Driving Torque

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Archive for the tag “Fiesta”

New 2015 Ford Focus ST – First Drive

2015_ford_focus_st_yellow_hatchFord‘s ‘Global Performance Vehicle’ division seem to have gone into absolute overdrive recently. Just as the price of oil quite handily drops through the floor, hardly a week goes by when Uncle Henry isn’t taking the wraps off a GT, an RS, or in this case, two STs.

Diesel?!?!

The ‘normal’ ST picks up where the 2012 model left off, but for the first time ever, there’s also a Diesel Focus ST, and both of them are available in hatch or wagon flavour and the usual range of suitably eye-catching colours, including the somewhat divisive ‘Tangerine Scream‘.

The diesel unit has apparently been introduced following the success VW have been enjoying with their Golf GTD and Ford are expecting a clean 50/50 split between the two power-plant’s sales figures.  It’s visually a carbon copy of the 2.0l EcoBoost petrol models, so you lose nothing in that department. Thankfully the petrol and diesel even wear the same badge; it can’t have taken Ford long to realise that the ‘Focus STD’  legend just wouldn’t have worked……….

2015_ford_focus_st_estate_blackLess Torque-steer

First things first though, the ‘traditional’ petrol derivative: Its 247bhp is still channeled through the front wheels without the aid of their ‘RevoKnuckle’ technology, instead relying on a revised Torque Vectoring system to keep things straight and true. This seems to do its job well, and the ‘left-right, left-right’ sensation that the previous ST suffered from under rapid acceleration has been all-but eliminated. It’ll get itself to 62mph in 6.5 seconds, but only on a dry, sticky surface; show a lack of subtlety with the loud pedal on a wet road and the petrol ST will happily spin its wheels in third gear.

Thanks to the addition of Auto-Start-Stop across the range, the petrol ST’s efficiency has been improved by 6 per cent, getting a fairly impressive 41.5 miles out of a combined gallon of petrol, and only releasing 159 grams of CO2 per km.  If it’s economy that floats your boat, though, the new-kid-on-the-block will probably be more your thing………

The diesel ST’s performance figures aren’t that impressive on paper – 181bhp and 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds won’t get it into the Fast-Ford hall of fame, but that’s not the whole story. It only produces a fleet-friendly 110g/km Co2, and where the petrol engined car produces 360Nm of torque, the diesel trumps it with 400Nm, all of which is conveniently available from just 2000rpm. What this translates to in the real world is a six-gear car that could actually live with just two of them; first for pulling away from standstill and 3rd for the rest of the time.

Both cars channel noise into the cabin via a sound symposer, giving the driver a ‘proper’ hot-hatch experience. Don’t worry about the diesel sounding like a ball-bearing in an aerosol, though; there is the inevitable clatter at standstill but it develops into pretty-much exactly the same pleasant thrum as the petrol once you’re on the move.

2015_ford_focus_st_diesel_red_hatchImproved handling

There isn’t much to split the two ST’s handling characteristics either; the ribbon-smooth roads on our test-route around Barcelona can’t possibly give an accurate indication of how the car will fare on our pock-marked tarmac, but the petrol was as responsive and accurate as you’d expect, and there was none of the usual nose-heaviness one associates with diesel cars. A nice little surprise came when we discovered that both models are happy to stick the rear end out, especially the wagon.

Ford are keen to use analogy that the new Focus ST is a pentathlete; it may not be the best in the world in any particular discipline, but it does everything well. With the Focus RS looming heavy on the horizon, they had no choice but to show some considerable restraint with the petrol ST, but the diesel ST is a different matter; rather than water down the ST brand, it’s an admirable player in the performance diesel market and, on first impressions at least, is more than fit to wear the badge.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford Focus ST 2.ol EcoBoost turbo, Transmission – 6spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 247bhp, Torque – 360Nm, Emissions – 159g/km CO2Economy – 41.5 mpg combinedMaximum Speed – 154mph, Acceleration0-62mph – 6.5s, Price – from £22,195 (5dr), £23,295 (estate)

Specifications; Ford Focus ST 2.ol TDCI, Transmission – 6spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 181bhp, Torque – 400Nm, Emissions – 110g/km CO2, Economy – 67.3 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 135mph, Acceleration – 0-62mph – 8.1s, Pricefrom £22,195 (5dr), £23,295 (estate)

For full details, go to; http://www.ford.co.uk

New Vauxhall Corsa – First Drive at UK Launch

How important is this?

Just to put into context how important the Corsa is to Vauxhall’s grand plan for the UK – in the last year, they shifted over 84K units – that’s more than the sum total of every model sold by some very respected manufacturers including Skoda and Fiat. Quite important then.

What’s new?

New_Vauxhall_Corsa_3_door_front_yellowErm, a lot. Every body-panel, everything forward of the A-post – including a new range of engines, and most of the interior. Vauxhall haven’t just tarted up an old model with this one, there’s some real effort and thought gone into this New Corsa. They’ve continued with the 3dr and 5dr options and their very different body shapes and target markets; the 3dr, or ‘coupe’ has a more sloping roofline which does eat into the rear headroom slightly, and is aimed at 25-35 year olds; the 5dr is the more sensible option and is expected to find homes on the driveways of 45-55 year olds who may be downsizing. Apparently, one of the major faults highlighted by the JD Power Survey in the previous Corsa was its propensity to come over all tropical and steam-up. To combat this, Vauxhall have made a heated front windscreen standard across the range. They have been listening.

Looking good

New_Vauxhall_Corsa_5_doorAs I said, every single body panel is new on this model; it’s still obviously a Corsa, and very much part of the Vauxhall family, a fact down in no small part to some features that have been borrowed from its siblings. There’s the striking ‘blades’ that run along the bottom of the doors – they’re found on both Adam and Astra. There’s the split front chin that widens the whole look of the ‘face’ – that’s taken from the Cascada. Vauxhall have quite cleverly borrowed from themselves to formulate what’s a cutting edge look whilst being instantly recognisable.

