Renault Megane GT220 2014 Review
Peter Barnwell road tests and reviews the 2014 Renault Megane GT220 hatch, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
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The Ford Focus ST is something of a hidden gem in Ford's line-up. It is also the successor to the popular - and slightly crazy - Focus XR5 of the last generation.
This one is quite different - with the new name came the new look and a new engine, the 2.0 litre turbo. Interestingly, the marketing people at Ford have stuck with the EcoBoost label for what is quite obviously supposed to be a fast car. Should you be worried about EcoBoost? And is the ST an improvement on the XR5?
The Focus ST is just the one car, with one engine and one transmission. At $38,290, the Focus comfortably outperforms the Golf GTI on price and power as well as punching in a good deal cheaper than the RenaultSport Megane 265.
The Focus is powered by a 2.0 litre EcoBoost four cylinder (down from the XR5's 2.5 five cylinder) which produces a stonking 184kW and 340Nm of torque, or 360Nm with overboost. The EcoBoost, then, is 21kW and 60Nm to the good of its larger predecessor.
Where this car really differs from, say, the Golf, is that this is obviously a tarted-up Focus. That isn't a bad thing, but it does mean that you're stuck with a silly dinky screen situated miles away from you under the windscreen.
The ST is reasonably well-equipped. Apart from the tiny screen, there's sat-nav, the European version of Ford's SYNC (which is superior to Thai-built cars), better leather on the steering wheel and gear knob and a spectacular pair of Recaro seats, which are partly leather trimmed.
There's also a decent stereo with the requisite Bluetooth and USB connectivity, dual zone climate control, bi-Xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, body kit and a lairy yellow colour exclusive to the ST (if you so choose...)
Externally, the Focus ST is a fairly restrained upgrade to the base car. It's not a bad looking car to begin with and Ford's global design team didn't go nuts with the wings and skirts. The 18-inch alloys are of a carryover design from the XR5 while front and rear bumpers are deeper and more aggressive. One of the highlights of the external design is the figure-eight central exhaust exit.
Inside is a bit bright depending on the external colour. Our yellow test car had retina-troubling yellow highlights on the seats but once you're in them and comfortable, this is standard Focus apart from the trio of close-to-useless auxiliary dials, again located high on the dash.
Like every other Focus, the ST has a five star ANCAP rating. The safety list includes ABS, six airbags, stability and traction control and electronic brake force distribution. There are also rear parking sensors with a reversing camera to keep an eye on marauding pedestrians and car park racers.
The 2.0 litre EcoBoost is an impressive engine. While significantly smaller and one fewer cylinder than the old XR5's in-line five cylinder, the ST produces another 21kW and 60Nm of torque. Normal driving should see a real-world return of 9.0l/100km rather than the mildly terrifying figures of the XR5, which went well into double-digits for many owners.
The ST counters the torque steer typical of many powerful front-drivers with a new a torque vectoring diff. While not as effective as a mechanical limited slip diff, it's also nowhere near as heavy and can easily be fitted on the production line.
It also means that ST owners can probably eke out a few more kilometres on each set of front tyres - the XR5 tore through tyres quicker than an Australian navy boat gets lost in Indonesian waters.The ST also features the increasingly common exhaust noise synthesiser. It's not particularly convincing, but if you put it out of your head that it's fake, you can learn to enjoy it.
While the noise isn't real and the limited slip-diff isn't really, it doesn't matter. The Focus ST is alive. You will be wide awake every time you get behind the wheel of the ST. It has way too much power, the steering is incredibly low-geared and the acceleration is breathtaking. It is an enormous amount of fun.
Taking off from a standstill is either blunted by the otherwise excellent dynamic and stability control systems, or a festival of wheelspin if you switch them off. The ST demands your full attention at anything above normal traffic speeds and is brilliant for it. The steering, while not full of feel, gives you fantastic, positive turn-in. It's almost too much at first and it's not long before you realise the steering has very little lock it turns so quickly.
Front grip is phenomenal when you learn to work with the throttle (which doesn't take that long) meaning you can fire the ST down a twisty road with a roll of the wrist in your chosen direction and just a bit of patience with the throttle on the exit of corners.
If you're not patient, prepare to engage in battle with the steering. All those kilowatts and Newton metres tumble over each other to escape on to the road surface which causes some robust torque steer. It's that apparent that many of my passengers remarked on the writhing wheel when performing the mandatory acceleration demonstration.
While not nearly as bad, the last thing I remember torque steering like this was an Alfa Romeo 164 V6 automatic. That car was the victim of one of the worst engine installations in living memory, leaving the drive shafts sticking out at an angle and causing unplanned lane-changes under full throttle (the 164 QV fixed that, if you're interested).
Where the ST really excels is in mid-speed and above corners. The outside tyres never seem to run out of grip through these corners and really only give up when you mash the throttle out of a tight hairpin. The whole time the engine is growling and howling, the tyres communicating how far away they are from their limits but the tyres never let go without giving you plenty of warning.
It is an enormous amount of fun, but there is a price - the ride is quite firm. There's no crash or bash, even on the truly terrible urban roads around Marrickville where we like to test these things. On a good highway, you'll not notice anything apart from a bit of extra tyre noise, but you will notice the ride around town.
But the whoops of delight when you floor the ST and rip off pretty much anything under $80,000 is worth the minor faults.
The Focus ST has a totally different, almost raucous character, to its nearest competitor, the Golf GTI. The two cars are similar in many ways - based on big-selling, mass-produced hatchbacks and then fettled by people who really, really know what they're doing.
In the Focus' case, it's Team RS who have produced some amazing cars over the last few years. They went a bit crazy with the power figures, perhaps to persuade the power-checkers that this is the car for them.
But it's better than that. The Golf is terrific but surgical, the Megane insane and the Focus falls in between. It's got a ton of character and wants to play, like an excitable puppy. What's more, it has five door practicality, is cheaper than its logical competition and has all the advantages of being a Ford - dealers everywhere, long warranty, fixed price servicing. Give it a go. You'll laugh like a lunatic.
Ford Focus ST
Price: from $38,290
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 5-star ANCAP
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl petrol, 184kW/360Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, FWD
Dimensions: 4.6m (L), 1.8mm (W), 1.5m (H)
Spare: temporary steel
Thirst: 7.4L/100km, 95-98 RON 172g/km CO2
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|$9,790 – 13,420
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|$11,550 – 15,400
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|$10,230 – 13,970
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|2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN
|$16,610 – 21,230
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