A focus group is defined as a form of qualitative research. A group of (often specialised) people are asked for their opinions, thoughts and attitudes about a certain brand or product. I would assume they were busy as Ford ended up taking a bunch of us Auto Journalists to Melbourne to look at the new Focus ST.
The Focus ST (Sports Technologies) has been around since 2002 and although back then, on my opinion, it wasn’t the best looking performance car in the Ford range, it did offer up a 30% increased power output to the standard 2 litre. Second generation brought with it a bigger 2.5L engine and somewhat better looks but still, ordinary. Gen three introduced the powerful and efficient 2L EcoBoost and the handsome ‘bigger grill’ styling – The Focus ST had arrived.
The 2015 Focus ST has taken Gen three to a whole new level. Lifting up the grill towards the ‘powerdomed’ bonnet gives increased volume and presence to the front and its more sculptured face has an almost antagonistic expression – it’s here to play but be careful; it may just bite.
With four colour options on offer for the day’s road test we mused over the merits of each one like the professionals we were (Stealth Gray, Tangerine Scream, Deep Impact Blue and Race Red) then opted for Red as it was the nearest.
We discussed at length the improvements to the Focus ST that had continued inside with what Ford call an Intuitive cockpit layout essentially (unlike our mouths) it was far less busy. Switch gear has been minimised and the Sync 2 system has been added. Rafts of driver’s aids have been introduced but somehow they have quietly blended into the background. Finally, the Recaro seats are as good as they have ever been, supportive and figure hugging (even mine).
Dip the clutch (the ST only comes in manual) Push button start and select first gear before setting smoothly off- would be how Ford would have liked us to begin but this is an ST so it was a foot to the floor launch. Which brought up the next topic of discussion – Torque Steer. Some people feel that torque steer (a tendency for a high powered -184kw in this case- front wheel car to pull to one side under acceleration) is a bad thing, we agreed that it offered a far more interesting dynamic to any drive.
Off the mark the ST wrestled with me and the electronics for straight line direction, probably not helped with the fact that the wheels were struggling for purchase. Yes it’s a little childish and yes I should have grown out of this by now but in my defence I did need to know how fast the 2Litre EcoBoost engine would get up to 100 – 6.5 seconds I’m informed. In overtaking manoeuvres the ST’s 345Nm (360Nm in overboost) torque steer adds an extra bit of excitement as you pull out to pass vehicles, especially if you plant your foot hard to the floor. It is controllable and easy to get used to by the way.
As we drove at speed around the Melbourne countryside, we talked about the NVH (Noise Vibration and harshness) improvements Ford had made to the car; it really is a lot quieter inside. Alas, as we tested out the stiffer chassis and dynamic stability improvements it was hard to keep the noise down from the back seat – Tom from Ford PR was whimpering and reciting what sounded like the Lord’s Prayer.
It’s our group’s opinion that the new Focus ST is a great car; it has four door hatch practicality and 184kw’s of fun. The 6 speed manual box has a light clutch pedal so even after a whole day of gear changing I felt fine. It handles impeccably and being front wheel drive it makes powering out of corners exhilarating. Oh and having Ecoboost efficiency (7.3L/100k’s combined) ensures that it’s an economical ride too – but don’t just take our word for it.
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