Life on the inside

New-Vauxhall_Corsa_interiorEverything’s been shifted from a vertical approach to a horizontal slant inside the New Corsa. There’s the ‘ever-so-of-the-moment‘ piano black plastic available, sweeping across most of the dash, with a flash of colour inserted that differs from spec to spec. The central touchscreen is lifted straight from the Adam – no bad thing as it’s easy to use and allows options or ‘apps’ to be added at relatively low-cost – just like a smart phone. The heater controls are slightly clumsy and aren’t quite as cutting edge as the rest of the dash, but gone is the cheap plastic steering wheel from Corsas of old – in its place is a chunky, tactile leather affair that’s far more satisfying, although the position of the steering column stalks require some hand repositioning to operate, which isn’t ideal. It’s easy to get a more low-slung, involving driving position than in previous Corsas, if that’s your kind of thing. What isn’t easy is getting the seats to provide optimum comfort, and the taller driver may find long journeys a touch taxing.

On the road

There’s quite a few engine options in the New Corsa, a few of them having been carried over from the previous generation. There is a 1.3 Diesel available, but the emphasis is undoubtedly on petrol power, and in particular that slightly left-field genre of engine that’s seemingly sweeping aside all laid before it – the three-cylinder. We road tested the 1.4l 4 cylinder and the turbo-charged 1.0l triple in 115ps guise, and it’s the latter that wins through on many levels. GM have by no means missed the boat with three-cylinder engines and haven’t either rushed one out or outsourced from another manufacturer, what they seem to have been doing is biding their time and making sure theirs picks up where others left off and improved the recipe.

It might not be quite as efficient as Ford’s EcoBoost unit (57.6mpg vs 65.7mpg), but by adding something called a balancer shaft, the engine is so smooth at both idle and high revs that it’s almost unrecognisable as a three-cylinder. Change-up indicators are frequently over-optimistic and can result in some shuddering as the fun is drained from your driving experience; not so with this clever little power-plant. Vauxhall claim that 90% of its maximum torque comes in at 1500rpm, and it’s all available at just 1800rpm. What this means in the real world is that you can keep your driving style nice and relaxed with the minimum of gear changes, safe in the knowledge that the car will pick up speed with hardly any fuss. New_Vauxhall_Corsa_3_door_rear_yellow

The Corsa’s new chassis components have altered the handling and ride over the last model, and in certain aspects it’s all very grown up. The suspension soaks up bumps admirably but the whole car does have a tendency to bounce and rebound over more uneven, changeable surfaces. On the other hand though, put the New Corsa on a motorway  and it feels far more comfortable and competent than a B-segment car has any right to; it’s more B+ than B. The electronic power steering still feels a touch wooly at times with not quite enough feedback and weightiness, but it’s surely the simplest of tasks to alter this when sportier models such as the VXR and Sting R are released further down the line.

If you are considering the New Corsa, it’s definitely worth knowing that Vauxhall have dropped their prices by an average of £1500 compared to the outgoing model. Perhaps more pertinently, this makes it roughly £1000 cheaper than the equivalent Fiesta.

By Ben Harrington

Suzuki Swift DDiS SZ4 – Driven and Reviewed

suzuki swift ddis frontSomewhere in the deepest, darkest recesses of my grey matter, in a place that’s seldom visited, and even then only in extreme situations, there’s been a little factoid swimming around for years, and now seems the perfect time for it to see the light of day once more; If I remember rightly, the Suzuki Swift Gti from the ’90’s was the quickest 1.3 on the market at the time – don’t know why that stuck in my mind, but since I heard it, I’ve looked at this little hatch slightly differently.

suzuki swift ddis rear and sideThe Swift has grown up somewhat in recent times, literally; Gone are the cutesy looks that often drew comparisons with a mouse, and in their place is something that’s not only much larger, but altogether easier to take seriously. That said, the Swift’s still all about easy, user-friendly motoring and is primarily aimed at people who’ll appreciate a car for its abilities in a multi-storey car park, not necessarily how it handles  a cross-continent schlep.

suzuki swift ddis front and sideI spent most of my week with the Swift noticing other Swifts and refusing to believe they were cut from the same cloth. That’s because the Swift is one of those cars that’s infinitely bigger once you’re in them than you’d believe by looking at them – the old analogy being a Tardis car. The amount of room on offer inside is very impressive – I think you’d struggle to feel as comfortable in anything else in this class. Of course, there has to be a trade-off for all of this room, and in the case of the Swift, it’s a tad short in the boot department. At a piffling 211 litres, you could actually say it’s very short in the boot department compared to its rivals. Obviously you could put the rear seats down which gives you a whopping 528 litres capacity, but if you plan on carrying large loads without having to leave the kids at home, I’d look elsewhere.

Not the biggest boot in the world.......

Not the biggest boot in the world…….

Diminutive boot aside, the interior feels well screwed together and sensibly thought out. It’s definitely not the most inspiring design in the world, with some fairly bland areas of black plastic, but the materials used belie the bargain nature of the Swift and there’s some nice highlights and splashes of brushed metal that add a more premium feel to the car. One aspect that unfortunately feels anything but premium though, is the media system. It’s apparently equipped with Bluetooth technology or you can plug your phone directly in via USB – neither option worked particularly well with my iPhone and after they flatly refused to communicate with each other, I just gave up on the whole affair. Thankfully though, the latest SZ4 models are apparently supplied with a far more user friendly Bluetooth system, and DAB and nav – I’ve not seem them in action but I’m guessing they’re a vast improvement on our test car’s disappointing effort.

suzuki swift ddis interiorOne mod con that did work especially well on our range-topping SZ4 model was the keyless entry system. I know they’re widely available and hardly even cutting edge anymore, but I don’t recall a system ever working so reliably, certainly not on a car of this class, anyway. Coupled with the Swift’s Stop-Start button, it really makes the whole task of getting kids or shopping into and out of the car far quicker and simpler – very handy when it’s throwing it down too!

