Ignition sequence start: seatbelt on, clutch in, start button depressed. Engines are go.
The thunderous warble of five force-fed cylinders erupts from the dual exhaust outlets, shaking my garage and everything in it. An offbeat rhythm pulsates through the cabin as the beast breathes deeply, settling to a delicate idle. Turbo and oil gauges come to life. The machine awakens. I think it’s time to boogie.
The car I’m sitting in is a 2008 Ford Focus XR5 Turbo – a German-built hot hatch that goes like a cat on wasabi, and most importantly of all, is my daily driver. I purchased the car with every last dollar in my bank account last November, and have loved and enjoyed it ever since. Let me take you through an overview of the car, my time with it so far, and why it’s a great performance hatchback for the money.
Step inside the XR5 and it’s a pretty nice place to be for a car that is now almost 10 years old. The leather Recaro seats are a standout of the interior, and the best bit is they’re heated too (not that my butt isn’t hot enough in these bloomin’ Brisbane summers). It was surprising to find out push-button start and adjustable steering came standard on all XR5s. Both add a little more flair to the cabin and overall driving experience.
Engine-wise, the car features a very underrated 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit pushing out about 166kW and 320Nm. A Volvo-sourced engine, the XR5’s heart was tinkered with by Ford’s performance division and given forged internals, a bigger intercooler and a few other bits and bobs. The engine is fed by a Borg-Warner/KKK turbo and uses a Bosch engine management system. Sounds pretty technical for a little hatchback, right? The later – and much more expensive – Focus RS, which became a Ford performance icon, featured this very engine, but power was lifted to around 350hp with the boost cranked up.
Using the car day to day, whether doing highway stints or inner-city lane hopping, the XR5 feels pretty well at home on Australian roads. Although the suspension set-up verges on ‘very uncomfortable’ at lower speeds, that’s all forgotten once you kick it up a notch. That KKK turbo jams nine pounds of boost into the intake and all of a sudden you’re off like a bucket of prawns in the sun. On each gearshift there is a delightful backfire from the exhaust, which is very reminiscent of WRC cars. There are very few engines that make a sound as distinctive and characterful as this inline five-cylinder.
Its 166kW and 320Nm might not sound seem like the biggest power outputs in the world, but the truth is, in a small car weighing 1430kg that power feels plenty. At no time during my ownership so far did I think that the little orange rocket wasn’t quick enough. 0–100 in around six seconds is plenty fast enough to give some rival cars a run for their money.
The great thing about the XR5 is that it begs to be driven hard and demands a sports car level of respect from the driver. While this personality isn’t entirely suited to heavy city traffic, once out on some open road, the last thing you want to do is head home and put on Netflix. For $10K, I can’t really think of a better all-round daily driver. Maybe I’m a tad biased.