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[Road Test] Ford Focus ST – Ford’s VW GTI killer!

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Any of my car enthusiast buddies know that I generally don’t like front wheel drive, 4 cylinder engines, or manual transmission cars. However, if there is any domestic vehicle out there that has a good a chance as any to change my mind, the Focus ST is it.

Some background on the ST namesake. ST = Sport Technologies. This Focus model is tuned by none other than Ford Germany’s Focus RS engineers. It’s no surprise then, that the car feels decidedly European. Far less country western and more german-precise than I had originally anticipated.

After giving this some thought, I decided to review this car in a slightly non-traditional manner compared to our previous vehicle reviews. Instead of a ubiquitous review, I will be writing my thoughts in a daily diary format. You will get the play by play as I live with the Focus ST.

With many car buyers having the same reservations that I have regarding domestic brands, Ford is working feverishly to break those stereotypes. So this is indeed a worthy challenge.

Now let the fun commence!


Day 1: Vehicle pickup and first impressions

 

It was a Thursday afternoon that I got a call from Ford asking me whether I would be interested in having the Focus ST for a go for a week. After years of watching the guys on Top Gear UK, and Fifth Gear talk about their hot hatches and how much fun their up-rated Focus (Foci?) was, I was salivating at the prospect of being able to live with one in real life.

Part of the reason for me relishing this opportunity was because of my recent experience with the MINI John Cooper Works cars on at Mission Raceway, which you can read about here.

In that editorial, I talked about how the uprated JCW MINI Clubman (which is also a FWD 4 cylinder car) was my fav vehicle of that day on the track. Surprise me silly.

Ford’s 3rd generation Focus made its debut in 2011 and has been promoted as a global car. No longer does only Europe get the nicer looking Focus or the “hot” version.

With only a few hours to take advantage of this offer (the car had to be picked up that night), I didn’t get much chance to research the vehicle beforehand, like I always try to do before accepting a new press car. More on that later.

Upon pulling into the pickup location, a stunning blue Ford Focus ST greeted my eyes.  This colour, known as Performance Blue Metallic, really popped amongst the white, silver, black, and champagne coloured cars that paint the streets these days.

First impressions? For the most part, I think that the styling is a success on the ST. With it’s swept back tail lights that extend into the rear quarter panels, its big roof spoiler, and punchy styling, I like it!

Ford Focus ST 1

The ST also gets a different nose than the standard Focus. However to my eyes, Ford’s now ubiquitous Aston Martin-esque grill looks a little less elegant on this car than on the Ford Fusion. It looks a bit mouthy to me, a little too catfish-like.

Dual clutch….err no!

Ford offers a 6-speed dual clutch-based Powershift semi-automatic transmission for their non-ST Focus models. I made the mistake of assuming that as a VW Golf GTI competitor, the ST would also be offered with a more robust version of this transmission. Well I was mistaken. The ST comes only with a 6 speed manual transmission.

Ford Focus ST 2

I can’t help but draw comparisons to the MINI Cooper S which was initially only offered a manual gearbox while its lower horsepower non-S brethren was also available with an automatic transmission option.

MINI eventually added an automatic transmission option to the Cooper S, and now even the even hotter John Cooper Works cars are available with automatic transmissions

Aside from this perhaps controversial decision, in the context of this review, the reality is that I have had an admittedly relatively (shamefully) small amount of time behind the wheel of a manual transmission car.

Regardless, I soldiered on and after a slightly shaky start pulling away in the Focus while the very nice press fleet lady was watching, I started getting comfortable with my new ride. Thank goodness the car was parked nose down on a slope, especially since I was taking advantage of the late summer weather and wearing flip-flops!

My first and foremost thoughts today were, of course, largely centered around the manual gearbox. My first learning experience was years ago as a teenager on a friend’s Toyota Corolla AE86. Since that point, I had some seat time in a 2005-ish era Honda Civic, and most recently in a rally-prepped Subaru WRX at the Dirtfish Rally driving school in Bellevue WA.

Out of all of those cars, the Focus ST’s clutch and gearbox felt most similar to that of the Dirtfish Subaru WRX. It’s certainly wasn’t the lightest clutch pedal, and had a fair amount of pushback. My quads and left calf muscle will certainly get a workout this week!

While the gearbox doesn’t have the “snick snick” feel that you will find in a Japanese car, it’s nothing to the point of being annoying or difficult. As a less experience manual gearbox driver, I really appreciated that you have to pull-up on a ring below the shift knob collar in order to get the car into reverse. The interlock eliminated any danger of accidentally shifting into reverse rather than 1st gear.

Another much appreciated feature that Ford has included in the Focus is called “Hill Start Assist”. This feature, activated by default, holds the brakes for a crucial couple of seconds as you transition off the brake pedal and onto the accelerator pedal. An inclinometer tells the computer when the slope is steep enough to activate the system. The peace of mind it provided was significant!

Ford Focus ST - Hill Start Assist 1

Recaro seats, not meant for large proportion people

Whether or not you hit the gym 7 days a week or lay on the couch with a bag of Cheetos, the ST’s Recarro seats don’t discriminate.

While I have experienced equally aggressively side bolstered driver seats before in other cars (i.e. in the Mercedes C63AMG, BMW M3, Porsche 911 Turbo), this was probably the first time I have seen proportionally aggressive thigh/seat bottom bolstering.

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Ford Focus ST 6

If you don’t like your buttocks being cupped like that from a passionate lover, this is not the car for you as you’re going to feel very cramped. While the seats fit my average height, weight and build just fine, your mileage may vary. Make sure you actually try them out before you buy this car as a daily driver.

Whatever the case, the Recaros do an absolutely spectacular job of holding you in the twisty bits.

That’s it for Day 1 with the Focus. Let’s see what the rest of the week will bring!


Day 2: Fri the 13th plays out…of course

 

Today is Friday the 13th. The saying “the new broom sweeps clean” springs to mind here as I left  my house early this morning to get a bit of a drive in before heading to the office.

I was eager to defeat the gods of Fri the 13th myth by having a positive mindset for the day. What better way to start off than in a new hot hatch.

With more time this morning than during the rushed pickup the night before, I started appreciating the small exclusive styling cues that the ST offered. The LED “eyebrow” parking lamps, the HID Xenon headlamps, all add to make this car more special than its “normal” siblings, but are yet also needed to compete with the heavyweight in this vehicle class, the VW Golf GTI.

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Instruments, Ford MyTouch, Ambient lighting, and more…

Now, the cabin accouterments. Like all Foci, the dashboard design is filled with all sorts of angular lines jutting out at the driver. While it is a bit busy, I think it works for the character of this car. A bit less economy car, a bit more stealth bomber.

Our ST includes a nice steering wheel with the ST badge in a satin finish at the 6 o’clock position. The gauges are logically laid out where you expect them to be. But why does the speedometer have 0 to 100 km/hr in 20 km/hr increments (as expected), then jumps to 30km/hr increments beyond that. I don’t get it. It’s not as if they needed more room for the max indicated speed. The car doesn’t go THAT fast!

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Ford Focus ST 13

The LCD screen in the middle of both the tachometer and speedometer is small but effective. It’s a nice high resolution colour screen which gives you the trip computer info, and allows you to change various driver aid and customizable instrumentation settings.

Ford Focus ST 9

I particularly like that the satellite navigation system takes advantage of this small LCD display, and shows you the next turn coming up on the right ¼ of the screen while still keeping the rest of the trip computer info where it is. More on how effective this works when I test out the Ford MyTouch sat nav system later.

Ford Focus ST 10

While the centre instrumentation has a lot of buttons, they are a result of the redundant controls from the MyTouch screen. So that’s actually a good thing. I like that they are actual push buttons rather than the capacitive touch rubbish that you find in the Ford Taurus.

Whatever the case, you get the sense that you’re getting a fair amount of value for money. Our test car was equipped with SE Plus package for only an extra $1000. This includes the Microsoft Sync system with MyFord Touch, intelligent Access with Push Button Start, Dual zone automatic climate control, and the upgraded 10 speaker Sony audio system.