This particular Swift is propelled by a an engine with a 1300cc capacity, just as the Swift Gti from the ’90s was, but that’s just about where the similarities end. This multi award-winning JTD Diesel unit has been borrowed from Fiat and is you can see why Suzuki were keen to utilise it in their Swift – it returns over 70mpg combined, will only cost 20 quid a year to tax and isn’t even that slow (12.7s – 62mph), even if the Fiat engine does take a while to spool up and then delivers all of its power in one almighty, old school style slug.

suzuki swift ddis rearBut this isn’t the engine I’d plump for though. Ignoring the Swift Sport that’s available with a 1.6l petrol, it’s a choice of two units – this Diesel or a 1.2 petrol, and without even driving it, I’d go for the petrol. Wanna know why? – It’s down to cost – The Diesel engined Swift is only available in this SZ4 version that we have on test here, and at £15,139, it’s just too much for what you get. Put it this way – for the same money you could have a Fiesta Zetec with their excellent EcoBoost engine and just about every optional extra you care to name. And a far larger boot.

What makes more sense, then, is to opt for the 1.2l petrol engine. Yes, it loses out slightly in the emissions argument, and it only claims a combined 56.5 mpg, but it’s marginally quicker to 62mph (12.3s) and if you order your Swift before the end of June, it’s available for an impressive £8,999 – now that makes sense. In the interest of fairness, that same offer makes the Diesel variant £12,616 OTR, but just think how long it would take you to recoup the extra £3.5k in fuel and VED savings if you opted for the oil burner.

suzuki swift ddis rear lightWhat’s also important to point out here is that whichever Swift you opt for, it’s really good fun to drive. I wouldn’t think pinpoint turning and a well weighted chassis is really a prerequisite in a car of this price, but if you do get the urge to throw a Swift around a bit, it won’t disappoint. If you look at the way it’s engineered – with a wheel stuck in each corner, it’s no surprise that handling is one of its strong suits, but without some thought, Suzuki could easily have messed up this most pleasant of features.

The Swift has many good points, and some not-so-great. If you’re insistent on owning a Diesel or ferrying lots of luggage around, I’d look elsewhere, but if you want a bit of a bargain that’s attractive and fun to drive – it s definitely worth considering.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Suzuki Swift DDiS SZ4, Engine – 1.3l Diesel, four-cylinder turbocharged, Transmission – 5 speed manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 190NM @ 1750rpm, Emissions – 101g/km CO2, Economy – 72.4mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 103 mph, Acceleration – 12.7s 0-62mph, Price – £15,139 OTR (available for £12,616 until 30/6/2014), £15,569 as tested. 

For full details, go to http://www.suzuki.co.uk/cars/cars

MG3 3Form Sport – Driven and Reviewed

MG badgeMG have come a long way since their launch in 1924. Various mergers and takeovers have taken them all the way from their Morris Garages roots, to a marque that’s presently owned by Chinese firm SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation), currently offering two models in the UK – the 6 and what we have here, the 3.

We could wax lyrical for hours about MG and its numerous ups and downs, but that’s for another time. What’s important is the here and now, and right now MG’s most recent offering is this rather natty looking 3 model, here for review in Form Sport guise.

MG 3Form Sport sideBeing owned by a Chinese firm, you’d expect MGs to be primarily focussed on offering value for money, and you’d be right. Walk into any of the 40+ dealerships across the UK and you can pick up a five door 3 for the paltry sum of £8399. But, for the meagre sum of £9549, you could have something that looks as good as this Form Sport model, and doesn’t it look good, too?

MG 3Form Sport frontSharing many of its lines with Skoda’s Fabia is no bad thing, but the basic shape is where the similarity ends. It may be more for form than function, but that forked front splitter and Venturi style rear splitter, along with the essential strings of LED running lights gives the 3 a real presence on the road. The 16” alloy wheels that come standard on the Sport model fill the arches neatly and make the gap between car and road appear diminutive to say the least.

MG 3Form Sport splitterA car of this nature just wouldn’t be complete without a multitude of graphic-based options to ensure that it stands out from the crowd, and the 3 is no different. Our test car was quite conservatively specced, but go onto the MG website – http://www.mg.co.uk, and one can opt for stripes, emoticons, or even a somewhat cheeky Union flag decal to add that touch of individuality.

MG 3Form Sport interiorInside the car is where the 3’s budget price tag is most obviously demonstrated – the plastics come in vast swathes and are what you’d expect in this price range. That said though, build quality seems to belie its roots and everything from the way the door shuts with a resounding thud, to the solid feel of the cabin feels reassuringly well screwed together.

So simple, yet so effective

So simple, yet so effective

There are few aspects of the 3’s cabin that aren’t just ‘ok for the money’ – they’re excellent. Call me easily impressed but MG’s deliciously simple phone holding solution, coupled with a set of display needles that flick around to maximum when the key’s turned in the ignition can go a long way to convincing you that you’ve invested in your sub £10K car wisely. The steering wheel is another item that deserves special mention; contrary to some of the 3’s plastics, the materials used feel quality and its shape and size are near perfect. This surely isn’t an accident – the wheel is obviously the most tactile part of any car’s interior and is closest to the driver’s eyes – make it stand out and you’re subliminally telling the driver that this is a car that’s had some love poured into it.

MG 3Form Sport front1The room in the 3’s cabin is a lot more voluminous than you might imagine. There’s genuinely plenty of leg and head space for five adults, and the boot isn’t too pokey either (285 litres). This may be considered a small car by modern standards, but when I parked the 3 next to a Mk1 Golf, it was genuinely shocking to see how the MG dwarfed the VW.

Love the dials, not keen on tiny gear change indicator though

Love the dials, not keen on tiny gear change indicator, though

The only real criticism I’ve got towards the 3’s interior is the minuscule gear change indicator. It’s so small that I’d say it could actually be dangerous to use it whilst driving, taking the driver’s attention away from the road for an inordinate amount of time. It’s not an essential item on a car of this class, so I’d say either make it useable or ditch it, as the one provided is neither use, nor ornament.

