Connect with us

Automobiles

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

Published

on

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.

Ford Focus ST 5

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.

Ford Focus ST 7

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!

Ford Focus ST 16

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.

Ford Focus ST 18

Ford Focus ST 19

Ford Focus ST 28

Ford Focus ST 30

Ford Focus ST 26

Ford Focus ST 22

Ford Focus ST 21

Ford Focus ST 27

Ford Focus ST 33

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).

Ford Focus ST 31

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

Ford Focus ST 34

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.

Ford Focus ST 38

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.

Ford Focus ST 41

Ford Focus ST 39

Ford Focus ST 40

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.

Ford Focus ST 47

Ford Focus ST 49

Ford Focus ST 48

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

Ford Focus ST 14

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.

Ford Focus ST 50

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.

Ford Focus ST 44

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.

Ford Focus ST 46

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.

Ford Focus ST 55

Ford Focus ST 54

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.

Ford Focus ST 52

Ford Focus ST 53

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.

Ford Focus ST 51

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.

Ford Focus ST 45

ford_focus-st_det_lt_613132_600

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.

Ford Focus ST 47

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!

Ford Focus ST 42

Ford Focus ST 57

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

Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2022 Volvo V90 Cross Country B6 AWD wagon

Published

on

Can you believe that Volvo’s “Cross Country” badge is now more than 20 years old? While we’ve got to hand it to AMC’s Eagle 4×4 wagon and the Subaru Outback for inventing the jacked-up wagon design, Volvo can arguably also be considered one of the pioneers of the format.

Although Volvo sells its V60 wagon in both regular and Cross Country trim levels, in Canada, the larger and more upscale V90 can only be had in rugged Cross Country form.

Sitting at the top of Volvo’s “V” wagon range, the V90 doesn’t mess too much with a formula which has worked for the brand (and others) for over two decades now. With a raised ride height, all-wheel-drive, and rugged body cladding, the 2022 Volvo V90 B6 AWD Cross Country is a direct competitor with the only other almost full-sized off-road-y wagon in its class, the Mercedes-Benz E450 All-Terrain wagon.

No doubt both the big Benz and the big Volvo are designed with the same points in mind. That is to create a neat compromise between a family car while yet being stylish, practical, and with the ability to take on a light trail without so much as breaking a sweat.

But will the Volvo stand out over and above its competition? Let’s take a closer look.

On the inside

Volvo’s XC90 SUV has won many awards globally since its introduction. Spec-for-spec, the V90 Cross Country is cheaper to buy than the equivalent XC90, though it lacks a third row.

Step into the V90 Cross Country’s roomy interior and you’ll find a gorgeous crisply tailored cabin designed in a simplistic and minimalist Scandinavian fashion. The silver Bowers & Wilkins speaker grilles add some premium highlights to the otherwise dark interior.

Every surface is essentially soft-touch, fine-grained wood, or satin metal accents. The knurled starter knob adds some delightful tactile feel to the interior and there are other small easter eggs such as the tiny Swedish flag sewn into the front passenger seatback seam. “Since 1959” is stamped into the seatbelt buckle, a nod towards the year in which Volvo introduced seatbelts.

Volvo has a long-held reputation for excellent seats and the V90 Cross Country does not disappoint. With multiple adjustments, a great deal of width, good padding, the front seat cushions provided excellent support for long drives. Based on previous experience, a broad range of body types should fit.

Surprisingly, I found access to the rear seats a bit more difficult than the Mercedes-Benz E450 All-Terrain wagon. Due to the Volvo’s rear door openings being relatively short, the footpath into the back seat is fairly narrow. The door sills are also quite high, presumably due to crash protection, so there may be a bit of fancy footwork required for taller passengers.

Thankfully, the V90 Cross Country’s taller ride height makes it easier to exit and egress than the lower S90 sedan that the wagon is based on.

How does it ride and drive?

Under the hood of the 2022 V90 Cross Country B6 wagon is the latest variant of Volvo’s 2.0-litre direct-injected supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Unlike the previous 316 horsepower T6 setup which incorporated a turbocharger and a mechanically driven supercharger, the B6 powerplant produces 295 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque from its combination of turbocharging, electrically driven supercharging, and a 48-volt mild hybrid system.

