Ford Focus XR5 Turbo Review

$7,030 $8,360 Dealer
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Ford Focus XR5 Turbo Driving impressions

Anthony Crawford Photos – Yvan Fournier

Thanks to Western Sydney International Dragway

I’d wanted a drive of Ford’s latest spiced up hatch for a while now, but as my colleague from Melbourne, Matt Brogan, had already reviewed the car, I was a little concerned that I might miss out, which was making me rather miserable.

I’m ashamed to admit that it’s been all of 25 years since I roasted some Euro tarmac in a hot hatch from Ford. I was living in Switzerland at the time and occasionally got to pedal a mate’s Ford Escort XR3i around the traps.

Tuned by Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE) under the watchful eye of Ron Mansfield and launched in 1983 with the Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection system and a suspension overhaul, the XR3i seemed seriously quick and agile to me, given my only driving experience was wrestling with an EH Holden Special each day, with its massive rear overhang and atrocious handling dynamics providing plenty of entertainment for the boys.

Built in Germany and powered by a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine producing 78kW and 132Nm, the XR3i was good for 193km/h and could out drag (proven on a German autobahn) Volkswagen’s Mk1 Golf GTI, despite a significant weight penalty.

While VW have thankfully stayed the course as far as the GTI lineage goes, Ford, in Australia at least, has been inconsistent over the years with its genuinely 'hot' offerings in the small car segment.

All that changed in February 2006, when Ford Australia President Tom Gorman announced pricing for the German-built Focus XR5 Turbo at the bargain price of $35,990.

Jump cut to 2008 and the latest Focus XR5 Turbo boasts a numerous cosmetic changes including re-styled front fog light housings and a small, if not negligible price increase to $36,990.

Even so, this tuned up, five door urban weapon, remains the best-priced 'hot hatch' in its class, undercutting the competition by as much as several thousand dollars.

Who says that when you get married and have kids you need to drive a generic white or silver coloured four-door passenger car, with a tow bar being the only accessory permitted. What a load of tripe, those conformists think that “turbo” is a dirty word, although the well-heeled members of that club probably drive a low-boost Saab and call themselves ‘green'.

Not me, give me an eminently practical and reasonably efficient, five-door hatch, with loads of room and plenty of exhaust gas driven boost for good measure.

It doesn’t matter that for five days a week you sit bumper-to-bumper for most of your journey to and from work, it’s more about that special feeling that overcomes you every time you drop into that massively bolstered Recaro seat and fire up the 2.5-litre, inline five-cylinder, 20-valve, turbocharged unit in your Focus XR5 Turbo. That makes it all worthwhile.

To be perfectly frank, I’d be happy holding a ‘stop/go’ sign all day, as long as I could drive to and from work in something with a little soul.

This is one incredibly good engine, which we can thank Volvo for developing and deploying in its 850 T5 performance models from 1994 onwards.

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Although the Mazda3/Ford Focus and Volvo C30/S40/V50 cars were all developed on the same platform, there was no joint development of the 2.5-litre turbocharged engines, that was a Volvo only project.

So it’s a good thing Ford still own Volvo, given this fine powerplant is currently in service in the Mondeo XR5 Turbo and our Focus XR5 Turbo test car.

While it does make a nice note in any of Volvo’s T5 models, it sounds better in the Ford. Deeper with a more pronounced growl is how I would describe it, and exclusive to this transversely mounted, five-cylinder set up.

From the moment you hit the Ford Power button and the engine snarls anxiously at 1200rpm – you know this is going to be fun.

I’m driving up to the Lithgow area in country New South Wales where we can have a bit of a go in the XR5 Turbo and already, I can’t get enough of that sweet turbo whistle, which seems to sing on cue with the slightest throttle input.

There’s more music for the enthusiast, with the mild back pressure each time you lift off the throttle, not ideal I know, but gentle enough not to cause any loss of power and aurally addictive.

I’m surprised at how well behaved this front-wheel-driver is under maximum acceleration, there’s some torque steer, but its entirely manageable and utterly user friendly. Smooth revving too, as all 320Nm of torque gets down to business from 1600rpm though to 4000rpm.

Cruising along in sixth gear at a lazy 110km/h and the tacho is showing just on 2000rpm meaning, this engine doesn’t ever have to work hard on the freeway at street legal speeds, and fuel consumption is entirely economical in this mode.

Drill the right pedal and there’s still heaps of pull in top gear to take you on to the car’s 241km/h top speed, something I will have to assume.

While standing starts are quick enough, the Focus really starts to sing as you nudge 3000rpm in second, that’s when it all starts to come together with terrific mid-range acceleration. Either way, a 0-100km/h time of just 6.8 seconds is quick, which ever way you cut it.

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Ten minutes in this Focus XR5 Turbo and you’ll be a dead set five-cylinder convert, such is the flexibility of this powerplant. As with Volvo’s C30 and S40 T5 models there’s no brutal power band, rather a deliberate and linear surge all the way through the gears.

If straight-line performance doesn’t get your fire burning, the way this thing does corners, surely will. After all, this jointly developed chassis is one of the best in the class and it’s marvellous composure through the twisty bits inspires a tonne of confidence to hold your right foot into it

What can spoil the party though, is the over eagerness of the ESP to engage, it simply activates too early at times and diminishes the fun.

You’ll like the steering set up too, its quicker and more accurate than several of its competitors including the Golf GTI, which some folks find a little numb.

While I can’t question the stopping power of Focus XR5 Turbo given its sizeable rotors and calipers, behind those very nice 18-inch alloys, you do have to apply a decent dose of pressure on the centre pedal, before they start to bite.

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With such a good chassis, powertrain and price point advantage, you would be forgiven for thinking Ford may have gone with a budget interior.

Not so, full marks go to the designers for the soft touch materials covering the fascia and dash, together with a proper carbon-fibre look on the centre console.

There’s plenty of drama too, with lots of metallic look accents throughout the cabin, along with a superb three-spoke sports leather steering wheel and quality black headliner.

I’m particularly fond of the auxiliary instrument pod perched atop the dash, housing the all important turbo boost, oil temperature and pressure gauges. Every time I punched the right pedal, I found my eyes transfixed on the boost gauge for a split second or two.

Open the glove box and you’ll find the auxiliary input for your MP3 player, which is a real pain in the backside, but that’s where any criticism of the audio system in this vehicle ends.

I had no idea Sony made an in-car system capable of such power and clarity as the unit installed in this tuned-up Focus. If you like your music as much as you like your performance ride, then this audio unit might be reason enough to go with the Ford over its competitors. So good is this unit, that I would have picked it for a Bose system was it not for the Sony branding.

"Lots of fun, entirely practical and very quick, Ford’s Focus XR5 Turbo is as good as anything from Europe in this class but at a considerable price advantage. Factor in the wall of torque and engine note, and it’s ahead of the game"