So far, so good then. The 3 is a pleasant place to be and this Sport spec looks far more expensive than it actually is, but what’s it like to drive? There’s one engine on offer across the range – a 1.5 litre, 4 cylinder affair, producing 106PS at 6000rpm. It’s not the most responsive engine in the world and needs a fair bit of coaxing to reach the top of its power band, but when it does get there its keen enough to move the fairly lightweight 3 from point to point quickly enough to keep one entertained. Producing 136g/km CO2 and managing a claimed 48.7 mpg combined, it’s obviously not the most cutting edge engine in the world, but it’s certainly acceptable at this price and I wouldn’t let it put anyone off, unless sky-high mpg is your absolute priority.

MG 3Form Sport rear 3-4All of this brings me onto what’s undoubtedly the MG’s secret weapon – the way it handles. It’s hard to state strongly enough just how satisfying the 3 is around corners, but a car that costs this little has no right to offer the thrills it does. The way it responds instantly to the slightest adjustment is sublime, the power steering being barely noticeable and not intruding at all into the purity of the driving sensation. I don’t say this lightly, but the way the 3 handles is comparable to the awesome Fiesta ST – it really is that good. The 3 does come shod with Goodyear’s much-lauded EfficientGrip tyres all round – they may not be the cheapest but if they’re contributing at all towards the excellent levels of grip – it’s worth it, especially in the wet when the car seems to lose nothing in terms of stickiness.

So, to conclude. If you’re in the market for a sub £10K car, there’s quite a lot of choice at the moment from a broad spectrum of manufacturers. If it were my money, I’d definitely be looking towards this characterful MG. Some aspects like the engine might be in-keeping with its price-tag, but the quality, combined with a ride that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face are streets ahead of the competition.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; MG 3Form Sport, Engine – 1.5l DOHC VTI-Tech, Transmission – 5 speed manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 106ps, Torque – 137Nm, Emissions – 136g/km CO2, Economy – 48.7mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 108mph, Acceleration – 10.4s 0-62mph, Price – £9,549 OTR, £10,165 as tested

For full details, go to http://www.mg.co.uk

All new Ford EcoSport Review – First Drive at Barcelona launch

All New Ford EcoSport

All New Ford EcoSport

The small SUV market has increased 400% in Britain in the last 3 years. It’s expected to grow exponentially in the future and Ford want their slice of this potentially lucrative pie. Bring on the EcoSport (pronounced ‘echo’, not ‘ee-co’, by the way).

Readers in South America will be well accustomed to the EcoSport as they’ve seen it enjoy massive popularity there since its launch in 2003, with over 700,000 units being shifted at last count.

The EcoSport we see here has been available in South America since 2012 and is the latest of Ford’s ‘World Car’ projects, being built in India, Brazil and Thailand – Britain will get cars built in their Indian factory – a first for Ford UK.

Aimed primarily at professional 30-somethings who’s lives are increasingly reliant on a constant online connection, the new EcoSport promises tempting collaborations to go hand in hand with their Microsoft based SYNC infotainment system, commencing with the likes of musical streaming giants – Spotify.

The EcoSport looks at its best on the move

The EcoSport looks at its best on the move

The EcoSport is based upon the excellent Fiesta – as good a place to start as any. Styling cues are also quite obviously from the Fiesta, although it’s been raised and beefed up to provide the all important SUV style that’s currently so fashionable. Ford aren’t fighting the realities of this target market though; they’ve wholeheartedly accepted that the image which SUV ownership provides is all important – but the last thing these same buyers want is the expense of running an actual 4×4. It may seem quite perverse but why swim against the tide? To this end, Ford aren’t making 4WD an option on European EcoSports, even though it is available in foreign markets. That said, jacking the suspension up does give the EcoSport the ability to wade up to 550mm – not exactly Defender territory but very welcome when caught in a flash flood situation, I’d imagine.

In the flesh, the Kuga lineage is very apparent in the EcoSport’s styling, again no bad thing, but there are a few visual aspects that I found a little difficult to love; the front wings and wheel arches are a tad slab-sided and sit a fraction forward of the actual wheels, detracting from the ‘Sport’ look which is generally a wheel at each corner. The chrome front grill may not be to everyone’s taste either and removing it or requesting a different colour isn’t an option – that’s obviously fine if you like that kind of thing but, for me, it just screamed ‘towel rail’ a little too loudly.

Ford EcoSport sideAside from that, it’s a characterful, handsome little thing and it’s definitely one of those cars that looks better on the move than stood on static display. It comes complete with some natty go-anywhere touches such as its outboard spare wheel, which could undoubtedly have been accommodated in the standard position – behind the rear bumper – but it’s these features that contribute towards the all-important SUV image.

One aspect of the EcoSport that consistently rears its, somewhat unwelcome head is the fact that it was never designed for the European markets. There are constant reminders all over the car that it’s been designed and built to satisfy the less demanding markets in South America and Asia, and then re-jigged a little for our fussier tastes.

Not least of which is the interior in general. It’s inescapably Ford and is almost identical to the inside of a Fiesta, with its smartphone-esque styling and piano-black inserts. It’s the quality aspect that’s slightly lacking though; The grade of plastics used is scratchier than we’d like and the door pulls have a tendency to creak; Want somewhere to hang your coat or hold onto around a particularly lairy bend? – tough – grab handles are curiously absent; The materials the fairly unsupportive seats are covered in feel cheap and emit a certain glow, not dissimilar to a £25, machine-washable suit.

The EcoSport tackles bends impressively, with very little roll

The EcoSport tackles bends impressively, with very little roll

The worst offender however is the SYNC system itself; its size and quasi dot-matrix appearance leave a lot to be desired when compared to the units found in today’s Fiesta and Focus. Considering its capability to link with smartphones and provide access to Spotify and TomTom, amongst others, it’s visually lacking to say the least, the EcoSport seems to have been provided with a BBC Micro, as opposed to the Playstation 4 found in other Fords.

One aspect of the EcoSport’s interior that can’t be faulted though, is its living space for passengers, front and rear. I’m 6′ and whilst sat in the passenger seat, I moved it back to a position which meant I had to stretch considerably to touch the bulkhead with the ends of my toes, and there was still plenty of room behind me for an adult or child to sit in complete comfort. Now that’s impressive in a car in this class.

