“We know how firm-riding the last ST was, and we loved it,” says Put, “but we wanted a more rounded, supple tune for this one. Last time out, we focussed squarely on the damping to create most of the car’s sporting character; this time, we’ve leant more on the steering and rear axle response. At times I think it’s too soft, but most of the time I’m really happy with it. And it works great on the road.”
Put’s equally interesting on what makes Ford’s hot hatchbacks that much better balanced than those of their competitors – and there’s not really any voodoo involved. “We’re pretty much the only manufacturer willing to run with firmer settings on the rear axle than the front,” he says.
“There’s a rig we use to benchmark and measure competitor cars, and all of them turn out to have firmer front axles than rear, which creates a bit of roll-understeer. It’s as if, everywhere else, they’re afraid of oversteer.”
“We like to work with it,” Put goes on, “which is why this car is firmer at the rear than the front, and the current Focus RS is too. Because you can’t tune out oversteer completely; sooner or later, you have to confront it – and we like to use it, to make it controllable. I also think, if you don’t to do that, you end up with a really f*cking boring driver’s car.” Masters of understatement, the Belgians, aren’t they?
Anyway, that’s definitely not what he’s got in this car. As Put buries the accelerator out of the track’s final corner for another go-round, the car’s engine warbles its new, three-pot song. It feels smooth: “It’s a little bit slower to settle down from high revs,” Put says, “because of the heavier flywheel; but it’s smooth.”
Reminds me a bit of the original Focus ST’s five-pot, though it’s revvier.
And that’s it: I’m not going to guess at the rest of the driving experience picture, because it’d be wasted effort. Moreover, we’ll only have to wait until May to drive this car ourselves. We were already favourite, at the point, to be driving a class-leading hot supermini; and after this acquaintance, I’d say we’re odds-on.
Three into two: How a three-cylinder engine runs on two
A hydraulically actuated solenoid isolates the induction and exhaust valves for the middle cylinder of three in Ford’s new 1.5-litre Ecoboost Fiesta ST engine when it’s running between 1200-4500rpm and under light load, effectively switching it off.
The really clever bit, however, is what Ford does with the engine’s fuelling and valve timing in the milliseconds immediately before and after the shutdown in order that you don’t feel any roughness or interruption to combustion.
From the car’s passenger seat, while I could just about hear the difference in combustion noise as the engine switched, I certainly couldn’t feel any difference.
The four-stroke cycle is interrupted in that middle cylinder just after the combustion stroke has run, and the exhaust and intake valves closed so as to trap hot exhaust gas inside the cylinder. That gas creates pressure on the piston as it is compressed and expands, and so very little extra work needs to be done by the two operating cylinders in order to compensate, and no unwanted oil is dragged up into the cylinder.
Ford estimates the cylinder shutdown technology is worth a 6 per cent improvement to fuel economy on the new WLTP cycle, and will be fitting it to its 1.0-litre Ecoboost motor.