Ford Focus 2litre GDI Sport

Those old boys in Michigan in the US got a big wake up call in 2008, and they’ve had to do some rethinking…not only because of pressures in their local market…but more recently on a global level. Ford is now spending huge amounts of time and money to firm up global alignment of products. Ford calls this their global – “one strategy”, as these vehicles like the Focus are centrally designed and engineered for multiple markets.

Agressive front end

The previous generation Focus was a very successful model, especially so in the UK, and more so in performance variants ST and RS, which offer some of the most hardcore driving experiences at the price. Unfortunately where they excelled in driving dynamics and handling, they could never quite match the quality interior of the VW Golf, and overall value of everyday driving car. However. Ford wasn’t happy with that. So this time around the Focus takes another swing, not only the Germans, but also the host of new competitors from the East.

The new Focus has various model variants available. On offer are 4-door and 5-door variants, all with different Trend, Ambiente and Sport trim levels. A few engine variants, from the 1.6 & 2litre petrol with Ti-VCT to a 2litre diesel with Powershift automatic transmission (only available in the 4door).

The model I had on test was the 2litre hatchback GDI Sport manual. which is the top of the range for the hatchback (currently). This is the model every Benoni and Pretoria mullet boy yearns after, the ST, comes to market here in 2012. Until then we’ll have to live with the 2litre naturally aspirated, which pushes out 125kW at 6600RPM (quite high) and 202Nm of torque at just over 4450RPM. I’m very used to a turbo engine, but have to say that I was SO surprised with this naturally aspirated new 4pot baby from Ford I had to double check the variant I was driving. It’s not ridiculously fast, but it sounds like the air is flowing through the guts of it, and it’s good mid range punch. You have to get the engine on the boil a bit as there isn’t a lot of shove from low down in the rev range, but once on the move it’s a very pleasant engine (in sound, and performance).

Thankfully the engine isn’t the only good bit. The Focus has been dipped in Ford’s new Kinetic design language, and … well … it’s better looking than the old Focus. It’s bigger than the previous generation model, and from the sideline, I had a few people remark it looks like a station wagon. A station wagon?! Well, either way, at least it brings about opinion, which is something no Golf does.

Very futuristic looking

Something else that definitely got opinions going was the interior. I find it rather refreshing getting into a car that looks like it’s been designed for the future. It’s not trying to copy anyone, or just be a plainly boring ergonomic design. It’s daring, different and at the same time fairly easy to get accustomed to. The Sport comes with cloth (come now Ford, you could have shed some cow blood here) black seats that are electrically adjustable for the driver, and the moment you get in, the dual screens (one on the dash, and one in the instrument binnacle) catch your eye. Ford has probably come closest of any of the competitors to the Golf 6 in terms of quality of material, fit and finish. The Focus interior is awash with simple black soft touch materials and quite a few pieces of brushed aluminium. The steering wheel sits quite far out, and is meaty and purposeful in your hands. What I didn’t like was that the steering-wheel controls were quite complicated and took some time to get used to. There are

The Borg controls

1.Buttons on the left, which control the screen on the centre console

2.Buttons on the right which control the screen inside the instrument binnacle

3. A weird Borg type control below those on the left that controlled the cruise control

4. More weird Borg type controls on the right that control the sound system

Look, you get used to it, and nice work that it’s all there, but then surely there should be less than the 1584 buttons on the piano black Sony sound system on the centre console. They haven’t done the best job of making buttons you use often, big or legible (E.g. door lock and unlock).

These are small niggles, and overall it’s a great place to be, I really enjoyed the lighting and quality feel of the controls. (Ambiance lighting in red, puddle lighting and the bright LED entry lights). Standard features on the Sport bring in a SONY 9-speaker 450watt system with Bluetooth, iPod prep, voice recognition, auto wipers & lights, heated front seats and dual zone climate control. It’s an incredible amount of standard kit. Bravo Ford. Bravo. Something they could have added, is xenon headlamps and daytime running lights, which you can’t spec or get on our local models.

For those with families, there’s space for 4adults, and a significant amount of space in the boot. At least 4 hookers if you squeeze them in properly.

Sony sound system

On the road the new Focus has lost a little bit of the spark of the old model. It’s not AS raw and engaging as the old model was, but I didn’t expect it to be, as the majority of the buyers just want a comfortable quiet car. That said, the chassis feels alive when it’s on the go, and in true Focus form, the car is incredibly planted. You need to try very hard to get the front to wash wide, and I’d say it’s now on par with the Golf’s chassis in terms how balanced it is. It’s even more impressive considering the 17inch 10spoke rubber that comes standard on the Sport. If things should get out of hand there is traction and stability control as standard, as well as Ford’s Torque Vectoring control to keep the front wheels from causing too much torque steer. Not likely on this model, but thanks anyways. I suspect that will come in handy on the ST though. The manual gearbox is angled close to the driver and has short direct throws, but strangely only 5 gears? It works well, but on long distance cruising the fuel economy suffers because of the lack of final 6th gear driving ratio, which might get some buyers opting for the diesel with Powershift.

I thoroughly enjoyed the meaty steering, giving enough feedback from the wheels and there was never a point it felt over assisted. The brakes too, are excellent, and the Focus comes with ABS, EBD and EBA standard across the range.

The Rear

Overall, It’s clear this car can handle a lovely turbocharged engine and there were times I yearned for some more power. That said the 2litre has a nice growl to it and the handling is superb, thanks to the dynamic chassis. The interior is comfortable and the whole car is superbly specced. The only drawback being the lack of 6th gear which will have a detrimental effect on fuel economy.

