On my way to the all-new Ford Focus ST launch in Port Elizabeth, I sat next to a chatty old fellow from America. At around 70 years old, he was a young man when the very first Mustang came along, which he bought.
Donny, as he introduced himself, was very proud of his cherry red Mustang. “In a straight line it could take just about every other car in production at that time,” said Donny.
This sentence reveals a lot about the American mindset when it comes to performance vehicles. They like things a specific way –big power for straight-line performance and just enough handling finesse to get through the drive-through without too much hassle.
That’s why I was a bit worried when I discovered that the Ford performance outfits in America and Europe would be combining their efforts to create the new Focus ST. I enjoy big power as much as the next guy, but not at the expense of the previous generation ST’s brilliant handling characteristics. If the new ST turned out to be as wieldy as an elephant in the corners, I foresaw an immediate mass suicide action at all Ford ST owner clubs worldwide.
If you’re part of the abovementioned club, please pack away your gun. The new Focus ST is a significant improvement over the model it replaces – not a statement I make lightly, as I was a huge fan of that car. The combined efforts of America and Europe have resulted in a hot-hatch that offers the best of both worlds.
Yes, the engine now has four, instead of five cylinders, but don’t make the mistake of judging the vehicle based on that. The new powertrain is a 2.0-litre turbocharged unit featuring Ford’s new EcoBoost technology.
Only a six-speed manual is available, which could be a sore point for some. Personally, I don’t mind, as I believe a manual gearbox plays a huge role in an involving drive and the Ford job is one of the best out there.
As part of the launch experience, I drove four laps around the famed Aldo Scribante Race Track, just outside the windy city. This quickly highlighted the new ST’s many talents, chief among which is how easy it is to drive - like a hot-hatch should be driven.
With all the please-don’t-let-me-die electronics switched on, the Focus feels safe, but it still facilitates a nice dose of dopamine to the brain. To keep it from feeling too clinical, a small dose of feistiness has been added to the mix. The car still torque steers in certain circumstances, but it’s easy to control and makes you feel like a hero when you get it right.
On the launch route we got to experience the ST where it will spend 99 percent of its life – a normal South African road. If anything, it was even more impressive out there. Ford has managed to find that difficult balance between sporty dynamics and a comfortable ride. We covered the almost 400km route with relative ease and arrived without any major aches or pains.
En route we grew quite fond of the interior, which features a pair of comfortable Recaro seats in the front and more than enough space for a couple of kids in the rear, but most impressive of all was Ford’s sync system. The car’s entertainment and connectivity solution basically turns the Focus into a 2.0-litre turbocharged cellphone/MP3 player. Its features are far too many to mention here, but it’s worth mentioning that its voice activation can actually understand South African English. We tried our best to catch it out, using a few choice Afrikaans and African words, but to no avail.