Also optional but included in our car was the colour adjustable ambient lighting that lights up the interior front door handle releases, front footwells, door map pockets, and the front cupholders. It may sound a little gimmicky and look a little Justin Bieber-ish, it fits the target demographic of the buyer for this car. Plus even the Mercedes-Benz S-Class includes colour adjustable ambient lighting these days!

I really appreciated the lighted map pockets when rummaging for something in the dark. I was also pleasantly surprised to see LED-based map lamps located in the ceiling above both the front seats. It reminded me of something similar from a private jet. Cool!

Ford Focus ST 17

Tip to Ford though, please include another light in the overhead console. It is impossible to see inside the centre console when the lid is open and the light from the rear LED lamps are blocked by the raised armrest.

Our test car was also equipped with the optional $1200 moonroof, and the $700 satellite navigation GPS system. More on the latter in a future date.

Most of the frequently touched surfaces (e.g. switches, air vents, etc) in the Focus are pleasant and high quality enough for the price. The only cheap feeling pieces that I took issue with were the glovebox lid and the headliner which occasionally made popping noises at highway speeds. That being said, the VW GTI still uses a bit nicer materials all over the cabin.

Wearing proper footwear today made all the difference in the driving experience. Just like getting back on a bike after! But I vowed to avoiding flip-flops during the rest of my tenure with this car.

While I had initially planned to talk a little bit more about the Focus’ engine today, alas the Fri the 13th gods struck a blow. I noticed a big screw in the passenger side Goodyear Eagle F1. Testing the Focus’ tire pressure warning system was not really part of my plan for the day!

Ford Focus ST 15

Regardless, I am happy to report that the Focus ST, surprisingly, includes a full sized spare tire! What a rarity these days as manufacturers try to save weight and costs. Granted it doesn’t come with the same 18” alloy wheel nor the Goodyear Eagle F1 summer performance tire, but it is an honest to goodness Continental all-season full sized tire with a 16” steel wheel. Kudos to Ford for this!

Ford Focus ST 8

More to come soon…


Day 3: The people have spoken

After my last update, I gave our friends at Ford Canada a call regarding the punctured tire. They politely declined my suggestion of going to a tire shop to get the tire repaired, even if it was on my own dime.

Since the tire hadn’t been losing air at all,  I was told to keep the car, but limit the distances traveled until they get me a replacement vehicle tomorrow; evidently there is another Focus ST in the press fleet.

Special thanks to our wonderful contact person at Ford Canada for dealing with this so quickly and professionally!

“When given lemons, make lemonade”, as they say. Since I couldn’t drive far, I took advantage of the end of summer sunny weather to snap the obligatory beauty shots around town while running errands, including a quick Starbucks run.

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Ford Focus ST 19

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I was curious as to whether the Focus ST would spark conversations with strangers outside Starbucks (where a lot of car guys meet), and sure enough it did.

Most people loved the performance blue colour, the centre mounted Lamborghini Aventador reminiscent exhaust tip, and the Y-spoke 18” aluminum wheels that wouldn’t look that out of place on a Lamborghini Gallardo. Others couldn’t believe that it was a Ford Focus, especially when they saw the quality of the Recaro seats and the materials used in the cabin.

Almost everyone liked the practical nature of the hatchback design, with not a single person asking whether it came as a 3 door rather than the 5 door hatchback design. This was something I wondered because the GTI does come in 3 and 5 door versions. But nonetheless hatchbacks really are coming back in style to North America. To that point, one gentleman even commented that he could probably easily get a couple of bikes in the back with the rear seats folded down even though our Focus wasn’t a station wagon.

Ford Focus ST 29

Jaws were dropped and eyebrows raised at how reasonable the price was for what you get with the ST starting at $29,999.00 base (as indicated on the sticker).

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A quick perusal over to Ford Canada’s website indicates that current prices for my approximate postal code are even lower. Your dealer may sell for less of course.


Ford Focus ST 32

I’ll be picking up the replacement vehicle tomorrow, so we’ll cover more on the Ford MyTouch system, the sat nav GPS functions, and more driving impressions.


Day 4: They call me mellow yellow

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Strictly speaking, my replacement Focus ST is equipped with the optional tri-coat Tangerine Scream paint job, not yellow.

What is a tri-coat paint, you ask? Normally most vehicles have a two-stage paint job (colour + clearcoat). The tri-coat paint adds a middle layer to add some depth to the paint by means of refracting light.

IMG_0811

Whatever the case, Tangerine Scream is obviously not a subtle colour. While it thoroughly suits the hooliganism nature of the ST, for me, the performance blue is loud enough.

Aside from the Tangerine Scream paint job, this replacement ST is identical to my blue car with the exception of one thing. It has about 4000 kms more mileage on the odometer (9600 kms versus 5500 kms). The major difference I noticed immediately was that with some extra miles under its belt, this car was far easier to shift smoothly especially from a dead stop and between 1st and 2nd gears.

Now that I have the distraction of the punctured tire behind me, let’s talk a bit about the engine performance!

Turbo…err I mean Ecoboost!

The Focus ST has a 2.0L aluminum block direct-injection 4 cylinder engine that has been fettled by Ford’s European engineers. The group that developed the car equipped it with a BorgWarner turbo that supplies 19.5 psi of boost (with an extra 20 secs of overboost up to 21 psi).

What this equates to is 252 hp and 270 ft-lbs of torque with very little turbo lag in day-to-day driving. Turbo boost is delivered in a linear fashion and is very usable in day-to-day traffic. There is plenty of torque at lower RPMs, and the car never feels out of breath or the power band too spikey. There are no surprises here.

Ford’s engineers also redesigned the intake and exhaust system for the ST, and doesn’t share any of these bits with the regular Focus. I was surprised by how lacking the engine is of any turbo cues whatsoever (such as the turbo and blow-off valve noises). I could just barely hear the turbo spool when the radio was off, if on the right road surface, and only under the right throttle conditions.

What isn’t lacking however, is the amazing engine induction noise entertain your ears above above 3000rpms. Ford equipped the ST with a piece of new tech called the “Sound Symposer”.

Essentially it’s a clever pipe with a butterfly valve that amplifies engine noise into the cabin. Popular Mechanics covers it all in their article along with a nice video clip, so I’ll leave it to them to explain.

In short, the system works as advertise. You get some lovely engine induction noise (none of that fake fart can muffler exhaust noise) above 3000 rpms, but once you are in 5th or 6th gear on the highway, the noise settles down and never drones. Great job Ford! It’s really the best of both worlds.

252 hp and 270ft-lbs of torque all going to the front wheels also means that the 235/40R-18 Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 2 tires work hard to grip the road under heavy throttle. On dry pavement, the car never feels like a handful. There is plenty of grip and it’s always safe and planted while yet being fun to drive.

Ford Focus ST 25

In the wet, it is easy to spin the front wheels and have the traction control slap you on the wrist. And with how much rain we usually get in the Lower Mainland, this is one of the reasons why I usually prefer rear wheel or all wheel drive. I wasn’t a fan of how the car felt when the front tires lost grip in the wet and when the traction control cut in. There’s a bit of more axle hop than I expected.

In their attempt to counteract torque steer (the tendency for a front wheel drive car to pull left or right under throttle) Ford’s engineers made used of the electronic power assist steering system, and added some intelligence to it.

When the system senses an imbalance of torque to the front wheels, it counteracts by cutting the power steering assistance in the direction that the steering wheel would normally be yanked. This helps to dampen out the effects of torque steer.

For the most part the system works well. But plant your foot too hard and there is only so much it can compensate. You will feel your old friend torque steer still snatching at your steering wheel when the turbo kicks in hard. Basically it still deals with the symptoms and rather than the cause. In day-to-day driving though, it works reasonably well.

How does it ride and handle?

Let’s talk about the ride and handling in the real world. The team that developed the ST specifically engineered new springs, dampers, anti-roll bars for this car. The front and rear suspension uprights are also all new.