On the road, the EcoSport really comes into its own and reminds us exactly where Ford’s strengths lie. It’s available with either a 90PS 1.5 litre Diesel unit or a choice of two petrol engines – a 110PS 1.5 litre or the all-conquering 1.0 EcoBoost lump. The Diesel and EcoBoost engined models were available to drive at the launch and it’s quite clear that the peppy 3-cylinder is the one to go for. It may lose out a little in the way of emissions and economy to it’s oil-burning sister (125g/km vs 120g/km & 53.3mpg vs 61.1mpg) but it’s £500 cheaper and comes free with a great soundtrack and bucket-loads of character. If you absolutely require your EcoSport to change gear itself, you’re stuck with the 1.5 litre Duratec petrol, which at £16,495, becomes difficult to justify. The manual Duratec is the cheapest in the range at £14,995 but with CO2 emissions of 149g/km and 44mpg combined, it’s a false economy to go for this model.

Ford EcoSport doors openIf you do decide your EcoSport will come equipped with an EcoBoost(this IS pronounced ‘ee-co’, by the way), you won’t be disappointed with the driving experience as a whole. It has just enough grunt to keep the performance interesting, although the extra height and weight over the Fiesta does hinder progress somewhat and you’ll find downshifts from 3rd to 2nd become more regular. When things go from straight to twisty, the Ford heritage shines through spectacularly as, even with its considerably raised ride-height, it finds assured grip with only the slightest hint of roll.

It’s hard to predict what the European market will make of the EcoSport which has proved so popular elsewhere. My initial feeling is that Ford have rushed somewhat, fearful of missing this fruitful bandwagon. It’s certainly not the cheapest (£1500 more than alternative Nissan Juke), it’s not particularly economical or sporty, and with only 4 Euro NCAP stars and a slightly bargain-basement interior, I fear it could dilute the excellent reputation Ford have worked so hard to gain over the last decade.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford EcoSport Titanium, Engine – 1.0l 3-cyl EcoBoost petrol, Transmission – 5 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 125PS, Torque – 170Nm, Emissions – 125g/km CO2, Economy – 53.3 mpg combined, Maximum Speed –  112mph, Acceleration – 12.7s 0-60mph, Price – £15,995 OTR

For full details of the EcoSport and all other Ford models, go to http://www.ford.co.uk

Ford C-MAX 1.0l Titanium X – Driven and Reviewed

2013 Ford Focus Front angle

2013 Ford Focus Zetec S

So, you’ve been on plenty of test drives, engrossed yourself in a small forest’s worth of brochures and come to the conclusion that Ford’s Focus, powered by their much-lauded 1.0l Ecoboost engine is the car for you and your family.

BUT THEN. You take one last look inside your steed of choice and that nagging feeling creeps into your head again, that sneaking suspicion that it may just be a little small for your needs.

C-MAX Ecoboost front

Ford’s C-MAX

So, what do you do? The prospect of starting at square one again is just one big headache but, don’t despair, there could be an answer and it comes in the shape of Ford’s C-MAX.

Launched in 2003 and originally labelled ‘Focus C-MAX‘, it did resemble exactly that; a slightly disproportional version of Ford’s ubiquitous hatchback whose good looks had faded during the transition process. Now simply named ‘C-MAX’ in its own right, it’s easily identified as part of the Ford stable without the requirement to cling so closely to the Focus‘ coat-tails.

C-MAX Ecoboost rear

Available in 5 and 7 seat (Grand C-MAX) flavours, the two models are easily distinguished by the more voluminous C-MAX’s, slightly van-like rear sliding doors. What we have here for your delectation is the, undoubtedly more attractive, 5 seat C-MAX in range topping Titanium X flavour, powered by that all important, diminutive lump, the 1.0l Ecoboost engine.

Although the C-MAX shares the Focus’ platform and is slightly enhanced in terms of both length and width (4380mm x 2067mm vs 4358mm x 2010mm), it’s the extra height it’s gained (1626mm vs 1461mm) that offers the C-MAX it’s justification over its little brother.

C-MAX Ecoboost side

High shoulder-line and less glasshousing makes C-MAX more purposeful

On the inside, the extra room is noticeable and adds a sensation of airiness, especially when combined with our test car’s panoramic glass roof. The trade-off for this increase in living space in MPVs is usually a more vast glass-house and a certain ‘gold-fish bowl’ sensation. Not so with the C-MAX, however. Ford have apparently raised the car’s shoulder line, keeping glass to a minimum, the result being a more purposeful stance and a less ungainly appearance.

So far then, it’s looking like something of a no-brainer: Why buy the smaller Focus when you can have the C-MAX? It’s well designed and economical, just like the Focus, but you gain a sizeable chunk of extra room to swing the proverbial cat around in. Game over. Decision made.

C-MAX Ecoboost Boot

661 litre boot is cavernous

Well, not quite. I’m the first to admit that I was wrong about Ford’s 1.0l, 3 cylinder Ecoboost engines. On paper, I wrote it off as some marketing stunt that couldn’t possibly work and would result in the most yawn inspiring range of cars that Ford, née, the world had ever seen. Having driven many cars equipped with this marvel of engineering, I could immediately see what the rest of the planet also saw – that it does work. It capably hauls the Focus around without any struggle and in the Fiesta, it’s positively fun.

I’m going to go out on a limb here though and state that I think the C-MAX may be a bridge too far for such a diminutive unit. On paper, the Focus and C-MAX are separated by just 0.1 seconds (11.4s vs 11.3s) in their race to 62mph and the larger model is alleged to achieve better mpg and Co2 levels. In the real world though, things just don’t work like that. The 6 speed ‘box in the C-MAX may go a long way towards achieving those impressive statistics but there’s no getting around the fact that if you want more space, you’re also going to get more weight and your aerodynamic qualities are going to suffer.

I felt that the extra weight of the C-MAX just took the edge off what is still a fun drive in the Focus. The difference is negligible, but to try to achieve adequate fuel consumption figures, the ‘change-up’ light seemed to be quite insistent on a move up the ratios at times, when my natural instinct was to hang onto a gear for a second longer.

