It$0027s time to talk, he$0027s in the car. For now, we can only co-pilot with some of Ford$0027s engineers. It$0027s not an ideal scenario, especially for a product destined to overflow with driving sensations, but if you had to choose an environment in which to carry out such a distant assessment, Lommel$0027s track 7 would be unbeatable. There are second gear forks, third gear torque parabolas, off-camera bends, unseen ridges and up to one or two off-camera bends covered by an unseen ridge, with a touch of trail-braking braking released to a large extent. It$0027s hell for the tires, but it should be a lot of fun for the engineers, and gives a lot of work to the spectators.
Two things quickly stand out from the passenger seat, which, by the way, has a design that has evolved from the Fiesta ST, with even deeper reinforcements and a nice cube feel. The flexibility of this chassis and its playful character cannot be overlooked. Like Fiesta, the new Focus ST seems to turn naturally in bends, with the suspension allowing for more pronounced body movements than those achieved in a Civic Type R or RS Mégane, while retaining good control.
Through the longer sweepers on track 7 it$0027s also not difficult to perceive the same balance that makes even a basic 1.0 litre Focus unusually satisfying to drive, and through tighter sections that e-diff seems to actually fix the car$0027s nose to the inner white line, although the side grip is not as endless as official literature would have you believe. Everything seems pretty predictable, doesn$0027t it? But if there is one thing that prevails, it is that the car feels in harmony with itself, retaining its composure and fluidity, and that should never be taken for granted.
And in that sense, our time with Focus ST is over. Read it as if this car were to be among the fastest of the front hatches – it really feels fiercely fast in the mid-range, and the improved aerodynamics supposedly helped the prototypes reach 170 mph on the highway. Know also that it has one of the most characteristic and eventful four-cylinder engines, and I suspect the Focus ST will be more flexible on British roads than many of its classmates, too.
But what about the toughest competition of all? Not the Golf GTI, although as the best-selling hot-hatch, that car remains the ultimate benchmark for a rounded product. For drivers, however, there is another.
“The Civic Type R wants you to go fast, and if you do, then it$0027s a pretty good car,” admits Roeks, but his team also considers his car to have the best of the Honda in terms of agility and, no doubt, driving comfort. A win on both fronts would shake the segment broadly. I$0027m not so sure this Ford has body control at the level of the Honda, but it looks like an eminently more adjustable and humorous machine at reasonable speeds, and in the real world that can make a difference for owners. Either way, it won$0027t be long before we find out.