Although the system produces less power than before, the mild-hybrid system ensures no lag at all upon throttle pedal application. Engine restarts from the start-stop system are also extremely smooth, much more so than before. This complex arrangement of forced induction, combined by the 8-speed transmission, delivered grunt in a much smoother and refined manner compared to the T6 powerplant.

Like other Volvos, the V90 Cross Country AWD uses a BorgWarner/Haldex-based all-wheel-drive system. A special “Off-Road” mode (similar to Mercedes’ “All Terrain” mode) lightens the steering and activates a low speed algorithm designed to enhance engine braking. Volvo says that this ensures better traction in slippery conditions.

Ride-wise, the V90 Cross Country’s combination of chunky tires and 2.37 inches of extra suspension travel aids in it absorbing big bumps extremely well. Ruts and potholes are handled with ease and the wagon is likely to be more capable than most owners would ever need it to be. There is a bit more pitch and wallow in sharp corners, but that’s likely to be less of a concern for buyers of this class of vehicle.

While the V90 is a competent cruiser, its chassis doesn’t offer quite the same level of agility, composure, or handling compared to the air sprung 2022 Mercedes-Benz E450 All-Terrain wagon that I recently tested.

Technology updates

Volvo was one of the first to incorporate a Tesla-like iPad sized portrait orientated infotainment touchscreen into their cars. After several years of trying to refine their Sensus infotainment system, they’ve decided to partner with Google in using the Android Automotive Operating System.

While much faster than the Sensus interface, I can’t help but feel that the Android Automotive interface is too simplistic now, lacking many of the shortcuts and graphical textures that made the Sensus system feel premium. My test vehicle’s system did not have Apple Carplay integration, though Volvo Canada says that this will be released in a future update. Alas, the fantastic knurled drive mode selector scroll wheel has also been eliminated.

All Volvo V90 Cross Country wagons come with a digital instrument display which is clear and easy to read. However, unless you’ve had the benefit of playing around with Volvo’s system in-depth, the user interface is slightly confusing to navigate at first blush. Most cars with digital instrument panels these days are also far more flexible and user-configurable than Volvo’s, which almost seems basic in comparison.

Fortunately, the optionally available heads-up display is useful and effective at displaying speed and other information relevant to the driver.

As Volvo has a deep-rooted reputation for making safe cars, it’s no surprise that the V90’s sedan sibling, the Volvo S90, was awarded with an IIHS Top Safety Pick+.

Part of the reason for this top-grade rating was not just the expected safety suite of forward collision warning, lane departure warning and low and high-speed emergency braking. Volvo also includes run-off-road protection, which pretensions seatbelts to hold occupants in place if the car rolls over, and deformable seats that minimise spinal injuries in the event of a serious crash. Blindspot warning, adaptive cruise control, and rear cross traffic alert are also standard equipment.

Another simple but effective system is Volvo’s rear seat belt reminder. It displays a graphic depicting everyone’s seating position and buckle status. If a belted rear passenger decides to unbuckle while the car is in motion, the graphic re-appears along with a persistent audible alert until re-buckling occurs.

Final thoughts

Comfortable, quiet, well-dampened, capable, safe. These are the five words in which I’d use to describe the 2022 Volvo V90 Cross Country B6 AWD wagon in a pinch.

With the new and relaxed B6 powerplant, a high quality interior, and well-suppressed wind noise, the V90 Cross Country is a very pleasant way of eating up long distances and a great alternative to the ubiquitous luxury SUV.

Continue Reading

Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2022 Mercedes-Benz E450 4Matic All-Terrain wagon

Published

on

Ever since Crocodile Dundee introduced the Subaru Outback wagon, many have come to accept the lifted wagon body style as a smart alternative to an SUV. With the Outback wagon having a long-running reputation, other manufacturers have borrowed from the proven formula over the years.

Audi was one of the first to jump in, with their A6 Allroad introduced over 20 years ago, as was Volvo with their “Cross Country” wagons. And now, Mercedes-Benz is the latest manufacturer to jump in, albeit late to the party, with their latest E-class wagon.

