Like many Kiwis, this writer long had a thing for Ford’s hotter versions of its small passenger vehicles. This fancy has over the years been partially satisfied, once by owning a Laser S and soon after an Escort XR3i. But for each occasion my wants were appeased there have been other fast Fords that I have regrettably never tasted. I’m not alone in my passion either, there’s something in the sporty Fords that really appeals to us here in NZ. Is it the reasonable priced attainability? Or is it the sleeves-rolled-up, blue-collar nature of these machines?
The answers may lay with Ford’s current go-fast offering in NZ – the Focus XR5 Turbo. While it’s not the top-spec Focus RS, which never made it here, the XR5 is no softie and I had a weeklong date with the hot hatch. So we set off on a quest to see if the XR5 shares the same assets of its revered ancestors.
Now in its second generation the Focus has undergone a facelift that has brought with it a more purposeful aesthetic. While only sharing minimal design DNA with its Escort forefather the XR5 has a refreshed face with reworked headlights and a flatter looking grille. At the rear it’s all business with a new tailgate and diffuser-styled bumper sitting above the twin exhaust outlets that signal speedy intent. Finishing the athletic look is a wide body-kit and distinctive Y-spoke 18-inch alloys. Overall, the XR5 is a real looker; it encompasses all the muscular styling cues hot hatch buyers look for and despite being in the latter stages of its lifecycle appears modern and suitably aggressive.
In the XR5 cabin things aren’t quite as flash, with a look that’s slightly dated compared to more recently renewed hot hatch competitors. That said, there’s still a lot to like. What you notice first is the deep leather Recaro bucket seats, they’re supportive, heated and can be adjusted 10-ways to get the best driving position. The dashboard is a mixture of black plastics and silver trim with carbon-fibre-style inserts, it’s a look that suits the vehicle’s character well. The centre control stack consists of climate controls, a large Sony CD Stereo system and on the top of the dash sits an extra instrumentation pod showing boost, oil temperature and oil pressure. A thick leather steering wheel, push-button start and aluminum racing pedals are other class touches.
Standard equipment in the XR5 includes the 8-speaker Sony six-disc stereo, multi-function trip computer, Bluetooth and height adjustable headlamps. There are some marks off for the remote stereo controls that are located on a stumpy wand rather than integrated into the steering wheel. The cupholders aren’t ideal either being too shallow and even though the glove box and central storage box are large, spaces for small storage are awkward. What isn’t awkward is the amount of room for passengers and luggage. Like its lesser Focus siblings the XR5 is a generous sized hatch back and rear passengers benefit with good head and legroom. Cargo capacity is a generous 385-litres, opening up to a capacious 1,247-litres with the rear seats folded down. Despite beginning to show signs of age the XR5 cabin is comfortable, spacious and maintains a genuine Ford persona.
The true measure of a fast Ford takes place under the bonnet and that’s where the XR5 is a little bit special. Motivation comes from a Volvo-sourced T5 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged engine. Power figures are 166kW with 320Nm of torque. The 20-valve motor features a turbo system that develops 9.5psi of boost, combined with maximum torque being available early from 1600rpm the acceleration from standing is strong and linear. It’s also a flexible engine, that’s fantastic for overtaking bursts and is very livable during stop/start suburban driving. While the 6.8 seconds 0-100kmh time might not seem scorching hot, the XR5 is a deceptively quick vehicle particularly through the mid-range. Another highlight of the 5-cylinder engine is its distinctive and addictive exhaust note that provides an epic aural accompaniment during spirited driving.
Coupled to a slick-shifting six-speed Getrag manual gearbox, changes can be made quickly and smoothly. The clutch is neither too heavy nor too light and takes up exactly where you’d expect. The transmission makes for fuss-free use and quickly moving through the gears is enjoyable while contributing to a total-control driving experience. Fuel economy is rated at 9.3L/100km combined, but during testing we struggled to achieve that getting only around 10.5L/100km with a mix of urban and open road driving.
The Focus is known for the abilities of its chassis and the XR5 exploits this strength with a well-sorted independent Macpherson strut front/multi-link rear suspension set up. The XR5 is elegantly balanced, sits flat mid-corner and has plenty of grip to power away. There is a hint of under steer particularly in the wet, but only when pushing hard and it’s rarely unpredictable. Torque-steer often causes trouble for powerful front-wheel-drive cars, but is only noticeable under heavy throttle or in slippery conditions. The electro-hydraulic power steering is precise and firm, combined with the chassis and suspension set-up the communication between driver and machine is strong.
In terms of ride quality the XR5 stacks up well. The ride is undoubtedly firm, but not to the point of crashing around and becoming a burden on longer trips. It’s bang on the right measure between being set for dynamic ability and long-term comfort. Some road noise joins the engine sounds in entering the cabin and the tyre noise from the low profiles can be at times intrusive. That said, refinement probably won’t be top of the wants list for many hot hatch buyers and a dash of rugged charm adds to the vehicle’s character.
Safety credentials are lead by strong four-wheel disc brakes that spread the stopping power well. There’s a full compliment of six airbags and seatbelt pretensioners for front seats. Electronic safety aides include dynamic stability control with emergency brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution. The XR5 achieved a maximum 5-star result in Euro NCAP testing. To deter thieves, an alarm and immobiliser are both included as standard kit.
To conclude, the XR5 Turbo shows just how far Ford’s small performance offering has come and although the Focus styling shows little of the bloodline, the driving experience remains old school and familiar. Nostalgia aside, the Focus XR5 is a very good hot hatch offering, the compromises made in brute power and ride comfort don’t detract from the overall driver enjoyment. It’s also very practical for a performance-focused car offering ample interior space and has a demeanor that lends itself well to daily suburban driving. However, get the XR5 on the open road and it’s a fun factory on wheels with a rousing soundtrack to match. Priced at $48,990 it’s inline with the Mazda3 MPS and undercuts the segment benchmark Golf GTi by almost 9k. If you’re in the market for a hot hatch, look further than performance figures and specification sheets because the XR5 really needs to be experienced in the flesh.
What we like:
- Recaro seats
- Fun driving experience
- Unique engine and engine sound
- Practicality and daily drivability
- Handsome exterior design
What we don’t like:
- No cruise control
- Fuel Economy
- Interior starting to look dated
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
Other car reviews of interest:
Ford Focus XR5 Turbo – Specifications
2.5L Duratec Turbo Petrol
Displacement (cc) 2,522
Power – maximum (DIN) 166kW @ 6,000rpm
Torque – maximum (DIN) 320Nm @ 1,600-4,000rpm
Front – Ventilated disc
Rear solid disc
Front (mm) 320 x 25
Rear (mm) 280 x 11
Electronic Power-Assisted Steering (EPAS)
Turning circle – minimum kerb to kerb (m) 10.6
Front – Independent MacPherson struts with offset coil spring over gas filled damper units and lower L-arms with optimised front rubber bushings and rear hydro-bush mounted on separate reinforced cross-member sub-frame, anti roll bar
Rear- XR5 Turbo Sports Suspension
Exterior Dimensions (mm)
Height – Overall 1,497
Kerb Weight (kg) 1,437
Length – Overall 4,357
Track – Front 1,535
Track – Rear 1,531
Width – Overall with side mirrors 2,020
Wheels & Tyres
Wheel size 18″ x 8″
Wheel type Alloy
Tyre size 225/40 R18
Spare wheel Mini