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Is engine and exhaust note important in a performance car?
Of course it is. That explains why many motorists go weak at the knees when they hear a big V8, or an Italian
FORD FOCUS ST
POWER PLANT: EcoBoost 2.0-litre turbocharged in-line four-cylinder engine, 184 kW at 5500 rpm, 360 Nm at 2000-4500 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: Front-wheel drive. Six-speed close-ratio manual transmission. MacPherson strut front suspension, control blade independent setup at the rear. Electric variable-rack power steering. HOW BIG: Length 4364mm, width 1823mm, height 1484mm, wheelbase 2648mm.
HOW MUCH: $52,490
WHAT'S GOOD: Smooth, torquey turbocharged engine performance. Solid ride and handling. Nice understated looks.
WHAT'S NOT: Don't like the body colour inserts on the front seats.
OUR VERDICT: One of the finest performance hatchbacks on the market. Simple as that.
Simply, one can't really exist without the other. And that's why Ford has installed a thing called a Sound Symposer into its latest performance car to arrive in New Zealand, the Focus ST hatch.
It's essentially an electronically controlled valve attached to the intake manifold that activates itself under heavy acceleration, amplifies the engine's sound, and channels the noise along a pipe to the dashboard area so those aboard can hear it. I'm told the Sound Symposer can as much as double the engine noise inside the cabin.
Is it all a bit naff? Probably. But what I do know is that when I recently got my hands on one of these Focus STs for road test, and opened it up along some country roads behind my home city, the Sound Symposer's note was perfectly in tune with the level of performance the hatchback offered.
And I don't think that drive experience would have been anywhere near as enjoyable if the engine roar's aural experience wasn't there as well.
Ford has a strong history of building small performance cars. Over the years, such product as Anglias, Escorts, Lasers and Fiestas have all had the treatment so they could appeal to those motorists seeking cars with more zip than the standard versions.
Up until now, the hot Focus has been the XR5 turbo, which was powered by a Volvo-sourced 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine - and those five pots helped that power unit sound great.
This latest Focus has moved downwards in engine size to a 2.0-litre four-cylinder Ecoboost unit, which comes from the same engine family as that aboard the four-cylinder Falcon launched last year.
It's a very sensible engine - it's smaller in size and lighter in weight than the Volvo unit; but, at the same time, it is considerably more powerful, offering 184 kilowatts of power and 360 Newton metres of torque. Yet it is 20 per cent more economical, with Ford claiming an average consumption of a pretty impressive 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres.
I believe that claim, too. Driven in a normal way, this Focus belies it performance intent by being a smooth and flexible drive. The ride is a little firmer but not hard, and even the car's appearance is quite normal - as long as you don't peer inside. There, the sports front seats have colour inserts matching the exterior paintwork.
In the case of our test car, it was blue. But the ST can be purchased in another colour called Tangerine Scream, which is quite loud. Therefore the seats are quite loud too.
But get out on the open road and floor the accelerator and I doubt the claimed 7.2 L/100 km fuel consumption would last very long. This car can accelerate to 100 kmh in six seconds, and the engine turbocharging gives it so much torque that I wouldn't have been surprised if it had wheespun in third gear.
Luckily, the Ford has its Torque Vectoring Control torque-steer mitigation system on board that prevents that dreaded front-driven grabbing of the steering wheel under acceleration, but you could still feel the system fighting the twisting forces of all that torque.
And handling? Beautiful. The Focus' standard MacPherson-strut front and control-blade rear suspension setup has been given more robust springs and dampers, there are stiffer anti-roll bars and a 10mm reduction in ride height. All that contributes to excellent ride and handling characteristics.
Not only that, but the steering features a new variable ratio rack, and different calibration of its electronic power assistance. And of course, when you are pushing things along and that engine is at full noise, there's that Sound Symposer on hand to feed it all into the cabin . . .
What I like about the Focus ST is that it is a performance vehicle and a family five-door hatch all at the same time. If you don't want to drive it hard, it's quite capable of operating smoothly and economically, and it has a high level of standard specification.
That includes Ford's new Sync voice-control system, which allows the driver to ask to access all sorts of functions including audio and smartphone. It's a very good system.
Actually, the whole of the Ford Focus ST is very good. I like the way the car is reasonably understated in its looks, but that underneath it all there is a hatch with real performance credentials.
- © Fairfax NZ News