In order to make the E-class wagon a bit more rough and ready and less wagon-y, the boffins at Benz have taken the latest 2022 E450 wagon and dubbed it the E450 All-Terrain. Presumably this name will attract those looking for an upmarket Subaru Outback, and as an alternative to the the smaller Audi Allroad which is based on the compact A4 platform versus the mid-sized A6 platform of the original 1999 Audi Allroad.

How is it different?

Although station wagons were found on many a suburban driveway in the 1970 to 90’s, punters decided that they were sort of lame when the SUV came out.

These days, the more off-road-y wagons are making a strong comeback, and given that my parents’ family car when growing up was a Mercedes-Benz 300TE wagon, I have a special place in my heart for any sort of Mercedes-Benz wagon.

Aside from the Mercedes-AMG E63 wagon, the E450 All-Terrain is the only way that wagon fans can satisfy their wagon-needs in Canada. There is no “standard” version of the wagon sold any longer.

The addition of the 2022 Mercedes-Benz E450 All-Terrain wagon comes alongside a refresh to the company’s entire E-class line-up. While mostly cosmetic, the requisite nips and tucks to the bumpers, headlights, taillights have been made. Inside, the infotainment system has been revised with the latest version of the MBUX system, but the rest has mostly been left alone.

In order to match the SUV-cues, All-Terrain wagons come standard with plastic fender flares and additional body cladding. There is also a signature All-Terrain front grille and a chromed skid plate. My test vehicle was fitted with the standard 19-inch wheels, but larger 20-inchers are optional extras.

Ground clearance is also greater, with the E450 All-Terrain sitting 1.2 inches higher thanks to Mercedes Airmatic air springs all-around. The system can raise slightly for additional ground clearance at lower speeds.

Under the hood, gone is the twin-turbo V6, replaced with a turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-six cylinder paired with a 48-volt mild hybrid system, similar to that in the GLE450 SUV. Although the output of 362 horsepower and 369 lbs-ft of torque matches that of the outgoing V6, the starter-generator mild-hybrid system can add another 21 horses. This system is dubbed “EQ Boost”.

Mercedes says that their EQ Boost technology helps to electrify vehicles intelligently and cost-effectively by increasing the performance and efficiency of a conventional internal combustion engine without the complexity and expense of a full-hybrid system.

On the inside

At 4.95 metres in length, the Mercedes E450 All-Terrain wagon’s most natural competitor is the Volvo V90 Cross Country wagon. Both are nearly full-sized, and both have interiors that drip in luxury finishings and technology that are befitting of their over $80,000 base prices. Audi’s All-Road wagon and the Subaru Outback are comparably cheaper but also smaller.

The E-Class wagon’s boxy styling allows for a party trick which is all but a rarity in today’s cars. Look under the E450 All-Terrain’s cargo floor and you’ll find a pair of foldaway rear-facing jump seats. Given that there is a large cargo area – 64 cu.ft when the rear seats are folded, or 35 cu ft with the rear seats up – there is just enough room to make the rear facing jump seats work.

Indeed, I have fond memories of riding in my parents’ wagon in said jump seats, though a quick seat (or attempt to) fit in the cargo area quickly reminded me that I was no longer an 11 year old. My 5 year old nephew, on the other hand, loved the novelty of facing backwards even though the vehicle was stationary. Clearly these seats are for children only, and or very small adults.

Mercedes has cleverly fitted these seats with head restraints (which stow away under the floor) and three point seatbelts as well.

The rest of the E450 All-Terrain was standard Mercedes-Benz corporate fare, which is to say that it all feels right. The optional leather or MB-Tex leatherette seats are the typical Mercedes-Benz standard of supportive, comfortable, and firm enough for cross-country hauls. As expected, they can be heated and or ventilated depending on the boxes that you check-off on the options list.

Open-pore wood trim is standard equipment, as is the 64 colour ambient light system with a seemingly umteen amount of colour themes. You can even select them to illuminate various areas in different colours or have the system cycle through the themes dynamically.

How does it ride and drive?

If you can’t stomach the me-too trend of going for an SUV, the E-class All-Terrain mixes enough wagon and SUV quality to produce a compromise that is worth having.

The wagon’s inherent lower centre-of-gravity, simply because it’s based on a car platform, simply means that the E450 All-Terrain feels more planted around the twisties versus something like a Mercedes-Benz GLC or GLE SUV.

