Can Ford be hot again?
For a segment which has grown more than most over the last decade, hot-hatches have seen little development recently.
The founder and daddy - the Golf GTI - has been basically the same for the last few years, apart from a limited-edition model to celebrate its 35th Birthday last year. The new Civic is also yet to get the going-over, and it seems like an age since Honda released a Type R due to the underwhelming previous model.
Ford made a big splash when it stuck its 'ST' badge on the last Focus and Fiesta. They were both brilliant in their own right; the Fiesta with its proportionally massive 2 litre engine and the Focus with its cutting-edge design and great chassis.
However, it's been a while since they were discontinued. The question is, will the replacements for both models live up to expectations? We have seen them both in the flesh now: The Focus at the back end of last year and its smaller brother very receently at Geneva last week. Everyone has waited a long time for the Fiesta - Ford stopped making the previous ST in mid-2008. And although it has now been officially revealed now, it won't be on your drive until 2013. This 5 year gap means one thing: It must not disappoint! To be fair, it does look good, and its 1.6L Ecoboost engine is claimed to produce more power and better performance. But it's going to have to drive exceptionally well to justify such a long absence.
The Focus must be a corker too. It's lovely 2.5 litre engine is in the bin, thanks to EU emission regulations, and Ford is also offering it as an estate this time around. I hope they aren't trying to take the fight to Audi and their RS4. That would not be wise.
A 2 litre turbocharged motor is stepping in to the two-and-a-half's shoes, which isn't surprising in today's environment. One can presume fuel consumption has been significantly improved with the new engine too. It will be interesting to see the trade-off Ford has come to between power & performance and the Focus's exemplary practicality.
Due to the massive success of these model's predecessors, it's certainly intruiging why Ford has refrained from relasing their promising replacements for a relatively long period of time. The Focus ST is slightly strange because there are some late-2011 registered cars on the roads, but they will have been sat on a dealer's forecourt for a while because prouction stopped long before that. And you also see a lot of Fiesta Zetec S's out there, so that could well have been a clever strategy to tease us and whet our appetite for longer.
Whether the wait has been worth it should become clear this year as journalists begin to get their hands on the press cars when Ford allows. I love their hot hatches, and if the new generation is anything like as good as the previous one, Ford will have no problem mixing it with the best of them. Let's just hope they haven't shot themselves in the foot by depriving us for this amount of time.