What this means on Vancouver roads is that the ride is European firm but not uncomfortable. You can rest assured that your Starbucks coffee will stay in its spot even while traversing on the perpetually-in-construction Highway 1. The only time that I felt the ride motions were a bit busy were on the heavily milled sections of pavement. There were a lot of quick and small jarring movements here that could’ve been dampened better.

Ford Focus ST 41

Quicker steering than a 458, kinda.

I love the ST’s quick 1.8 turns lock-to-lock steering setup. If you don’t know what “lock to lock” means, click here.

To give this some context, even the Ferrari 458 Italia’s insanely quick steering is set at only 2.0 turns lock to lock. Not saying that the Focus ST has anywhere close to the feel or handling of the 458 (although I’d be happy to compare if I ever got the chance!), but it does give you some context as to how quickly this car responds to your input. In contrast, the regular Focus is setup for a slow but safe 2.6 turns lock-to-lock.

You do have to pay attention (in a good way, because it is a driver’s car after all) when the pavement switches from the milled stuff diagonally to the new tarmac on Highway 1 or King George Boulevard in Surrey.

But the rewards of both the quick steering and the suspension tuning are an almost go-kart like feeling of responsiveness. There is a controlled amount of body lean, even on off-cambered downhill sweeping corners. I was pleasantly surprised at how little understeer there is in this front wheel drive car. It really likes to change directions quickly with little drama and a whole lot of fun.

Like other Foci, torque vectoring, which can brake an inside front wheel midcorner to improve cornering balance, is also present. The system seems to work as advertise as the car tightly held its line on whatever twisty roads I put it through.

Electric Power Steering…the negatives

Let’s talk about steering feel now. As mentioned earlier, all Foci are equipped with electric power steering. While it has been tuned for performance versus the regular Focus, I found it still lacking road feel. This is of course not anything unique to just to Focus, but also to just about all of the electric steering systems out there. There is a price to be paid for fuel economy savings.

Besides the lack of feel, I found that there was too much of a tendency for the ST to self-centre its steering wheel. Anything past the off-centre position weighs too artificially in resistance. And even though the ST has a variable ratio rack, it just feels a tad too heavy at highway speeds.

WHOA NELLIE!

Finally we come to the brakes. The ST is equipped with 12.6” ventilated front discs, and 10.7” solid discs in the back. The fronts are uprated from the regular Focus.

They do an amazing job of hauling the car down to a stop from speed. I found the brake pedal initially too touchy (not dissimilar to that of the Focus Energi), but over the last few days I have gotten used to it. ABS kickback is minimal and the system seems well sorted out.

In my next post, I’ll be giving a through run through of the Ford MyTouch system. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!


Day 5: Harvest Moon

Ford Focus ST 36

Before we delve into the MyTouch system, let’s talk about the rarity of the ST. Not once have I seen myself coming and going everywhere, unlike the GTI. The only other ST I have seen is in town was my former performance blue press car!

With the Focus ST’s heavyweight class competitor, the VW GTI, all over town, I really appreciated the rarity of the ST.

Now let’s talk about Ford’s MyTouch with Microsoft’s SYNC system. For starters, I really liked the 8” display. It was bigger than average, had nice graphics that rendered relatively quickly, and it provided a central area to control vehicle functions: climate control, entertainment, navigation, and phone function

Ford Focus ST 36

Ford seems to have made improvements to the system which is now much quicker and more logical than the MyTouch system I experienced in a rental Ford Taurus Limited last year while heading to the Pebble Beach Concours D’elegance.

Unlike the Taurus where there were a lot of soft touch redundant buttons with zero tactile feedback, the Focus has actual buttons for the same controls. I liked this much better.

Ford Focus ST 37

While the MyTouch system has been improved, it still seems needlessly complicated to do simple tasks. A lot of my criticism is centered around the Microsoft SYNC voice command system. It’s slow to react and there are just so many commands.

Why not have a pop-up that lists all the commands you can say when you activate the voice command system, similar to Mercedes-Benz’s system? For example, I don’t need to know about the climate control voice commands when I’m in the navigation screen. I just want the relevant navi commands!

And do we really need to change our climate control settings via voice control? It looks good in the TV commercials, but SYNC seems to listen for a long time (compared to the systems on German cars), and therefore it takes about 10x longer than to just to turn the knob!

There are also a few other small annoyances, such as the song title being blocked by the bezel surrounding the screen because of its lower left hand corner position. Or some frequently used functions being buried in submenus.

Ford Focus ST 38

A lot of it takes some getting used to and I’m sure that over time, most owners will figure out what they like and where the appropriate menus are. Maybe this is why Ford has to have a SYNC manual app in Apple’s App store, for a quick reference!

On the plus side of the MyTouch system, the GPS navigation display is good, with nice graphics and decent rendering. You even get 3D buildings when you’re in major cities, such as in downtown Vancouver. I’ve only seen this in higher end luxury brands.

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I particularly liked the floating street names on the GPS map display too. In too many systems, the street names are crammed sideways, parallel to the street lines. They’re difficult to read without having to contort your neck. No such problems with the MyTouch system. I also liked the split-screen view, and how quickly the system updated my actual position on the map.

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So in short, better effort Ford and Microsoft, but there’s still improvements to be made. I’m glad to see that at least they’re listening to customers though!


Day 6: “Woah that’s a Ford?”

On the last day of summer, I took the car over to a few friends who fall directly within the target demographic of the Focus ST. These are hardcore VW GTI and Subaru WRX fans that aren’t afraid of voicing their opinions.

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“Cool, factory standard turbo gauge?!”, “This is the new Focus?”, “OMFG, I love these Recaro seats” were all comments that were uttered.

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As a special note, everyone was impressed by the sculpting on the back of the front seats that carved out a couple of extra inches of leg/knee room for the rear passengers. Space was just fine for 4 above average-sized guys that we had in the car at one point.

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Someone also discovered the rather novel rear cupholders which are on the outboard positions of the rear bench versus the usual spot at the back of the centre console where they can be kicked and broken. Smart!! Just keep it to water bottles and not hot beverages. They’re good but not THAT good.

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The couple of negative comments that were mentioned were subjective ones. One person felt that the Tangerine Scream colour combined with the high tail of the Focus caused it to look too tall visually. A suggestion that was brought up was to paint the area between the rear bumper’s red reflectors to black. This would break up vastness of the solid colour through simple visual trickery. A valid point and a trick that BMW uses on their cars.

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There was also the question as to why the regular lower end Foci can be had with parking sensors and the rearview camera but not the ST. Even though it’s not a long car, the hatch design combined with the steeply raked rear window does make rear visibility a challenge on dark rainy nights (as if we don’t get those in Vancouver).

Either the rear parking sensors or better yet the rearview camera would add an extra margin of safety and security.

The final negative point was around the blindspot mirrors that Ford has chosen to integrate in some of their models, including the Focus. They’re non-adjustable and set up for people who don’t adjust their mirrors properly! To learn how to adjust your mirrors to eliminate your blindspot, read this.

I commend Ford for this feature, but the passenger side blindspot mirror was completely useless when the main mirror is adjusted properly. The former just points two lanes over! The driver’s side mirror was acceptable though.

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While we are on the topic of safety, the Bi-Xenon headlamps on the ST are brilliant! While they aren’t active cornering, I was surprised to find that they did come with cornering lamps built into the main units.

These added another extra 20 degrees of corner illumination, and would turn on when either the front wheels were turned at  a sharp enough angle, or when the vehicle speed was low enough and the turn signals were activated. A premium feature on a relatively inexpensive car.

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Tomorrow is my final day with the Focus ST and I’ll wrap my overall thoughts there.


Day 7: Parting thoughts

I suppose it’s only fitting that on my last day with ST, it absolutely poured. The first day of fall definitely didn’t “disappoint”.

Ford Focus ST 56No matter though as this allows me talk about how the ST handles in typical Vancouver fall weather.

