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Ford's fastest Focus - for now
7:13pm Monday 23rd April 2012 in Car Reviews
THERE’S a glaring omission in Ford’s Focus line up at the moment. All the bread and butter models are present and correct, but where’s the high performance version?
Enthusiasts will have to wait until this summer to get their hands on the ST version but for those who just can’t wait there’s the Zetec S.
The 1.6-litre engine packs a mean turbo punch and the car is decked out in a full bodykit but will that be enough to prevent fast Ford diehards heading for their nearest Renaultsport dealer?
ON THE ROAD: Ford’s 1.6 EcoBoost engine has been tweaked to give 178bhp (up from 148bhp in standard tune) which puts it ahead of the VW Golf GT which can only muster 158bhp from its fiendishly complex supercharged and turbocharged 1.4. These days 178bhp is strictly second division material, though. The minimum requirement for membership of the full-on hot hatch class is 200bhp - the Zetec S is more of a particularly pokey warm hatch.
But those numbers only tell part of the story. The 1.6 EcoBoost is a star - smooth, gutsy and rather better in real life than the bald figures would suggest. There’s even a nice fruity rasp from the exhaust. It’s mated to an excellent six-speed gearbox and a light clutch. The fat torque curve - courtesy of the turbocharging - partly ameliorates Ford’s decision to choose a rather long set of ratios in pursuit of lower running costs. However, it’s impossible to have your cake and eat it and the Zetec S would be even more exciting to drive if the intermediate gears were closer.
Ford took the brave decision to ditch the old car's much admired hydraulic power steering for an electronic set-up. Although electronic PAS reduces fuel consumption it doesn't have the same level of 'feel' through the steering rim. There’s still a stack of front end grip, though.
The 1.6 EcoBoost is a star - smooth, gutsy and rather better in real life than the bald figures would suggest.Nigel Burton, Motoring Editor
Sophisticated electronics also help reduce wheelspin by switching torque to the wheel with the most traction. It's a not a true torque vectoring differential but it's a worthwhile addition that boosts grip on tight bends.
The emphasis on sports performance and the firmer suspension hasn’t ruined the superb ride. A Focus shames cars costing twice as much - smothering bumps, dips and expansion joints in a way that nothing else in this class can manage. It’s comfortable and confidence inspiring - a great combination.
ON THE INSIDE:The seats are comfortable and it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position. They don’t have particularly large side bolsters but there’s plenty of grip in fast corners. Ford’s dashboard designers - the consultants who created the original Apple Mac mouse - have drawn inspiration from mobile phones but their efforts have been only partly successful. The layout looks over crowded and cluttered.
WHAT DO YOU GET: All the basics are present but the Focus falls a bit short. I liked the DAB radio - which is much easier to tune than previous Ford digital head units - and the Bluetooth wireless connection was handy but, other than a speed limit warning system, the Focus felt a bit short on luxury. And the speed warning blotted its copy book one morning when it assured me that the speed limit on Cleveland Terrace, in Darlington’s built-up West End, was an eye-opening 110mph.
The bodykit is a matter of personal taste but there’s no mistaking the Zetec S thanks to its deep chin and ground hugging rear apron. Critics reckon it looks a bit naff but I can remember the black wheel arch spats on the Mark 1 Escort XR3. Compared to those there’s nothing after market about this kit.
Sadly, you need to fork out extra for goodies like cruise control (£200), electric rear windows (£250), rear parking sensors (£525) or metallic paintwork (£525).
HOW PRACTICAL IS IT: There’s enough room for a family with three small kids but the boot is a surprisingly modest 316-litres - short of the Astra (351 litres), Golf (350 litres) and way behind the Skoda Octavia (a whopping 585-litres). On the strictly unscientific Burton family shopping test the Focus managed to swallow a dozen full carrier bags.
RUNNING COSTS: The £20,525 Zetec S features a host of fuel-saving features including stop-start, active aerodynamics which closes the radiator grille at speed, a gearshift indicator and regenerative brakes. The test car returned 39.1mpg - an excellent result for a performance minded petrol powered engine.
VERDICT: Don’t be fooled by the modest figures, the Zetec S is a real pleasure to drive. If you can live with the smaller than average boot it makes an excellent performance family hatchback.
ALTERNATIVES: VW Golf GT TSI 1.4: More expensive than the Focus and not as nice to drive but the cabin quality is better and the sophisticated looks are timeless. Likely to hold its value better, too.
Vauxhall Astra SRi 1.6 turbo: Available in a wide variety of guises and power outputs, the 180PS SRi is the Ford’s closest competition. Good looks, nice cabin, higher running costs and poorer handling prowess.
Seat Leon FR+: Getting a bit long in the tooth now but there’s no denying the FR+ is a fully paid up hot hatchback. Engine packs a 211PS punch but the gnarly ride and higher purchase cost count against it.