By Tim Grey
You know it’s going to be difficult to review a car when the biggest thing you can gripe about is the shape of its air vents. But sometimes, you just can’t get around it.
It was the same with the current Mazda MX-5 and the Volvo V70, sometimes you just come across a car which is actually very close, in real-world terms, to the marketing hyperbole surrounding it and you become almost sheepish in your appreciation.
You know many readers will simply assume the manufacturer has slipped you a few crafty notes under the table, booked you on an all-comp flight to the Med or, even worse, told you that you won’t review any more cars unless you positively trip over yourself to pour superlatives on their new development.
You also know that in every respect all three scenarios are absolutely absurd, that manufacturers have to carry praise and criticism in equal measure and the majority of sensible people out there must, surely, realise this.
But still, I’m almost sweating at the keyboard trying to think of something which could possibly balance out what could look like a regurgitated Ford press release.
Thus, I have settled on the blue oval-inspired air vents. Ahem, here goes… they’re a bit naff.
Oh, and the heating control toggles for the front seats. They’re not very high-tech. Just a bit of plastic you roll with your finger.
Terrible really, when you come to think of it. No, really, it’s a crime.
Okay, there you go, now back to business — the Ford Focus XR5T may just be the most fun I have had on four wheels since I first passed my driving test and almost smacked my examiner in the face thanks to some impulsive punching of the air.
It rivals the sub-six second performance of the Falcon XR6 Turbo, corners like a true dinky, old-school European hot hatch, but still rides with little shock or shudder. This is thanks to the crack team of rocket scientists employed at Ford Europe who looked back at the famed days of the Escort XR3i and decided to base their development solely on the official definition of what a hot hatch should be.
Item A: It should be based on a humble domestic run-about hatchback. Check.
Item B: It should be given an upgraded engine which throws the original design intentions of the aforementioned family five-door into deep irony with its power and performance. In this case a 2.5 litre turbo-charged DuraTec petrol engine (related to the Volvo T5 engine) with an impressively wide torque range. Check.
Item C: It should be given sharp performance suspension which makes cornering an exercise in low centre of gravity precision and pot holes a road-going hazard to be avoided at all costs. Che… well, sort of.
You see, what Werner Braun and his mates at Rocket HQ have done is sharpen up the suspension to within an inch of its life without making those bits between the corners the cause of any slipped vertebrae. It is a fine balance to achieve.
On one side lies the dynamics of a bouncy castle reminiscent of every American car produced before 2000.
And on the other lies a boy racer heaven populated by people who won’t start caring about ride quality until they knock-up their girlfriends and have to start shopping for
Somehow, the XR5T balances, nay pirouettes on this fine pin-point patch of land thanks to its model-specific sports suspension package and its torque range.
Because it can produce up to 320Nm of torque between the ranges of 1600-4000 revs per minute, with the turbo actually boosting power with some elegance rather than a quick kick in the crown jewels, the XR5T delivers the performance of many other hot hatches without the traditional drawbacks in ride.
It may be about as subtle as a six pack of stubbies, but its vodka martini smooth.
This is all assisted by an old-fashioned six-speed transmission which shifts without protest — a far cry from the WRX’s notchy collection of cogs — and a level of comfort inside which would make this five-cylindered turbo a viable tourer.
Many people argued for the economy of the Ford Territory Turbo over its conventional equivalents because it actually delivered savings on long journeys, and on the evidence I’ve seen the XR5T shouldn’t do too badly either. But even in combined urban/highway conditions, the XR5T’s consumption of 9.3L/100km makes it the more frugal choice ($44,990) compared to the 2.5 litre-engined Subaru WRX (10.7L/100km, $42,990) and even the 2.0 litre Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart (10L/100km, $47,990).
Topping it all off, like the cherry on the cake, is the remote start ignition. It’s a big red button with the words “Ford Power” emblazoned across it and when it’s pushed it emits a low growl almost worth the price of admission alone.
But, as I said above, I really hate those air vents.