Although Ford have done an admirable job of making a compact MPV handsome – no mean feat – the trade-off is an increase in ride height that affects the legendary Focus handling traits. It’s not a significant loss and it would be unfair to say the C-MAX wallows around like an old American police car, but there is a difference.

All this talk of performance and handling in relation to the C-MAX is perhaps unjust as, ultimately, that’s not it modus operandi. So let’s forget it’s Focus roots for a minute and just take it as a stand-alone car – does it score highly compared to its direct competition?

C-MAX Ecoboost interiorThe answer to this would be a resounding ‘Yes’. I’m going to assume that it’s the living space in a car of this nature that makes or breaks a potential sale and this is where the C-MAX excels. The layout and dash may be standard Ford fare but this should in no way be taken as a criticism; it’s attractive, well-built and, perhaps most importantly, simple to use. The theatre style seating will give any rear passengers that commanding view of the road they crave and the extra height of the C-MAX definitely adds an essential sensation of airiness and space – especially when combined with the Titanium X’s panorama roof.

If you’ll allow me to put my critical head back on, I still don’t fully get on with Ford’s Sync system as it seems easily confused but, in true Microsoft style, a simple turn on/turn off procedure seems to remedy any glitches. I’d also be less than 100% trusting of the C-MAX’s self parking system – my first attempt resulted in a collision with the kerb and a coming together with a lamp-post was only narrowly avoided when I intervened with the brake pedal. Some work still required here I feel.

To conclude, the C-MAX is a highly useable, well thought out car, but then most compact MPVs are these days. Where it excels though is its visual charm and it’s car-like drive, just don’t expect it to be quite as sorted as the Focus.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford C-MAX 1.0l Titanium X, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 125ps, Torque – 200Nm, Emissions – 117g/km CO2, Economy – 55.4 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 116mph, Acceleration – 11.4s 0-62mph, Price – £22,345 OTR, £24,020 as tested.

 

Ford Focus vs Ford Fiesta; A Tale of Two STs

Ford Escort Mexico

The legendary Ford Escort Mexico

Since the dawn of time, well, since 1963 anyway, our quirky little island has been caught up in an unrelenting love affair. Yes, we’re quite keen on GTis, SRis, GTEs and various other alphabet-soup inspired monikers, but what we ceaselessly lust after is a certain breed of breathed upon family hatches and rep-mobiles, namely Fast Fords.

To suggest that every nutty Blue Oval has been fantastic would be somewhat ill-informed, there have been a few dogs. But through good times and bad, booms and busts, Ford have bravely persevered in their quest to bring affordable fun to the blue-collared masses.

So, in these times of double-dip recessions and soaring fuel costs, what do Ford have on offer to tempt out the cheque-books and exactly where does a Fast Ford fit into our precariously balanced lives?

Have we seen the back of RS Fords? Don't you believe it!

Have we seen the back of RS Fords? Don’t you believe it!

Well, the RS badged cars are currently conspicuous in their absence (only temporarily, apparently), so have Ford turned their back on their responsibilities? Are we destined to seek our thrills elsewhere?

They may not be RSs but, like steroidally enhanced buses, out of the mire appear two excitable, ST (Sports Technologies) badged hatchbacks to answer our question. Both are hellbent on not only getting you from A-B, ASAP, but also bringing the family along and thus extending the Fast Ford bloodline that can be traced back over 50 years.

Previous ST badged Fords have suffered something of an identity crisis. Most have danced around their almighty RS siblings, being careful not to tread on their toes and ending up waltzing in no-mans-land, stuck in limbo somewhere between ‘come and ‘ave a go if you think your ‘ard enough’ and ‘I’m awfully sorry if you hurt your knuckles on my face’. These two STs are different though, they’re currently at the top of the Ford tree and are unashamedly set in the nation’s psyche as THE Fords to have if you want to make a statement.

The question is, which one is ready to face the upcoming fight against the auld enemies – Peugeot (208 GTi), VW (Golf GTi) and Renault (RenaultSport Clio)? Driving Torque has driven the Focus ST and the all-new Fiesta ST to discover whether either are true heirs to the throne.

Ford Focus ST1

The 2013 Ford Focus ST

The Focus ST has been around for some time now. It first saw the light of day in 2006, sporting the adaptable 2.5 litre Volvo-sourced lump as seen in the loony Focus RS. It performed well enough and was updated visually to provide adequate impact but horrendous fuel and tax costs just weren’t going to cut it in today’s society. Step forward the EcoBoost. Without sounding overly dramatic, this range of direct injection, turbo-charged engines could be hailed as the future. Not only for Ford, but for petrol engines in general.

The 2.0 litre engine found in the Focus may lose half a litre of displacement on the previous model but, through various use of witchcraft, its output rises from 222bhp to 250bhp whilst, at the same time, pushing claimed economy figures up a third from 30.9mpg combined to nearly 40mpg! Perhaps more importantly, it’s quicker too, not only in a straight dash but it’ll tackle the twisty bits with added assurance, having lost some unsightly weight up front.

Fiesta ST garage

The three ‘ST only’ colours – Race Red, Spirit Blue and Molten Orange

It’s more difficult to draw a direct comparison between the Fiesta ST and its predecessor as the last incarnation was deleted in 2008. It hardly made a dramatic impact on the world and could undoubtedly be placed in the ‘must try harder’ bracket. This 2013 model has far loftier aspirations and, again, it’s relying on the EcoBoost engine to thrust it into the spotlight. What the 1.6 incarnation loses in size, it makes up for in enthusiasm and it uses all of its 182bhp to propel the lighter Fiesta ST to 60mph in 6.7 seconds; only 0.2 seconds slower than the Focus – barely noticeable in the real world.

Ford Focus ST2

Those exhausts are dual trapezoids – don’t you know!

Both models have ST-only noses grafted on, in order to further enhance the dramatic effects already offered by their ground-hugging body-kits and enlarged wheels. Looks are obviously a matter of personal taste but, whereas the Focus grabs attention at every turn (especially in the Tangerine Scream hue of our test car), it may take more of an automotive aficionado to pick the Fiesta out from its lesser-specced brethren. Head-turning may not be your thing, of course, but Fast Fords aren’t usually aimed at the shy, retiring types and if I’d just bought the Fiesta, I’d forever be wishing that it could dominate a scene like the Focus, with its fancy exhaust tips (dual trapezoids, in case you were wondering).

