The hot hatch market has no shortage of contenders vying for consumers’ hard-earned dollars, but even a decade on, the Ford Focus XR5 Turbo remains a unique offering with a number of welcome quirks. When looking for something practical, safe and a little quicker than the pedestrian, buyers generally turn to European manufacturers Volkswagen, Renault and Audi, but don’t sleep on the blue oval, for you may miss out on a hidden gem…
After digging a little deeper, you’ll find Ford’s offering, the XR5T, is also a European-made car. Manufactured in Germany with a growling Volvo 2.5L five-cylinder engine pumping 166kW and 320Nm through the front wheels, the Ford does enough to not only pique one’s interest - but hold it as well.
A low, crackling grumble from the five-pot greets you after pressing the push-to-start button, but its relatively unassuming looks and generously appointed interior coupled with the value for money got it well-and-truly over the line.
From afar, the XR5T is a subtle looking car, with only minor body changes setting it apart from non-turbo Zetec and Ghia models which were released concurrently.
Large, unique 18 inch alloy wheels are standout, as are the black accented front headlights which add some much-needed aggression to the Focus’s front-on look.
As with other Focus models in the LS/LT/LV series, the rear view of the car may not appeal to some, but the bulging rear body kit does its level best to please the eye, as does the tinted glass sunroof which was an optional extra.
Stepping into the Focus, you’re tightly hugged tight by the gorgeous, heated Recaro leather sports seats. A gripe for some may be that, in the leather-appointed models, there are only four spots for bums - no middle seatbelt - but those without kids (or just two) won’t be bothered, especially considering the comfort and quality.
For a sporty car, the driving position in the XR5T may seem a little higher than those in its competitors; some may prefer the seats to be an inch or two lower, but it may appeal to a buyer who likes to be up high and looking well over the bonnet.
The dashboard is well laid out and easy to navigate, however the pop-up turbo gauges are a little tacky, even if deemed to be required in a hot hatch. The glovebox is big enough to hold a few CDs and the manual, the armrest and middle storage section are both relatively standard, but don’t expect to put any cups or bottles taller than a small Maccas cup into the cupholder - it will get in the way of shifting gears.
The back row folds flat in a 60/40 split, but the boot itself is ample for everyday use; it could easily fit two large pieces of luggage before you need to start squashing thing into the gaps.
One confusing aspect of the XR5T is the steering wheel radio control. Not on the wheel itself, it seems as though Ford put in the oddly-positioned secondary paddle with volume and seek controls in as an afterthought, as if they’d forgotten to integrate before beginning production.
The radio itself is capable; the six-stacker CD player is great for those who still use disks, but a lack of Bluetooth audio is a killer. The unit does have Bluetooth available for calls, but if you want to listen to tunes off your phone, you’ll need to plug a pretty long aux cord into a port in the glovebox - another afterthought, it seems.
The XR5T also misses out on a number of creature comforts which really could have been included in a top-spec model. Climate control is a notable omission - the air-con offering in the Focus almost looks out-of-place compared with the rest of the car, while there are also no auto headlights or wipers. Interestingly, all four power windows are automatic.
As expected in a car which is nine years old, there is no auto emergency braking, lane departure warning, or other fancy electronic safety features. Having said that, it does come with six airbags and electronic stability control as standard.
The Focus XR5T is a pleasure to drive, if a little too fun at times (let me explain)!
One of the car’s biggest faults was alluded to in the cons list above - this model does not have cruise control fitted, which could be a deal-breaker for anyone who does more than a little highway driving. It’s a confusing omission from Ford, and while it might not fuss some buyers, it did cause a slight moment of hesitation before I personally pulled the trigger on this car.
What’s most perplexing is that the lack of cruise control has nothing to do with the engine; the Volvo C30 - which shares the 2.5 litre five-cylinder power plant - did come with cruise control as part of its package.
Thankfully all is forgiven once you get going. The car’s engine is a deadest cracker. Peak power (166kW) kicks in at 6000rpm, and while the manufacturer claims peak torque is available from 1,600rpm, all 320Nm aren’t on tap until after 2,500rpm, from which point the XR5T pulls phenomenally.
The car does suffer from torque steer if pushed too hard in the lower gears, but for some it may simply add to the excitement.
In everyday use, cruising on the freeway is quiet and the drive is refined, however step down a gear or simply put the foot down to overtake and the engine responds with glee. A low burble is followed by a sudden rush forward - it’s as if the engine wants exactly what you want do and is more than happy to oblige.
Having said this, fuel economy isn’t one of the car’s strongpoints. As expected with a 2.5L five-cylinder engine which wants you to go fast, you’re inclined to get a bit trigger happy with the accelerator.
Even when cruising for long periods, the consumption can become a little surprising. In my everyday driving, I average 12L/100km with a 65/35 urban/highway split - something to take into account before jumping behind the wheel of the XR5T.
For a car rapidly approaching its tenth birthday, it still offers buyers incredible bang-for-buck. The XR5T can be had, albeit with higher kilometers, for around $9,000, meaning its price is competitive (however more reliable) than its corresponding VW Golf GTI - which is almost painfully ubiquitous, it must be added.
For buyers seeking a fun, affordable weekender (unless you enjoy paying for fuel), it’s hard to look past this cracker from Ford, especially considering its successor, the Focus ST, is offered in a four-cylinder turbo version only. Long live the five-pot.