Ford Focus XR5 Turbo

words - Tim Britten
The latest, hottest Focus delivers a satisfying sports experience at a bargain price

Ford Focus XR5 Turbo
Road Test

Price Guide (recommended price before statutory and delivery charges): $36,990
Options fitted to test car (not included in above price): nil
Price as tested: $36,990
Crash rating: five-star (ANCAP)
Fuel: 98 RON PULP
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 9.3
CO2 emissions (g/km): 224
Also consider: Volvo S40 T5, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, Renault Megane RS

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0
Engine/Drivetrain/Chassis: 4.0/5.0
Price, Packaging and Practicality: 3.5/5.0
Safety: 3.0/5.0
Behind the wheel: 4.0/5.0
X-factor: 4.0/5.0

About our ratings

As the focus on Focus sharpens and local production looms, now is a really good time for Ford to remind people of its small car credentials. With a strong model lineup, good packaging and specification, competitive pricing and the excellent dynamics that have gained it the general approval of the motoring press, the current Focus is one of the category's strongest competitors -- even if it owes a lot to Ford alliances with Mazda and Volvo.

Despite being an iteration of a joint development, the Focus does have its own specific character. And the fact it wears a Ford badge, rather than Mazda or Volvo, surely counts for something. Especially in the case of the Focus XR5 Turbo which, as its Falcon (and Mondeo) XR namesakes, presents as more than a just dress-up variant.

For starters, the Focus XR5 Turbo employs Volvo's blown 2.5-litre five-cylinder to deliver a satisfying blast of performance that sees it reaching 100km/h in a quick 6.6 seconds. And the handling and roadholding build on an already sound basis to create a hot hatch that apologises to nobody.

The XR5 was the first of the current Focus range to introduce the LV series restyle, beating the rest of the local range to market by 10 months or so. The LV, which has now been rolled out across the entire Focus range, (more here) is basically identified in the XR5 by a new front end with a gaping lower air intake, redesigned side sills, a bigger rear spoiler and new-look 18-inch alloys supported by a space-saver spare wheel.

Essentially the changes over the previous LT series are cosmetic, with basic spec remaining unchanged. That is, it retains the Volvo-sourced, long-stroke 166kW/320Nm engine, a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission and tied-down "sports" suspension with MacPherson struts up front, Ford's Control Blade independent rear end, and adjustable electro-hydraulic steering.

But the body mods did serve to give the XR5 sharper looks, while inside there was the introduction of a few niceties like standard Recaro front seats, push-button starter and Bluetooth connectivity.

The basic essence of the Focus XR5 Turbo as an eager, slightly raucous five-door sports hatch thankfully remains intact. As well as being reassured you look good behind the prominent XR5 identifiers (including an optional full-length, contrasting-colour striping option), you also have a sweet, responsive engine at your disposal that's smoother than a four, but more characterful than a six.

Explorations of the upper end of the rpm band reveal a deep breathing, second dimension to its power delivery. Unlike some punchy turbos of similar size, the XR5 loves a rev and continues to deliver a growling surge right through to 6000rpm where its maximum 166kW is developed. The penalty is a maybe less responsive midrange power delivery.

Although the XR5's 320Nm torque maximum does come in very early at 1600rpm, the actual figure is less spectacular than, say, the four-cylinder Mazda3 MPS which, in its first iteration, wound out no less than 380Nm (and 190kW) from 2.3 litres.
But the Mazda lacked the high-revving sweetness of the XR5, delivering everything in the midrange and not really doing anything exciting after that.

So the XR5 is something of a delight when wound out into the upper reaches, delivering a steady power surge as the quick-shifting (but requisite of positive hand action from the driver) six-speed manual transmission snicks from ratio to ratio.

At the same time, the nicely weighted, tactile steering that is so much a part of just about any Focus model delivers deft, accurate responses that make you forget, most of the time, that the XR5 is a mere front-driver.

Understeer is kept at a comfortable distance for anything but the most aggressive driving and torque steer is likewise unobtrusive unless you happen to strike the unhappy combination of an irregular road surface as you accelerate in a lower gear with some steering lock applied. One can only wonder what the XR5 would be like with the on-demand AWD system used in Volvo's co-developed S40 T5.

The sporty Ford also rides with surprising aplomb despite the tied-down suspension and low-profile 18-inch Continental rubber. It's firm, for sure, but still builds in enough compliance to chamfer off the sharp edges and has enough wheel travel to avoid violent reactions to all but the roughest road surfaces. And, largely thanks to the improved NVH introduced with the LV series, the XR5 is pretty cruisy out on the open road.

The downsides -- and the XR5 is not unique here -- are that the XR5 asks for premium fuel and quotes an average consumption of 9.3L/100km. This shows up the 55-litre fuel tank as inadequate -- the realistic touring range to not a lot more than 400km.

And with CO2 emissions quoted at 224g/km, this is also the least-clean Focus.

On the safety front, the XR5 manages well with a complete array of active and passive safety features including stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with emergency brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, auto hazard flashers that are activated in emergency braking, and six airbags. All this earns it a five-star ANCAP rating.

Adding extra icing to the cake is the XR5's cockpit environment. Nicely cosseted in the form-fitting Recaro seats (that offer tilt, height and lumbar adjustment – something you don't often find in Recaros), the driver is presented with a grippy three-spoke, leather-rimmed steering wheel and gearshift knob, alloy floor pedals and a logically laid out dash where all controls and dials are presented cleanly with an eye for function within a now soft-touch environment.

The new sliding cushion on the centre console is a nice touch too.

Euro influences include positives like the driver-adjustable headlight trim, while negatives include the left-side indicator lever and weird bonnet release that involves twisting the badge in the grille to gain access to a key lock. And somewhat surprisingly, given the XR5's love for a highway romp, there's no cruise control.

In terms of passenger space and all-round practicality, the XR5 Turbo is best described as class-competitive. If you are after a shopping trolley you'd probably be better advised to go for something like a Zetec version without the driver-focussed Recaro seats.

And if the XR5's director of operations and front seat passenger happen to be tall, there's not going to be much left for those seated behind. Thankfully it retains split-fold rear seat functionality to make best use of the hatchback configuration.

The XR5 Focus is tagged at $36,990, which places it way below Volvo's identically-engined but all-wheel drive S40 T5, well below VW's Golf GTI and in the same ballpark as Holden's soon to be retired Astra Turbo SRI coupe. When Mazda launches the MPS version of its new 3, we can expect Ford will have an dollar advantage there too.

So what are the downsides of Ford's stylish little rortster? Apart from the limited cruising range, the space-saver spare and a fiendishly wide turning circle there are few.

The Focus XR5 Turbo delivers solid sports performance and handling, looks that any Ford enthusiast will love, a truly driver-oriented cockpit, five-star safety and high quality levels, all backed up by what can only be considered a very accessible price.

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Published : Tuesday, 30 June 2009
In most cases, attends new vehicle launches at the invitation and expense of vehicle manufacturers and/or distributors.

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