Ford Focus ST interior

Focus ST Recaros – possibly the grippiest seats ever found in a production car.

The modus operandi of these cars is to combine the practicalities of a hatchback whilst making the driver feel like Sebastien Loeb when the mood takes them. On the practical front, the Focus is head and shoulders above the Fiesta, not only due to its size advantage in every direction but also due to the fact that it’s only available in 5 door guise. The Focus and the Fiesta are both ‘global cars’ according to Ford and yet, the Fiesta ST will be offered in the US with 5 doors, two more than in the rest of the world. Ford must be saving a fortune by not making a 3dr variant of the Focus but I can’t help but wonder if their reluctance to sell a 5 door Fiesta ST in Europe is through a fear of sales being pilfered from the more expensive Focus.

Back to the important bits though – the way these cars drive. Turbo-lag is all but eliminated on both cars and the torque curve is steady and predictable – it really is hard to find fault in either power plant. In the past, Ford have utilised a clever bit of engineering called a Revoknuckle, in order to convince the front wheels that they really can multitask, handling the, not insignificant job of steering the car whilst at the same time, lassoing 250+ horses as they try to escape in unison, usually by torque-steering through a hedge into the nearest paddock. This Focus ST however is Revoknuckleless (?!?) and it leaves the job of keeping Red Rum et al on the grey stuff up to some very clever electrical aids instead. The result is admirable but by no means perfect – floor the Focus ST and there is a slight feeling of hanging on, as the arguments between physics and microchip are echoed through the steering wheel. Each front wheel temporarily breaks free before it’s reined in, leaving it’s opposite number to head for the horizon. I can imagine a child would enjoy a similar sensation if he were to sit atop Usain Bolt‘s shoulders – whilst he competed in the Olympic 100m final.

Fiesta ST cornering

Notice hardly any body roll in the Fiesta – thank the Nurburgring for that

The Fiesta ST, on the other hand, suffers none of these problems. Less is, once again more in this case and the smaller, less powerful car can simply get on with the task in hand without worrying about being overburdened with power. The task, of course, being to provide maximum thrills to all occupants, and this is certainly what the Fiesta ST does. We were lucky enough to take the car to its max on the sublime roads above Nice and whatever was thrown at it was simply returned with interest. Ford have done an incredible job here; they’ve disguised all the electrical aids and excess flab that modern cars are cursed with and made a car that feels raw and unbridled. Acceleration is keen with the engine happy to rev, and the car simply handles whatever corners are thrown at it, without ever getting flustered or confused.

It’s a similar story in the noise department – an aspect I unashamedly place much importance on. Both the Focus and the Fiesta utilise a clever system called a Sound Symposer which, in simplest terms pipes the engine note directly into the cabin without being deafening at the exhaust and failing to meet stringent sound regulations. I found the whole thing a little frustrating in the Focus, sort of like hearing your favourite song on a radio that’s stuck on mute. The Fiesta’s system is turned up to 11 in comparison and provides a hugely satisfying soundtrack that gets better and better as you progress towards the red-line.

Fiesta ST Three wheels

The Fiesta ST doing it’s best impression of a Reliant Robin. This chassis is properly sorted.

So, which one would I take home? Obviously, if size and 5 doors are high up your list of importance, it’s a no-brainer, it’d have to be the Focus as the Fiesta just can’t compete. If it’s pure driver satisfaction that floats your boat though, I’d undoubtedly save a wad of cash and take the Fiesta – it’s just more satisfying. I’m not saying that it’s perfect – the furthest gears were a little hard to reach and the smaller Recaros pinched a tad after a couple of hours but, on first impression, these were honestly my only niggles. I’ll be fascinated to find how the Fiesta ST is to live with when I get my hands on it for a longer test but, for now, I’d go as far as to say that if Toyota’s GT86 represents a return to innocence for coupes, this Fiesta ST is it’s hot-hatch equivalent. Some accolade huh?

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford Focus ST2, Price – £23,495, Engine – 2.0T Petrol, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 250bhpAcceleration –  0-62mph – 6.5s, Maximum Speed – 154mph, Economy – 39.2 mpg combined, Emissions – 169g/km CO2

Specifications; Ford Fiesta ST, Price – from £16,995, Engine – 1.6T Petrol, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 182bhpAcceleration –  0-62mph – 6.7s, Maximum Speed – 137mph, Economy – 47.9 mpg combined, Emissions – 138g/km CO2

For brochures and details on how to order, please go to; http://www.ford.co.uk/Cars/Fiesta/Fiesta-ST

All New Ford Fiesta. How does it compare to its predecessor?

2012 Ford Fiesta

2012 Ford Fiesta

Fact; The Ford Fiesta has been Britain’s most popular car every year since 2009 when it knocked its big brother – the Focus off it’s well-worn mantle.

Near Certainty; Unless the price of oil is decimated and the car buying public decides that a 10yr old Range Rover Vogue, equipped with a 4.4 V8 petrol engine (circa £9975) makes more financial sense than Ford’s latest small hatch (from £9795 OTR), the New Ford Fiesta will march on triumphantly to the top of the 2013 charts.

How can I be so sure that the Fiesta won’t be knocked off its lofty perch? Well, Ford seemed to have taken the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and used it with consumate wisdom. There are definitely enough revisions and improvements to the 2013 model to justify the ‘All New’ tag, but the majority of the car is taken straight from the previous incarnation which was hardly looking long in the tooth itself.

All New Ford Fiesta

All New Ford Fiesta

I was in the fortunate position to arrive at the New Fiesta launch in Manchester in the previous model that I was road testing. This ‘out of the old, into the new’ situation is undoubtedly the best way to draw comparison as I had every last niggle and highlight fresh in my mind. In the blink of an eye, I was drawn to establishing whether this new car had simply improved upon the last formula, or whether the essence of such a successful model had been lost in the intricacies of launching a car with its own identity and character.

