. Horses for courses.
On the day, on that particular ribbon of Scottish tarmac, the Focus didn’t quite have the match of the Clio or Civic but it wasn’t the massacre I was expecting. In isolation, the car was awesome. Keep it flowing through the corners, ride the wave of torque down the straights and it will entertain until the brakes cook. It was by far the best car to cover any sort of distance in and being honest, I’d started searching the internet when I got home in the hope of replacing the A2 as my daily. Even if I desperately can’t afford it. I want one.
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