Focus on Ford’s Zetec-S

It’s never easy making a sporty car sound enticing when there’s an even sportier one on the horizon.

And it’s not as though Ford is hiding news of its properly hot Focus. The second bullet point in the news release from the company tells the world that the sizzling ST arrives sometime in 2012 with 250 willing horses under its bonnet.

Which is rather more than the current warm hatch Ford, called Zetec S and packing a smaller punch. Ford must be hoping this one’s inevitably lower performance will be more than made up by lower bills for purchase, insurance and fuel costs.

This now-available car was specially developed for Britain, where we like a sporty look to our motors. Ford thinks it might sell 6,000 a year.

In fact, most Zetec S models are simply a mild cosmetic makeover of the existing (non-S) models, with a sports styling kit, bigger wheels and a stiffened suspension.

Oh, and alloy-look pedals, LED rear lights and a button to start the engine, not a boring old ignition key. You’ll pay a £1,250 premium over the less racy-looking Zetec for the changes, where it’s possible to compare like with like.

Dig deeper, though and you find the Zetec S debuting a more powerful petrol engine and with a not inconsiderable price tag of £20,495. The new range starts at £18,745 for a 1.6 petrol, and tops out with the £22,595 diesel with a potent 2.0 litres.

But it’s the petrol version tested here that’s likely to set an enthusiast’s blood pumping a little faster. The on-paper performance figures promise a car that ought to feel eager and responsive, if not downright fast.

Surprise, surprise, that’s precisely how it feels on the road. There’s definitely space for a Focus road rocket in the near future but until then this version of the Zetec S will do pretty well.

It will certainly answer all the experts who reckoned the latest Focus was beautifully built, quiet and comfortable but lacking in the sheer joy of driving that all the previous models had in spades.

The new car is still a comfy way to munch miles and has the elusive quality common to most Fords of recent times (and surprisingly rare in rivals) of simply being good to drive, however modest the engine doing the work.

Over a not very demanding test route my car showed 37mpg on the trip computer. Not bad, if miles behind 47mpg recorded in the official Euro test. That’s the figure that has to be quoted by law and which usually proves wildly optimistic.

Trying a car with an existing diesel engine (2.0 litres, 161bhp, £21,345) nudged the trip meter to 47mpg but, strangely the car did not ride as well as its faster, petrol powered sibling. Still felt pretty potent, though, and needed fewer gear changes.

If you want (much) better economy from your Focus you will be able to buy one late in 2012 with an improbably small 1.0 litre engine and a mere three cylinders. It sounds intriguing; let’s hope it shows how the clever application of conventional mechanicals (not a booster electric motor in sight) still has the potential to deliver big improvements in fuel savings. Don’t bet against it.

In the meantime, this latest version of the Focus makes an already impressive car usefully better still.