In short, the ST always felt safe and secure despite the power on tap. With traction control, getting a move on was never an issue.

I mentioned earlier that I experienced some axle hop when the front tires lost grip in the wet and when the traction control cut in. After driving the car for a few days now, I suspect that it is the Goodyears that are the culprit, and less of the car itself.

My only other gripe is that in heavy rain, the wipers need to have a higher speed setting. At times I felt that they couldn’t keep up with the rain, even though I had adjusted the vehicle speed for conditions.

For some odd reason, the MyTouch system also “forgot” the SD card that the navigation maps were stored on which necessitated a bit of fiddling to get the satellite navigation system working again.

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During the week or so that I had the Focus ST, I averaged around 7.7L/100 kms (30.55 mpg) on the highway, and around 10.8L/100kms (21.78 mpg) in city driving.

The US EPA claims the Focus ST will get you 23 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. My real world figures weren’t too far off.

For the 2014 model year, there are no major changes to the Focus ST aside from the addition of optional black racing stripes and grey painted wheels with red painted brake calipers. I like the grey wheels but would skip the black racing stripes myself. Save yourself the few hundred bucks for that option.

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I will miss the ST when it’s gone. Over the last few days, I have come to regard it as the common man’s BMW M3. High praise from a German car fan like myself.

I will miss its puppy dog enthusiasm, sharp handling, good looks, amazing seats, and eager power plant. What I won’t miss is the finicky MyTouch touchscreen system and its so-so rearward visibility. But given the choice of not having the MyTouch system with its integrated GPS and Bluetooth connectivity, I would still get it and put up with its shortcomings.

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At the start of this review I mentioned that if there is any car that would regain my confidence in domestic vehicle brands, this would be it. Guess what? Ford and the Focus ST have not disappointed!

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My ratings (each category out of 10).

  • Power: 8
  • Handling: 8
  • Ride comfort: 7
  • Controls: 7
  • Quality: 7.5
  • Fuel consumption: 8
  • Technology: 8
  • Value for money: 9

TOTAL: 62.5/80

Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all. When he’s not reading or writing about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town. You can contact him at Andrew (at) surrey604.com

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[REVIEW] 2022 Mercedes-AMG E53 4MATIC coupe

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Mercedes-Benz has had a long history with B-pillarless coupe. Starting from the 1968 Stoker/8 Coupe with its frameless and fully retractable side windows, the B-pillarless design was intended to create a generous and less restricted overall appearance. In 1992, AMG got involved in tweaking what was then known as the W124 300CE E-Class-based coupe.

If we look back at the timeline, from a 51 percent takeover in 1998, the influence of Mercedes-Benz continued to grow until AMG became a wholly owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz in 2005.

Although today AMG is known to the vast majority of younger car fans as the Mercedes-Benz sports department, the fact that this company from Affalterbach was once an independent tuning company has been almost forgotten in many places. Officially, the present day name of the division is now “Mercedes-AMG”.

Before the cooperation agreement came into force, AMG took a 300CE (E-Class coupe) and fettled it with their specially tuned 6.0-litre V8 from the S-Class and SL. Featuring 381 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, this car was aptly named “The Hammer” and accelerated to 100 km/hr in just 5 seconds. Even by modern day standards that is an impressive time.

With only twelve such cars produced, the Hammers are highly sought after by AMG collectors today.

Is the E53 coupe a Modern day AMG Hammer?

It has taken until this latest generation of E-Class coupe for Mercedes-AMG to be involved once again with an E-Class.

Mercedes’ newish 53-badged AMG vehicles are supposed to represent a perfect halfway point between the standard models and the much more expensive fire-breathing 63 variants. While it’s not a full-blooded eight-cylinder kind of AMG, since there are no plans for a 63 version of the E-Class coupe, this is currently the most powerful model that you can get in either E-Class coupe or convertible form.

To differentiate the 2022 Mercedes-AMG E53 coupe from its non-AMG stablemate, the former is marked by unique tailpipes, AMG badging, the new Panamericana-grille with vertical chrome slats, and unique AMG 20” wheels.

The large outer air inlet grille features two transverse louvres and a new front splitter. The grille also features inner Air Curtains, giving an overall aerodynamic advantage, and a subtle similarity to the AMG GT sports car family.

Kitted out in black and blacked out wheels, my car’s “murdered out” looked positively aggressive.

Under the hood is the now familiar 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder twin scroll turbocharged engine mated with an electric-starter-alternator combo for 48 volt mild-hybrid assistance. Known as EQ Boost, this system can boost fuel efficiency slightly but is really more designed to eliminate turbo lag.

The electric hybrid technology can add 21 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque on its own to supplement the high-tech inline-6 which produces 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque from 1,800 to 5,800 rpms.

With power flowing to all four wheels via a 9-speed AMG Speedshift dual-clutch automatic transmission and the company’s 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system, 0 to 100 km/hr runs can be accomplished in just 4.4 seconds, a whole 0.6 seconds quicker than the mighty “Hammer”.

The AMG DYNAMIC SELECT modes lets drivers fine-tune the E53’s performance via controls on the console or the standard steering-wheel AMG DRIVE UNIT. Five driving modes, one customizable, adapt the throttle, shifting, chassis and more from Slippery to Sport+.

The fully variable AMG Performance 4MATIC+ can send torque to the wheels that can best turn traction into action. From launch grip to cornering, 4MATIC+ can go from 50/50 front/rear, up to 100% rear-wheel-drive.

My car’s optional AMG Sport Exhaust, included in the AMG Driver’s Package, turns the rise and ebb of rpm into a rousing soundtrack. With multimode internal flaps, the different drive modes and the exhaust button lets you heighten the crescendos, or tone them down.

How does it drive?

All this tech and all of these numbers translate into impressive performance in the real-world. While the E53 coupe lacks the V8 engine and exhaust soundtrack of the AMG 63-models, the way the E53 coupe builds speed is still very impressive. Sure, it won’t pin you back in your seat like its four door E63s sibling, but it’s still very involving. The E53’s exhaust is rather unique but still pleasing under hard acceleration, particularly in Sport+ mode.

The car’s AMG RIDE CONTROL+ turns pressurized air into agility by adapting within milliseconds to changing roads, loads, and the modes of AMG DYNAMIC SELECT. It’s self-lowering and self-leveling and totally automated. At speed, the system gently supports the body while leaving it largely impervious to body roll.

Although it might be a mild-hybrid system, the E53 does not have the ability to cruise around emissions-free around town. Apart from the improved responses, you rarely notice the EQ Boost system working its magic. Aside from the very visible EQ Boost digital gauge in the speedo, you might notice that the engine shuts down earlier than you might imagine as you come to a halt.

My test vehicle was fitted with Mercedes’ semi-automomous driving system which now features a steering wheel sensor mat to recognise if you’re “hands-on”. If the driver does not have their hands on the steering wheel for a certain time, a warning is displayed in subsequent annoyance until Emergency Brake Assist.

Compared to other Mercedes models, I found the system too sensitive, frequently telling me to keep my hands on the wheel when they were already indeed on the steering wheel.

Aside from these little niggles, the E53 coupe is perfectly at home cruising at 200 km/hr on the autobahn or carving up some backroads on the weekend. You could easily drive this car from dusk till dawn and still feel relaxed on the other end. In this sense, it is a proper E-Class.

On the inside

Although the cabin is shared with other E-Class models, the extensive optional carbon fibre trim fitted to my test vehicle was drop dead gorgeous. It truly brings a different vibe to the cabin when compared to the open pore wood trim option that was fitted to my 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon test vehicle.

The sporty and comfortable seats provide strong lateral support which translates into comfort during long drives. They come in either Artico man-made leather or Dinamica microfibre in black with an AMG-specific design, red contrasting topstitching and the AMG badge, characteristic for the 53 models.

Aside from the AMG Drive Control unit on the latest AMG Steering wheel, the AMG badging in the virtual dashboard and the AMG apps in the MBUX Infotainment system, there is little else to give the game away (on the inside anyway) that this is special AMG model.

Some people may like this, but others may subscribe to the thinking from BMW’s M Division. That is to say that M cars have a bit more glitz, glamour, and pantomime.

The 2022 E53 coupe’s four seats and a 435-litre trunk give it more than adequate practicality for four adults and their luggage. There are all the accoutrements you could possibly need, from seatbelt extenders, to heated/ventilated seats.

Curiously, Mercedes-AMG also chose to leave in the AirScarf neck warmer option from the E-Class cabriolet. While this system is designed to warm-up passengers during top-down motoring, it was nonetheless a welcome but unexpected addition to the E53 coupe.

On that point, the addition of 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive also means that the E53 coupe is an all-weather vehicle, able to hit the ski chalets’ snow covered driveways or the golf course with equal comfort and presence.

Final thoughts

While it may lack the exclusivity of the 300CE Hammer, the 2022 Mercedes-AMG E53 4matic+ coupe is worthy at taking up the baton as the latest AMG four-seater two-door E-Class coupe.

Although coupes and cabriolets are sold in relatively small numbers compared to SUVs, this vehicle seems to be a worthy successor to continue Mercedes-Benz’s long tradition of producing sporty and elegant two-door cars with style and performance.

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[REVIEW] 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63

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There are many products out there that were invented despite nobody initially wanting them. The bicycle, for example, was initially a curiosity that was quick transformed into a necessity.  Even the automobile faced general public skepticism about its feasibility.

In 1895, Thomas A. Edison insisted, when interviewed, that the horseless carriage was going to doom the horse. He was ahead of his time in thinking that one would be able to buy a horseless vehicle for what people were paying for a wagon and a pair of horses. Horse and wagon owners thought that he was totally off base, and that the horseless fool’s contraption would never displace the horse. Of course, history now speaks for itself.


The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 SUV is one such example of a modern-day horseless carriage that no one asked for. Based on the largest and most luxurious SUV sold by Mercedes-Benz, the GLS63 displays what the German automaker’s AMG performance division is truly capable of. Nobody asked for it, but Mercedes built it anyway because it could, and customers have been flocking to it as quickly as Mercedes-AMG can build them.

The G in GLS denotes “Gelandewagen”, German for off-road vehicle and homage to its father, to the military SUV that the GLS was supposed to replace. The Gelandewagen was never phased out because Mercedes found a new set of buyers for the GLS while the G continued to soldier on with its loyal following.

The 2021 GLS63 is the newest addition to Merc’s SUV portfolio that already numbers well over a dozen.

Does the world need another three-row SUV variant?

I’m a huge fan of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, having reviewed the GLS450 early this year. While the GLS450 was opulent, comfortable, and luxurious, the 362 horsepower 3.0-litre EQ Boot mild-hybrid turbocharged inline-six cylinder engine is best described as smooth and linear. It has more than enough power for 90 per cent of the GLS’ clientele with 0-100 km/hr runs are accomplished in a quick 5.8 seconds.

But for those who want more horsepower, for towing purposes or otherwise, Mercedes offers the GLS580 with a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, also with the EQ Boost mild-hybrid system. This is good for 483 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque mated with the same 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission. This combo is good for a 0-100 km/hr run of 4.8 seconds, just two tenths of a second slower than a modern day Ford Mustang GT V8.

Model year 2021 introduces two specialized variants of the GLS, with the ultra-luxe Mercedes-Maybach GLS600, and the subject of our review, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63.

The GLS63 competes with other full-sized three-row SUVs such as the Cadillac Escalade and the BMW X7 M50i, though it bests all of them when it comes to horsepower rating thanks to it’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 which has been tuned to over 603 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque between 2,500 to 4,500 rpms.

To ensure the full-fat GLS is not mistaken for a lesser model, it gets the largest grille fitted to any AMG vehicle. The GLS63 looks the business with the new chrome grille with vertical louvres similar to those on Mercedes’ Panamericana-style grilles.


Standard Multibeam LED headlights, a more aggressive power dome hood, tweaked front and rear bumpers, flared wheel arches, a rear diffuser and four rectangular exhaust pipes also differentiate this model from the non-AMG units.


Standard wheels are 21-inch ten-spoke, but six other styles are available, including a 23-inch option as fitted to my test vehicle.

How does a 603 horsepower hybrid SUV ride and drive?

Like most top end Mercedes-AMG models as of late, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 also benefits from a 48-volt power system and the EQ Boost starter-alternator mild hybrid system. The latter is good for 21 horsepower and a very substantial 184 lb-ft of torque fill for the V8 engine.


The EQ Boost integrated starter generator system is also there for fuel economy, not just performance, but does help to make this nearly 3-ton truck take off from a dead stop with authority. Due to the weight, the feeling is more that of as a jumbo jet taking off down the runway versus a drag strip launch though.

Floor the throttle in Sport mode and an all-mighty V8 wall of noise makes you jump out of your seat. But yet, in comfort mode, the GLS63 is so refined that you can still have an executive meeting over the Bluetooth system and no one will ever know what you’re piloting.

The boffins at AMG claims that the GLS63 can hit 0-100 km/hr times of 4.1 seconds, topping out at a German autobahn legal only speed of 280 km/hr. The nine-speed auto’s tightly space gearing helps the big AMG rush forward seamlessly.

Due to its size, the GLS63 isn’t really suited for canyon carving. But with its air suspension system tuned to Sport or Sport+ and the 48-volt system powering the active anti-roll bars, the big Benz will surprise you with its responsiveness.


It’s surprisingly tossable on mountain roads, and there is plenty of front-end grip in tighter bends. In Sport and Sport+ modes, the suspension even lowers by 10 mm. The rear-biased 4Matic all-wheel-drive system is also further enhanced with a standard limited-slip rear differential.

Moreover, the prodigious amount of grip from the absolutely massive 285/40ZR23 front and 325/35/ZR23 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4s tires is just ridiculous!

My test vehicle was also fitted with the optional matte black $7,000 optional AMG Monoblock wheels, which were made famous on the W210 E55 AMG sedan. Despite the huge wheel size, the Airmatic air suspension system smoothens out the GLS63’s ride very admirably.

Step inside

One of the first things that you’ll probably notice upon stepping into the GLS63’s cabin is the built-in air ionizer and air freshener. Borrowed from the S-class, this system also makes its appearance (as an optional extra) in the GLS, giving up to seven occupants the luxury of Mercedes’ in-car fragrances.

Thanks to an increase in wheelbase, second-row passengers receive a whopping extra 87 mm of legroom over the previous GLS. The power folding third-row fits adults without issue, though the seat cushions are a bit flat. When all the seats are folded, the GLS swallows a ridiculous amount of cargo, perfect for moving stuff from one mansion to another.

You’ll find a 64 colour two-tone ambient lighting, anthracite limewood trim, the latest MBUX infotainment system with two massive 12.3-inch screens, illuminated AMG door sills, a standard Burmester sound system and much more. The driver and front passenger are treated to heated, cooled, massaging, and actively bolstered AMG seats, and there is the latest AMG three-spoke nappa-alcantara steering wheel.

While it may seem out of place in the GLS, the MBUX infotainment system also offers AMG-specific content includes specific details such as the AMG start-up menu with three selectable AMG display styles.

The Supersport mode is particularly striking, with a central, round rev counter and additional information presented in the form of bars to the left and right of the rev counter. Via the AMG menu, there are various special displays such as Warm-up, Set-up, G-Force and Engine Data.


The touchscreen multimedia display can also present drivers with telemetry data, visualizations of various driving programs, and AMG TRACK PACE race track telemetry.

Final thoughts

What a time to be alive. As the most powerful three-row SUV on the market, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is able to beat a C7 Chevy Corvette to 100 km/hr. Equally ridiculous is the fact that you can do all this with a six-member rock band piled into it and they will all be comfortable. No Mercedes-AMG GLE63 can do that, and no Porsche Cayenne can do that.

This recently redesigned ballistic people mover astounds with its combination of luxury, technology, speed, refinement, and power.

While automakers are always looking for white space in the marketplace so as to find a niche they haven’t tapped into before, Mercedes-Benz is the OG in this field, having first created the ML55 AMG SUV over 20 years ago.

If you’re in the market for a 603 horsepower luxurious horseless carriage for your extended family, the 2021 GLS63 will set you back a cool $190,000+, and you’ll even look good enjoying it too.

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[REVIEW] 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon

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If money was no object and there was only one type of vehicle I could own, a wagon would probably be pretty high on the list. The critical boxes that would have to be ticked on this “only one vehicle” list would include exclusivity, practicality, performance, quality, and character.

Not many vehicles have the ability to have be fun to drive, turn heads, but yet be able to transport the whole family in complete comfort and style, whether it’s to the latest restaurant in town, or up to Whistler for a weekend ski trip.

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon sits in this rarified air as one of the few vehicles that can cruise on the Autobahn for hundreds of kilometres, scaring other cars out of the fast lane with its LED matrix headlamps. Yet, this German muscle car / wagon is equipped with comfortable yet sporty seats and has space for a decently long road trip for five people.

The AMG engineers in Affalterbach have somehow managed to tune this heavy-ish $140,000+ 4MATIC all-wheel-drive wagon to move with the agility of a car much lighter while still being genuinely entertaining in the process.

Better than the sum of all its parts?

People may regard SUVs as a more interesting way to transport peoples and their stuff. Wagons were purported to be uncool with a lameo-o mommy-mobile image from yesteryear. However, I think that the times are a-changing as I received mostly nothing but positive comments and admiring looks from people of all ages during my week with the 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon. Thanks to shows like Top Gear, it is the age of the Euro wagon once again.

The latest E63s wagon sticks with the grand AMG tradition of having a model name that does not actually relate to the engine displacement. Under the hood is an AMG hand built 4.0-litre V8 engine producing 603 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels through an AMG-tuned 9G-Tronic automatic transmission and AMG’s 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system.

The AMG wagon rides on standard air springs and adaptive dampers and claws at the pavement with 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires. This sticky and expensive rubber is sized 265/35R-20 in front and 295/30R-20 at the rear.

Like most modern cars, there are five driver selectable modes. In AMG-speak, they’re Comfort, Sport, Sport +, Individual, and Race. There is also a Drift mode that disconnects the front axle and directs the power solely to the rear tires. Yes, that’s right boys and girls, moms and dads, this wagon can do burnouts and power slides (only on private roads, of course).

While 2021 isn’t the first year for the E63s wagon, the model year brings updates across the E-Class line-up. With the E63, this includes a new front fascia and an AMG GT-like Panamericana-grille with vertical chrome slats.  Optionally available AMG bits include a carbon fibre front splitter, rear bumper insert,  side sills, and a gloss black rear diffuser. Not quite your typical family wagon’s bits and bobs.

There is also an updated interior, with the latest AMG Sport steering wheel with capacitive touch buttons and the latest version of the MBUX infotainment system. Some say that the 2021 model’s exhaust is quieter than before, but none of these updates seem to take away from the E63s’s stunning performance or racy feel. In Sport mode, it feels positively rowdy but in a refined way.

The Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon’s main competitor is obviously the new RS6 Avant. However, it has less power (sub-600 horsepower) and is arguably more showy with its aggressive fenders and sharp edges. It just depends on what you’re into I suppose.

What’s it like to drive?

Nothing quite prepares you for the supercar-rivalling acceleration, made even more hilarious when enjoyed in a wagon. The rear-biased 4MATIC+ system results in the 4,200 pound wagon accelerating from 0-100 km/hr in 3.4 seconds. That’s faster than most Ferrari 599 GTBs or F430 Scuderias, both of which are hyper-focused supercars.

The AMG twin-turbo V8 combined with the EQ Boost starter-motor alternator provides you with an unending wave of torque at any speed and essentially at any revs. There are masses of low-down grunt like what you might expect from a forced-induction motor, but the delivery is linear and without any turbo lag.

Part of the credit for this instant response is the 48-volt electrical system that powers both the adaptive suspension plus the EQ Boost mild hybrid system. The latter is good for an additional output of 21 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque in short bursts.

The dual-clutch gearbox punches home through the nine ratios with unrivalled immediacy, and its closely spaced ratios allow for muted cruising when the occasion presents itself.

At full chat in Sport+ mode, the turbocharged V8 is as loud as a thunderstorm. But in comfort mode, the ballistic engine is just a soft gurgle at start-up.

Happily the incredible acceleration and pace is matched by a really involving driving experience. While the ride is firm, it’s never punishing despite the large 20-inch wheels. The three chamber air suspension system and the adjustable dampeners are well tuned with the adjustable anti-roll bars. It’s truly impressive how the setup can handle anything from track use to daily commutes.

The E63’s steering also has a high level of precision, giving the driver a lot of confidence when driving quickly on twisty roads, or even just around parking lots.

It is even all the more impressive that this is accomplished in the heavier wagon version of the E63s. In short, the E63s wagon is far more agile, alert, and enjoyable than you’d expect in a car not just of this size, but in any size. I found it deeply involving, exciting, and one of the highlights of the cars I’ve driven this year.

 

What about the interior and the tech toys?

Despite being an AMG vehicle, my 2021 E63s wagon wasn’t kitted out to be overly sporty. Yes, you can get a rather expensive carbon fibre trim package but perhaps it is a little too “try hard” in this vehicle.

The wagon’s interior was a mix of high quality materials (nappa leather, open pore wood), a well designed dashboard and comfortable seats. Sure, there are the typical 64-colour LED ambient lights, the latest AMG steering wheel featuring two tiny colour LCD screens and configurable buttons/dials, as well as the latest MBUX Infotainment system.

One of my favourite features was the active bolstered front seats, which feature dynamic side bolsters to push you on the opposite side of the curve in which you are cornering. This allows the seat to be both supportive and comfortable at the same time.

Look beyond the upholstered sections of the cabin and you’d be hard press to spot any areas of cheap plastics, even around the centre console area or door mouldings. There’s even a retractable pet divider that rises from the cargo area tonneau cover. I also liked the motorised cargo cover which conveniently lifts out of the way when the tailgate is open.

Coming full circle on a personal note

Despite its ridiculous amount of power, the E63s wagon is as practical as the standard E-Class wagon. I used it to help my parents to move out of our family home of over 20 years. Two decades ago when we moved into the house, it was in our W124 Mercedes-Benz 300TE wagon. Although it has been years since I lived in that house, it seemed only fitting that I helped my folks to move out in another E-Class wagon.

I was thankful for the E63s’ 640-litre load bay that expanded to a class-leading 1,820 litres with the rear seats folded flat. This meant for less trips from the old house to the new house, which also meant less trips to the fuel pump.

You see, one of the downsides of the wonder AMG V8 is that you’ll want to feel and listen to it all the time. This resulted in high 16L/100 kms average fuel consumption for the week that I had the E63s wagon. With a light right foot, in comfort mode, and at highway speeds, the E63s can deactivate four of its eight cylinders to save on fuel.

Final thoughts

Although the 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63s wagon may fly under the radar for most onlookers, the E-Class wagon holds a special place in my heart.

From the driver’s seat, it’s often easy to forget what it is. And what “it” is, is a 603 horsepower family-friendly rocket with room to spare. Yet it’s also a luxurious track car that accelerates and brakes like a supercar and has bragging rights to match.

There aren’t too many other vehicles that can boast 18.9 psi of turbo boost, a 3.4 second 0-100 km/hr time, and yet also 1,800+ litres of cargo hauling capacity.

While it may not be as flashy as its main competitor, the Audi RS6 Avant, with no BMW M5 Touring wagon planned, the E63s wagon is my pick for one of my favourite cars I’ve driven this year.

