Out in the real world, the number crunching meant nought as the form guide was thrown out the window.
This Performance Car Of The Year article was first published in MOTOR Magazine January 2013.
The BMW is no less impressive on the road, though not quite as exciting as it was on the drag strip as it just doesn’t have the edginess of its rivals.
No doubt about it, the engine/gearbox combination works as brilliantly together as anything, even compared with the glitterati of this group, as the blown six feels both effortless at low engine speeds and thoroughly energetic from 2000rpm all the way to its 6500rpm redline.
We don’t think a BMW blown straight six has ever sounded so good either, with a liberal dose of its howling exhaust note filtering through to the cabin. But, while there’s always an underlying degree of rear-drive balance in the 1-Series’ chassis set-up, it likes to hang its tail out more on a trailing throttle into the corner than it does on the way out and the M-fettled suspension, even in its Sport+ setting, is more biased towards comfort than corner carving.
The Variable Sports Steering provides little in the way of intimate feedback and the seats lack bona-fide lateral support compared with a lot of the PCC field. It kinda felt like it was going to be a bit underwhelming when it hit the track… Yet it blew them all away; its 2:15.50 easily the fastest of the tiny tots and up there in the top half of the field.
It almost embarrassed the M5 again, too, matching it for corner speeds in most of the recorded apexes – even eclipsing it in three of them – and eventually lapped only 1.3sec slower. Ouch!
There’s no hiding the fact that it’s fast and amazingly efficient, and the pick of the small cars to cover long-distances in, but, apart from inducing that straight-six exhaust note, it’s never really felt all that exciting… Especially in white. But if Workplace Health and Safety is your thing then the Focus stands out like a hi-viz vest.
Like the BMW, its five-door body means it's more practical to live with everyday than either the Megane or BRZ and, while it’s nowhere near as fat (or is that Phat?) as the sold-out Focus RS, there’s enough boy racer in its bodywork to separate it from the garden variety model.
The interior, though, is busier than Daniel Craig’s promo tour schedule, the bolsters on the Recaro seats are designed for one body shape – whippets – and, it must be a Ford thing, you sit higher than you want, or need, to. The six-speed gearbox doesn’t like to be rushed and the clutch take-up point was almost on the floor of this test car, which made getting away without bunny-hopping or riding the clutch a bit hit-and-miss.
Get out of town, though, and the Focus doesn’t mind a good back road bollocking. The ride/handling balance is closer to the Megane than the BMW, but it never feels hyperactive or too stiff over pock-marked country roads. The electric steering is somewhere in between too, providing enough, though hardly intimate levels of, feedback.
And while it’s not too hard to outsmart the electronic front diff and induce wheelspin on the unloaded wheel – which, in turn, sends a faint tug of torque steer through the wheel – the Focus has masses of grip and its overall balance is fairly neutral.
It’s a little more lively on the track, where, with SMSP’s flowing nature, it seemed that the 184kW from its feisty (and rorty sounding) 2.0-litre turbo doesn’t trouble the front-end as much. The long corners also bring out a playful side to the Focus’s chassis, with a degree of throttle adjustability and lift-off oversteer that didn’t show-up on the road.
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In the end it didn’t set any benchmarks, its lap time of 2:20.70 was the second slowest of the day and it didn’t win over any of the judges either. Which is something you can’t say about the remaining pair.
The BRZ doesn’t have the bling or the luxury, and certainly not the convenience of useable rear seats and a boot, like the Focus and BMW, but jeez it makes you feel like you’re driving something fun, even when you’re not hammering it.
Overall rank: 7
Andrew Maclean - 5th: “Who cares if it’s slow, the fun factor is so accessible. And it’s cheap!”
Curt Dupriez - 6th: “Still love it. But far too slow here. Time for grip, brakes and turbocharging”
James Cleary - 7th: “Huge fun. Balanced and responsive on road and track”
Nathan Ponchard - 7th: “Underwhelming around the Creek, but is an exquisite driver’s car”
WARREN LUFF SAYS
“Lacks a little bit of power down the straight but it’s a good, fun car. Very oversteery through the tighter sections. Surprisingly the brakes went away quite early, which is disappointing. The pedal was almost all the way to the floor at the end of the first lap, which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence”