Ford punches above its weight
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The hot hatch landscape - once dotted with excitable, rev-happy twin cam 1600s - has undergone massive changes over the past few years, and now provides some real threats to punchy sixes and even guzzling V8s.
VW's Golf , particularly the GTi and R variants, top the segment, and Mazda has also been at the sharp end of the charge with the powerful MPS version of its '3' with family friend Ford's XR5 offering a less frenetic, while still swift, ride.
Motivated by a turbocharged five-cylinder 2.5L engine sourced from Volvo's T5, the Focus doesn't lack power, 166kW and 320Nm giving the 1400kg shopping basket plenty of grunt.
Slapping this sort of power to the ground in a front wheel drive makes the difference between a hot hatch and a torque steering death trap. But the combination of a tight and fast six-speed Gertrag gearbox, a balanced chassis and well tuned MacPherson strut-slash-multilink suspension proves effective in all but the slipperiest conditions.
When pushed, the car still displays typical FWD understeer moments, which don't combine nicely with Ford's traction control - thankfully switching this off allows for an aggressive, right foot sledge approach while helps to keep momentum and line on corner exits.
Despite a fair deal of wheelspin, it does help keep the drive engaging. Fuel economy on this test didn't quite hit the 9.5L/100km depths the factory claims, sitting closer to the mid-10s.
This facelifted model has been rejigged at both ends, with headlights and a flattened grille, plus a redesigned hatch and rear diffuser giving a more modern look.
The swollen guards of the Focus form has always worked well on sporty models, especially while displaying huge 18-inch rims.
The interior, while featuring full Recaro seats and all expected bells and whistles, is starting to feel a bit Mondeo, and a bit dated.
An invasive ping pong bat-like controller for the audio system - situated to the lower left of the steering wheel - is perhaps the car's most annoying feature.
Is the Focus XR5 worth its $48,990 sticker price? Absolutely - it will put buyers among the quicker hot hatches out there, and although its 6.5 second 0-100km/h sprint time mightn't set the world on fire, it's the mid-range of the torque-happy five-pot that makes for an engaging, entertaining drive.
On another note, industry rumour has it that the grumpier, sexier RS version may go on sale in New Zealand within the year, although Ford is yet to confirm this.
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