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[REVIEW] 2022 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye

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The days of the old-school large rear-wheel-drive American sedans are largely over. Ford basically doesn’t sell sedans any longer in North America, Chevrolet bowed out of that market years ago, and Dodge? Well Dodge is the last man standing with the Dodge Charger.

Loved by the police force in Vancouver, which has an entire fleet of them, the Dodge Chargers look mean, brash, bold, and very much in keeping with the Dodge design language. So bold was the design that there was a small pocket of Vancouverites that complained that the Charger police cars looked much less approachable than the VPD’s Ford Crown Victoria’s that they replaced.

Based on an old platform inherited from Mercedes-Benz from the DaimlerChrysler days, the Charger has become a fully developed large car.

The boldest and most brash of the line-up has got to be the subject of this review, the 2021 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye widebody.

What’s in a name?

The “Charger” name has been around since 1966, a throwback from the muscle car era. At that time, Dodge was trying to create a larger pony car and the Charger was the result of their effort.

In order to make it stand out, the company wanted to create a more expensive and luxurious car that had more space for four, unlike the Ford Mustang which had compromised rear seating. Available only as a two-door fastback, the very first-generation Dodge Charger was also available with an optional 426 cubic inch Hemi V8. And thus, the union between the Charger name and the Hemi engine was born.

Anyone who watched television back in the 1980’s will tell you that America’s most favourite car is the Dodge Charger, thanks to the likes of the cult series “The Dukes of Hazzard”.

Fast forward to 2021 and the seventh generation Dodge Charger is still alive and kicking well over half a decade later (albeit there was 20 year hiatus). Now only available as a four door sedan, my test vehicle is the top dog model, created by Dodge’s former “Street & Racing Technology” high-performance automobile group within Stellantis North America.

This same group began in 1989 and was responsible for developing the first Dodge Viper, therefore the pedigree is unquestionable.

Although all of the core elements of the SRT performance engineering team have now been integrated into Stellantis’ global engineering organization, the Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye is a fitting tribute as one of the team’s last projects.

To differentiate the Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye further from the standard car, Dodge has tweaked virtually every panel on the car and added functional hood vents and unique front and rear bumpers.

Styling cues taken from other models include a black matte texture roof and hood, a cold air intake that echoes that of the original Viper coupe, as well as creases in the fenders and doors that imitate the look of the 1960’s Charger. The aerodynamics of the Hellcat have been revised slightly, too, with new additions including a rear spoiler and an integrated front splitter.

In order to truly spot the Redeye though, you’ll have to look for the bedazzled jewel in the eye of the Hellcat logo on the front fenders, as well as the larger hood scoop and relocated vents flanking the scoop.

What’s under the hood?

The Charger Hellcat Redeye’s claim to fame is its supercharged Hemi V8 engine. It’s almost comical that Dodge has normalized a 700+ horsepower car, making it less of a rare occurrence than it once was.

The “Hellcat” name pays homage to the muscle cars of old, with 717 horsepower from a 6.2-litre Supercharged Hemi V8. Step up to the Redeye model and you’ll be rewarded with an extra dose of ‘hang onto your hats”, thanks to a nuclear 797 horses powerplant and a claimed 203 mph top speed.

The Redeye’s extra 90 extra horses is courtesy of a larger 2.7-litre screw-type supercharger with 14.5 psi of boost compared to the regular Hellcat’s 2.4-litre supercharger with 11.6 psi of boost. The Hellcat Redeye’s red line is also higher at 6,500 rpms compared to 6,200 rpms. As you can imagine, all of this displacement is only useful if combustion can happen. To ensure the engine is fed properly, the Redeye has two fuel pumps instead of just one.

Other internal changes include stronger forged aluminium pistons, connecting rods, valvetrain and increased oil flow components. Even the driveshaft is 15 per cent beefier and the axles 20 per cent stronger on the Hellcat Redeye compared to the regular Hellcat.

If we want to get really technical, the engine features a forged steel crankshaft with induction-hardened bearing surfaces and a specially tuned crank damper that has been tested to 13,000 rpms.

To harness all of this power, Dodge fits all Charger Hellcats with the standard widebody kit which includes wider, stickier tires and stiffer chassis components. New fender flares add 3.3 inches of width to the Charger and accommodate 11.0-inch wide, 20-inch diameter wheels wrapped in Pirelli tires sized 305/35R-20 at all corners.

This additional width truly emphasizes the Charger’s visual menace, and the car looks even more like it’s up to no good.

How does it drive?

With only rear wheel drive and 707 pound-feet of torque, these Redeye leaves no one wanting for more power. This power is sent to the rear wheels via a heavy-duty torque-converter-based quick shifting eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. Dodge says that it is capable of shifting gears in as quick as 160ms.

This gearbox also has a rev-matching feature, further helping to smoothen out the engine’s delivery.

All of this unreal performance means that drivers much exercise restraint when applying the throttle pedal in order to maintain traction. Even with a rear limited slip differential and traction control, the rear wheels can easily spin in wet weather.

When you are able to hook-up the rear tires properly, 0-100 km/hr runs can be blasted down in around 3.5 seconds, about 3/10ths of a second faster than the regular Charger Hellcat.

Dodge also allows drivers to easily turn down the horsepower output of the Hellcats with just a couple of pushes of the button on the infotainment screen. I was somewhat relieved to drop it from 797 horses to 500 horses during the extremely rainy week that I had the Charger.

Of course, to get access to the full 797 horsepower in the first place, you have to start the Charger using the special performance red key. Using the “regular” black key results in a limit of “only” 500 horsepower via a less powerful fuel map and a 4,000 rpm rev limiter is put in place.

 

In day-to-day traffic, the Hellcat’s front tires don’t communicate as much to the steering wheel as I’d like and the wide body kit does result in a worse turning circle. Be prepared to do more three-point-turns than you might expect. Still, the ride is surprisingly compliant and the handling is sound. There’s no masking the Charger for the big car that it is though.

A three-mode-driver selectable sports suspension helps to improve performance while balancing comfort. Additionally, the Charger Hellcat Redeye sports the largest brakes ever offered by Dodge, with 15.4-inch floating Brembo discs at the front and six-piston calipers.

What about the inside?

Inside, you’ll find a revamped interior with surprisingly comfortable and plush seats. You sit quite high off the floor and the seats are comfortable over long distances. This ain’t no European sedan, that’s for sure.

Dodge says that higher quality materials have been used throughout, and my test car’s split leather and alcantara seats have been recently redesigned for improved comfort and support. Nonetheless, this is an aging vehicle and cheap materials still linger. At least the dash and door panels have soft-touch surfaces.

An 18-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system is standard, as is an electrically adjustable heated steering wheel, paddle shifters, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a Wi-Fi hotspot and automatic climate control.

The UConnect infotainment system works well, but the 7.0 inch screen looks small and is a bit slow when compared to the updated unit in the 2021 Dodge Durango Citadel I reviewed a few months ago.

The “Performance Pages” function allows drivers to customize the car’s responses by tailoring the suspension, shift speeds, traction control modes and engine output, but the system is slow to load requiring several seconds to boot up.

Final thoughts

Part of the Dodge Charger’s successful formula has been its many personalities. Whether it’s a cop car, muscle car, a family-capable sedan, or a muscle car, its success is that it can be any of those things depending on what package and powertrain you choose.

As more of the automotive world shifts towards electrification, the days of this nostalgia-inducing, tire-burning, four-door heathen are numbered. However this is a special car that makes mundane drives to the office silly, fun, and exciting. You giggle everytime you put your foot down and hear that audacious supercharger whine.

Yes, it’s true that Dodge charges a hefty amount for the experience, but I would be hard pressed to find another 700+ horsepower car which is at a similar price point.

If you look upon it this way, there’s no other vehicle out there that offers the combination of supercharger whine, sinister looks, and excessive horsepower, save it for something from Dodge themselves.

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[REVIEW] 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45

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There comes a point in life where even car enthusiasts have to concede that despite having four doors, a sporty sedan such as a Subaru WRX STI or a Mitsubishi Evo just don’t fit the bill as a family car regardless of how many doors they both have.