Mercedes-Benz has succeeded if intends for the changes to the E-class wagon to appeal to someone who is looking for the ability to do some light off-roading while being sportier than an SUV. Yet, the All-Terrain is as comfortable and relaxing after a four-hour stint behind the wheel compared to a standard E-class sedan.

On my favourite backroads, the E-class’ fundamentally well-sorted out chassis shines through despite the increase in ride height. Little has been done to spoil the base car’s balance.

In Comfort mode, there is more rolling into corners but it’s far from cumbersome. Part of the trade-off is also in slightly more aggressive tires with taller sidewalls. If the going gets more ribbon-like, Sport mode seems to tighten everything up by the appropriate amount, with the right amount of dampening and a bearable ride.

Sport mode also sharpens the throttle pedal response, heavies up the steering feel, and holds the engine revs a bit longer. The EQ Boost system also seems to step in a bit more aggressively.

Another part of the reason for the All-Terrain’s surefootedness is Mercedes-Benz’s permanent 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. The system is rear-biased front-to-rear torque split of 31:69. A new five-mode Dynamic Select system adds a new All-Terrain setting not found on other E-classes.

Mercedes says that selecting this mode increases the ride height by a further 0.78 inches at speeds up to 30 km/hr, and also optimises the stability and traction control systems for lower-grip surfaces.

Final thoughts

While the 2022 Mercedes-Benz E450 All-Terrain wagon is unlikely to be called “fun”, it did everything that I asked of it.

From hauling passengers in style, comfort, and luxury, this 5+2 passenger vehicle is a compelling and yet often forgotten rival to Mercedes’ own GLE, as well as other SUVs in the market.

Continue Reading

Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2022 Honda Civic Touring sedan

Published

on

While you might think that lower production luxury cars cost more to engineer than mass production compact cars, the opposite is reality. For example, the 10th generation Civic was said to have cost Honda more money, time and effort than other new models in their history.

And yet, while starting from a clean slate is never easy or inexpensive, we’re now in the 11th generation of the Honda Civic. A lot has changed since the first Civic went on sale in North America in the early 1970’s for under $3,000. However, Honda is still offering the Civic as both a sedan and a hatchback.

The Civic is Honda’s longest-running automotive nameplate, with more than 2.25 million cars sold in Canada since it was introduced here in 1973. Moreover, the Civic has been built at Honda of Canada Mfg facility in Allison, Ontario continuously since 1988. This is longer than any other Honda plant in the world currently producing the model.

Each generation of Civic has been more grown up than the previous, and this 11th generation car carries on the tradition by offering a more subdued appearance akin to its big brother Accord.

What’s new?

Although the previous generation Civic was offered as a coupe, this longer is the case due to declining sales of that variant. The 11th generation Civic is all-new, with a redesigned body. It is now only offered in North America as a four door hatchback (which we will review in a future article), as well as the sedan as tested in this review.

While the Civic is still considered technically considered a compact sedan, this latest version is larger, more substantial, and more upscale than its predecessors.

It’s not difficult to see why then, despite the SUV/crossover craze, the Honda Civic is still at the top of the Canadian passenger car sales segment. 43,556 units of this all-new 11th generation Civics were sold in 2021, allowing it to maintain the number one position as Canada’s best-selling car for the 24th consecutive year.

Aside from the more Accord-esque styling queues, Honda has improved the ride and handling, with the interior featuring the requisite new features, nicer materials, and new technology.
Despite compact car competitors, such as the Mazda 3, offering all-wheel-drive on their line-up, Honda insists that the Civic will continue to be front-wheel drive only.

It’s all grown-up

Honda says that the 2022 Civic Sedan is “a modern expression of classic Civic values, inside and out”. Built using what Honda describes as their “Man Maximum / Machine minimum Philosophy” (aka M/M), the design concept is supposed to use technology and design to serve the needs of the occupants.

What this marketing jargon translates into is a “thin and light” body design with a low hood, front fenders, and a low horizontal beltline. Your eyes aren’t tricking you if you think that the Civic appears bigger.

This is due to the bottom of the windshield pillars being moved rearward by 50mm, elongating the hood and stretching the Civic’s silhouette compared to the previous generation car.