All New Nose

Visually, the new model pulls off the amazing trick of being very similar to its predecessor whilst, at the same time, looking completely different. That trapezoidal nose has actually graced the front end of many Fords, including the Fiesta, for a while now. By adding some shiny brightwork, giving the new model a facelift and swapping the smaller, secondary air inlet from above to below the main ‘mouth’, the resulting car is instantly transformed, not only into a new model but also into a part of the new Ford family image.

Inside

2012 Fiesta Interior, a very pleasant place to be

2012 Fiesta Interior, a very pleasant place to be

Inside the New Fiesta, the changes are negligible which came as no surprise as, again, the previous model’s cabin was chic, funky and fresh, with all manner of eye-catching shapes and materials being utilised in a very similar fashion to the ultra cutting-edge Focus. The quality of materials used and overall attention to detail really have no right to appear in a car in this price bracket and Ford have been quite shrewd in ensuring that possibly the most memorable part of the car is the environment which the occupants see most; the cabin. It really is futile giving a car like this the world’s most attractive engine bay when the majority of its target market have no inclination whatsoever to ever open the bonnet.

New interior, very similar to previous model.

New interior, very similar to previous model.

That said, there were a couple of niggles inside the previous model Fiesta that have now been ironed out, the most significant being the multimedia unit. The unit in my test 2012 model wasn’t disastrously bad, it was just nothing to write home about either; it played CDs, it boasted multiple radio stations, it even had an incredibly useful USB port, into which one could plug one’s Iphone and merrily select tracks in MP3 format. The problems arose when the ‘shuffle’ mode was operated and a random selection of tracks were played. It would reach the end of one track and, instead of instantly choosing the next one to play, the first few lines of the subsequent song would be heard whilst it made up it’s mind. Sounds like a minor annoyance, doesn’t it? You try it, in no time at all it’s incredibly irritating.

Thankfully, Ford have decided to outsource the current multimedia software to a little company who apparently know a thing or two in that field; Microsoft. They’ve concocted a system called Sync and, speaking from first hand experience, it does exactly what it says on the tin, eradicating any previous issues that existed.

MyKey

Another technological innovation on the new Fiesta is a system called MyKey. In a nutshell, it allows the vehicle to be programmed by its owner via the keys, altering settings such as maximum speed, audio volume and the low-fuel warning. The thinking behind this is that parents, worrying about their teenage offspring who are out driving, will be reassured in the knowledge that their pre-armed Fiesta will be working extra-hard to ensure their safe return home. Now, the memories may be getting a little hazy but I can remember enough about being a teenager to state with confidence that this is the last thing I’d have wanted in my car. I also know that, even though it’s generally not their money that’s buying their first car, with enough incessant whining, any teenager worth their salt will be able to influence which car is bought and potentially steer well clear of this ‘big brother’ technology. It’s certainly innovative and will probably attract buyers, my only reservation is that it could possibly deter buyers too.

2012 Model Fiesta Nose......

2012 Model Fiesta Nose……

Ford claim that, due to the state of the global economy, many buyers are choosing to ditch their larger hatchbacks and are opting instead for something Fiesta sized to keep costs down. The fact that their very own Focus was deposed from the top of the charts by the Fiesta corroborates this claim and Ford have decided to act upon it by adding a new range-topping Titanium X model, in order to reinforce that feeling of quality that the Focus driver had previously enjoyed. Combine leather and climate control with the fact that the Mk1 Focus was only 20cm longer than this latest Fiesta and it’s easy to see how a smooth transition can be achieved.

EcoBoost Engines

One monumental leap forwards in this new model is the introduction of Ford’s multi award-winning range of EcoBoost engines. I’d experienced this excellent little three-cylinder in the Focus recently, without disappointment, and I was itching to get my hands on the lighter Fiesta, equipped with the same powerplant. Does it work? Of course it does! I sampled both the 125ps and 100ps variants and both were huge fun with character to burn. I quite safely predict that this excellent engine/chassis/gearbox combination will only reinforce the Fiesta’s rock-solid reputation in the market as it offers a fun factor that it’s competitors can only dream of.

......and New Fiesta Nose. Some shape-shifting going on.

……and New Fiesta Nose. Some shape-shifting going on.

The official economy figures for the Ecoboost models are 65.7mpg combined, admittedly this isn’t a patch on my Duratorq Diesel test car’s 85.6mpg but there are other considerations to be taken into account here. The very nature of the free-revving Ecoboost engine when compared to a fairly reluctant Diesel is hugely important in my opinion and the throaty sound that resonates around the petrol-engined model’s cabin gives a real hot-hatch feel without the associated costs. I also found that the relatively small Fiesta struggled with the extra weight of a Diesel lump up front whereas the lightweight petrol engine made the car less nose-heavy into corners and really did justice to the extremely satisfying driving set up. As both models slip in under that magical 100g/km on emissions, there isn’t a VED issue to separate the two either.

In Conclusion

Ultimately, the Fiesta’s sales figures speak for themselves and it was going to take a series of huge errors for the updated model to ruin such a complete little car. That said, it wasn’t perfect, a fact that Ford weren’t too arrogant to acknowledge and remedy. With its niggles ironed out, it’s striking new look and, perhaps most importantly, the introduction of their EcoBoost engines, the Fiesta will undoubtedly go from strength to strength.

ST due to arrive in April - looks fantastic

ST due to arrive in April – looks fantastic

Oh, did I also mention that the ST model will be along in April, priced from £16,995? More on that to follow……..

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; 2012 Model as Tested – Ford Fiesta Zetec ECOnetic, Engine – 1.6 8V TDCi, Power – 95PS, Maximum Speed – 111mph, Acceleration – 0-62mph 12.9s, Economy – 85.6mpg combined, Emissions87g/km CO2, Price – £15,595 OTR.

2013 Model of choice – Ford Fiesta Zetec S, Engine1.0 Ecoboost Turbo PetrolPower – 125PS, Maximum Speed122mph, Acceleration0-62mph 9.4s, Economy – 65.7 mpg combined, Emissions99g/km CO2, Price –  £15,395 OTR

They always recognise their own, apparently

They always recognise their own, apparently!

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