While Subaru used to offer a five door hatch version of the WRX, there weren’t enough sales to justify the engineering costs. With the Ford Focus no longer sold in North America, the closest an enthusiast can get to a performance five door hatchback is arguably the 2021 Mazda3 all-wheel-drive five door hatch with the optional turbocharged 2.0-litre four cylinder engine borrowed from the CX-5 and CX-9 SUVs.

Mazda stops short of calling the Mazda 3 Hatch a true performance car though, and the torquey turbocharged engine, as good as it is, lacks the character needed to fill that role anyway.

So what is one to do when looking for a blend of more luxury, a carlike seating position, a sporty hatchback driving experience, but also additional space for family activities and the associated accoutrement?

Look no further than the increasing plethora of sportier crossover SUVs from luxury manufacturers such as the subject of this review, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45.

What’s new?

The previous GLA45 was a bit of an odd design with a semi-butch interior but yet small hatch dimensions. This time, the GLA is closer to what you’d expect size-wise compared to other conventional crossovers.

The move seems to be a smart one since both the Mercedes-AMG A35 and A45 five door hot hatchbacks are both offered in Canada (but not in the USA), along with the A35/45 sedan. By making it a bit bigger, the GLA differentiates itself from the hatches and is able to command more of a price premium as well.

Compared to its predecessor, the GLA now rides on Mercedes’ new MFA2 (modular front-wheel-drive architecture) and is more than 10 centimetres higher than its predecessor even though it’s 1.5 centimetres shorter. The AMG-specific Panamericana radiator grille with vertical slats identifies the newcomer as a member of the AMG Performance family.

Like the A45 and CLA45, AMG’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder engine makes an appearance here, delivering its maximum output of 415 horsepower at 6,750 rpms and 369 lb-ft of torque from 5,000 to 5,250 rpms. The engine is no mean feat as it is the most powerful production four-cylinder engine currently for sale.

It is hand built in an entirely new production line at the Affalterbach AMG engine production facility, where Mercedes-AMG has raised the “One Man, One Engine” principle.

As with the A45 and CLA45, power flows to all four wheels via an eight-speed AMG Speedshift dual-clutch automatic transmission (the lesser “35” AMGs only get a seven-speed). Although primarily front-wheel drive biased, the GLA45’s 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system is able to vector power at the rear from side-to-side via a pair of multi-plate clutches at the rear axle.

Official 0-100 km/hr times come in at only 4.3 seconds, only 0.4 seconds behind the lighter A45 hatch.

Like the non-AMG GLAs, the steering is variable-ratio and electrically assisted. Stopping is courtesy of significantly uprated brakes – chunky six-piston calipers and 360mm discs up front, and single-piston, 330mm rears.

My test vehicle was fitted with the handsome 21-inch two toned alloy wheels but 20-inch wheels are standard.

Does it serve as its advertised purpose as a “hot” crossover?

Over two decades later after AMG released its first high-performance luxury SUV, the ML55 AMG, many enthusiasts struggle to see the appeal of large monster-engined vehicles.

Those who are in this camp should feel more at home with the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 being smaller, more athletic, and a more focused driver’s machine versus its larger cousins. It’s essentially a crossover version of the handsome CLA four door coupe.

Compared to the first generation GLA45, this latest model looks like it has grown up a bunch with its short front and rear overhangs Yet, the GLA’s designers have stayed true to its character with its muscular proportions, contoured side profile, and visually compact greenhouse.

On the inside

The interior of the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 is almost identical to that of its GLA250 sibling with its high-quality turbine looking air vents and the high tech looking MBUX infortainment system dominating the dashboard.

The seating position for both the driver and the front passenger is higher and more upright than in the predecessor model with the driver and front passenger sitting 140 mm higher than in the A-Class. In comparison to the previous model, all-around visibility has also been improved, mainly due to an optimized cross-section for the roof pillars, which now block out less of the surrounding area.

Mercedes has done a commendable version of making the GLA45’s cabin feel premium despite its relatively lowly position on the AMG vehicle line-up. While it may not be anywhere as opulent as the GLE63s coupe, the interior still feels upscale and special. Moreover, it feels different enough from the non-AMG GLA.

The excellent multi-coloured ambient lighting system helps to bring some theatre to the otherwise plain interior. My test vehicle was fitted with the excellent AMG Performance front seats which lend to the upscale AMG vibe. Their shape wraps around you and holds you into position and are much more comfortable than the previous generation GLA45’s performance seats.

Despite being an entry-level AMG model, Mercedes hasn’t left out any of the tech goodies found on even the top-end AMG vehicles. Drivers can choose between the three AMG display styles of “Classic”, “Sport” and “Supersport” for the instrument cluster.

The “Supersport” mode is particularly striking with a central, round rev counter and additional information presented in the form of bars to the left and right of the rev counter: with a three-dimensional perspective, they reach far into the background to an artificial horizon.

In the AMG menu, the driver can call up various special displays such as gear speed indicator, Warm-up, Set-up, G-Meter, RACETIMER and Engine Data.

Onboard race engineer

Mercedes even offers the GLA45 with a system called “AMG Trace Pace”, purported to be a virtual race engineer.

Integrated into the MBUX infotainment system, the system is designed to be used when navigating a race circuit.

It continuously monitors more than 80 vehicle-specific data points (e.g. GPS position, speed, acceleration) and displays lap and sector times, as well as the respective difference from a reference time. Specific display elements are shown in green or red, and the driver is able to see at a glance whether they are faster or slower than their best time.


Well-known race tracks such as the Nürburgring or Spa Francorchamps, are already programmed within the system, and drivers can record their own circuits. The map display can even be switched from 2D to 3D and updated online.

The MBUX Augmented Reality function also allows the ideal line of a stored race track to be displayed on the multimedia display or optional head-up display, allowing the driver to improve lap times with a virtual instructor on board.


How does it drive?

For the most part, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 feels very much like the hot hatchback upon which its based. I found the higher ride height and seating position better to navigate around the sea of SUVs and pick-up trucks in day-to-day traffic with little of the penalty from the higher centre of gravity.

AMG extensively reinforced the body shell of the GLA45 compared to the GLA250, with a lightweight aluminium plate bolted underneath the engine to increase the front end’s torsional rigidity. Front and rear underbody diagonal struts further improve rigidity by reducing twisting of the body shell during cornering, braking, and load changes.


There is very little roll and slack in the chassis, and the GLA45 feels eager and alert. The adjustable steering weight has much more feel than the first gen GLA45 and the rack is very quick.

The 4 piston front calipers and internally ventilated and perforated brakes are equally responsive where only a light touch of the pedal is needed to stop the GLA. Opting for the optional AMG Track Pack, as fitted to my vehicle, and the GLA45 is fitted with an even larger braking system featuring red 6 piston front calipers and 360 x 36 mm brake discs up front. Non-track pack cars are fitted with 4 piston front calipers and slightly smaller 350 x 34 mm rotors.

You might expect the GLA to ride rather harshly due to its re-enforcements and taut chassis but you’d be wrong. Aside from oodles more space, you enjoy the same immediacy from the A45, but with a slightly more compliant ride.

None of the suspension components have been carried over from the previous generation vehicle, and the new McPherson strut front suspension and 4-link rear suspension is much more comfortable. Adaptive dampening, aka AMG Ride Control, allows the driver the choice of three different suspension tuning modes, from Comfort to Sporty to Dynamic.


The system operates automatically, adapting the damping forces for each wheel according to the driving situation and road conditions. This happens within milliseconds and is infinitely variable, with a wide spread of damping characteristics.

Final thoughts

Despite riding 40 mm higher than an A45, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA45 is good enough to make you question how much hot hatch or how much SUV you really need in your life. It is more responsive than its main rival, the 2021 BMW X2 M35i and even has more space.

With much of the technology shared from the larger and much more expensive AMG models, the GLA45 offers enough SUV versatility combined with hot hatch-ness to make it a credible candidate for a performance daily driver.

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