So far, in this model guise, the Ford has got everything going for it, and then comes the big surprise… the price.

R270 000 for the top of the range model I reviewed, which is excellent value considering the size, specification and quality of vehicle.

VW Golf R

Shiny paint - not standard. Not available at all

The VW GTI has been one of the best cars, if not, best hot hatches of all time. In various incarnations from Golf I to Golf VI, all have been the car to beat in terms of performance, driving dynamics and all day drivability. VW has however always given a special edition run the limelight, usually in the form of the R32, mated with a larger V6 and VW’s four wheel drive system.

The Golf VI R however changes things up a little. Purists cry in the corner as it drops the V6 for the very popular 4cylinder 2litre turbocharged Golf V power plant tuned up to push out 1.2bar on the turbocharger. This pushes the output to 188kW and 350Nm, which makes it near on the least powerful unit when compared to the Megane & Focus RS, but not in the last the slowest. The change to the use of the small turbocharged engine was probably mainly due to emissions and fuel consumption pressure internationally, but also a great decision because it’s one of the VW group’s best engines of all time in my view (It is also used in the current Audi S3)

Stopping. Something you don't want to do in the Golf

While we’re on the engine, I must say that it’s a fantastic lump of metal. Sadly the over-cautious German engineers have decided to down-tune it by 11kW for us South African folk due to the warmer and dryer climate we have here… I think they could have just given us those 11kW. 0-100km/h drops on the clock at just over 6seconds on the manual, and sub 6seconds for the DSG. There’s heaps of torque and strong pull all the way from the low down revs. It builds up fairly linearly all the way past 6500RPM but there’s masses of torque right on from 3000RPM. It’s a lot less psychotic than the Renault RS or the Ford RS, being a little more sedate in every day driving. Fuel consumption is fairly scary, I averaged close on 15l/100km which is a far cry from the 8.5l/100km claimed by VW.

I was glad I got the manual version as I drive a Golf with a DSG gearbox. The manual is a sweet shifting 6speed with usual VW feel and very easily modulated clutch. The gears are a little longer in throw, but you easily get used to it. DSG might be quite a bit faster in gear changes, but the manual is heaps of fun pushing through the rev range keeping the turbo on the boil darting through traffic.

R for Really quick

Speaking of darting, the Golf R comes with the Haldex 4 wheel drive system that is also shared with the Audi S3. This system is different from the Haldex system in the golf R32 due to the electronic pump which ensures that power can be delivered to the necessary wheels not only after there’s been a loss in traction, but nearly pre-emptive to that. You never really feel it working, which is great, but there’s definitely something to be said for the feeling of security and surefootedness when pushing through the bends. The usual front wheel loss of traction when pushing into a corner on pull off isn’t there, and neither is the crazy front wheel torque steer. You might say it’s too reserved and not crazy enough, but I for one prefer the stability, and sure-footedness of the 4wheel drive system. Sure, it’s probably there for the northern hemisphere clientele, and less so because the 188kW can’t be handled by the front wheels. Thankfully there’s ESP, ABS, EBD and ASR as standard for when things get a bit hairy. Oh, and there’s also a standard launch control function, a very welcome addition.

The R also features a lower suspension than the GTI as well as large 19inch 5 spoke alloys (which I like a lot). Any performance hatchback requires an exhaust note that makes your chaaaiirnas super jealous of your new set of wheels, and the Golf R doesn’t disappoint. It’s not as downright crazy as the Megane RS, but it manages to produce a fairly meaty growl through the centre mounted twin pipes. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of that forced induction noise from the front, which is a pity, because that’s one of the sweet sounds from a turbocharged engine that you can play up.


The model I had to test featured VW’s DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control), which adjusts the shock absorbers automatically according to varying road conditions. Three modes, sport, normal and comfort. I have got to be honest and say that you should probably not opt for this option (Around R10K) as the regular set up would surely be sufficient. I found myself driving around in normal or comfort most of the time as the suspension already has a very sporty bias. To be frank, it’s a jarring drive, and can really get a bit much when you’re when driving over our famous Joburg blacktop.

Thankfully, things on the interior of a usual VW masterpiece. It’s not a very exciting interior, but damn everything just works, is easy to operate, and has a high quality feel. It’s something I really appreciate, as you spend all your time looking and touching the inside of your car, and very little time peering at the outside… in all honesty. The test car I drove had the optional Dynaudio 300Watt Excite system (R13K option) with colour touch screen, and that’s an option box it’s definitely tick. The R interior is much like the Golf VI GTI interior, however blue and white dials are employed, as well as R nomenclature throughout the leather bits.  There is an option for racing bucket seats however the standard seats are more than capable of doing the job.

Other standard features that set it apart include the bi-xenon swiveling headlamps, daytime LED running lights, park distance control with visual display and of course the R badges.

Doors. Ajar

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the R, coming straight out of the Megane RS into this made it easy to do a direct comparison, where the Megane RS and even Ford Focus RS are a lot crazier, hands on, the naughty cousins of the family, the Golf R is a little more reserved. It also harnesses a seemingly more accomplished feel not only in driving but also quality of vehicle. I’d probably not opt for it on a track day or for a gymkhana but it’s incredibly easy to drive as an every day car and then tear the tires off it if you’ve had a really bad day.

At R415,100 for the standard Golf R 4Motion Manual and R460 000 for the unit I drove as tested we’re very close to BMW 1 Series and other performance model territory which then raises other questions. I stand firm in saying it’s the best quality model when compared to its rivals, which, when paying this much money for a car if it’s not just your weekend drive, is worth keeping in mind.