Behind the new front bumper skin is a new bumper beam safety plate that has been designed to decrease leg injuries. The longer hood also has an embossed inner structure designed to improve pedestrian head protection performance.

Honda says that the new lower character line that rises through the rear doors is supposed to provide for an enhanced sense of motion. I’m not so sure if it is as exciting as the marketing-speak describes, but the car does look good regardless, even though it is slightly derivative of the Accord’s styling (not a bad thing to imitate).

The new Civic’s wider rear track is emphasised by stronger rear haunches, wider LED taillamps, and an aerodynamically efficient trailing edge of the trunk lid.

Speaking of LED lighting, Honda has used it extensively for the headlamps, daytime running lamps, parking lights, and fog lights. The new LED headlamps are excellent, casting a wide and white beam which is effective in lighting up the road ahead even in inclement weather.

Back to basics on the inside

Inside, gone are the days of the multi-level dashboards and cubbies from Civics in the past. You’ll find an uncluttered cabin design heralding back from the days of the very early-generation Civics.

Nowhere better can you see this change than in the top of the Civic’s instrument panel which has been redesigned with minimum cutlines to reduce both visual distraction sand windshield reflections. In my eyes, this is a welcome improvement that fits in well with the premium new exterior design.

Remember the windshield A-pillars that have been moved back by 50 mm? That change, combined with the low hood, flat dashboard, and tucked away windshield wipers, has improved forward visibility with more clearly defined corners. It’s easier to place the Civic’s edges than ever before during parking situations. The low cowl height is matched with the door’s sills and carries through to the rear doors.

Perhaps the most striking interior element is the new metal honeycomb mesh accent that stretches from door to door and across the dash. This accent clever hides the air vents while still creating a dramatic visual separation between the infotainment system and climate controls.

The metal-look HVAC controls feel high-quality. Overall, all of the switchgear has a distinctly more expensive feel to it. Honda says that they’ve even paid attention to smallest details, such as a new premium centre control trim that is specifically designed to hide fingerprints and smudges to help maintain a high-end appearance.

For anyone that has suffered through the scratches in the piano black plastic trim of vehicles in the same class, this subtle but significant innovation will certainly be welcome.

All Civics also benefit from a new generation seat design, with a new frame designed to enhance comfort on long drives.

Technology

My top-of-the-range 2022 Civic Touring sedan debuts with Honda’s all-new 9-inch high definition touchscreen infotainment system. This new touchscreen is the largest ever in any Honda vehicle, and the system supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

While it has taken Honda several tries to get the touchscreen right, I’m happy to say that they’ve nailed this one out of the park with the combination of touchscreen, soft buttons, and hard button controls.

The Civic now builds upon the foundation laid by the Display audio system in other Honda models such as the Odyssey, Pilot, Passport, and Accord.

The physical volume knob, simplified user-interface design, and cleanly designed icons make the system easy-to-use even for those new to the Civic. I particularly appreciated the effort that has been made to simplify the system’s navigational structure with fewer menus. The hard buttons for Home and Back functions were nice to have when toggling through the menu screens when wearing gloves.

Standard on my Touring-trim model is also the first use of Bose audio in a Civic, with Bose Centrepoint 2 and Bose SurroundStage digital signal processing.

On the safety front, this latest generation Civic earned a U.S. IIHS Top Safety Pick + Rating. This is in part thanks to all 2022 Civic trims receiving new frontal airbags designed to better control head motions in certain types of crash, thereby better reducing conditions associated with brain injury.

The driver’s airbag uses a new donut-shaped structure to cradle and hold the head to reduce rotation, and the passenger front airbag uses a innovative new three-chamber design to achieve a similar result.

The standard Honda Sensing suite of active driver-aids include a new single-camera system which is capable of more quickly and accurately identifying pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles.

My 2022 Honda Civic Touring tester was also further enhanced with expanded driver-assistive tech, including features normally found in premium brands.

In addition to the now ubiquitous automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, and lane keeping assist, there is also a Traffic Jam Assist feature. I noticed that the Adaptive Cruise Control system has also been improved with more natural brake applications and quicker response times.

The Civic, for the first time, now features Low-Speed Braking Control, and front and rear false-start prevention.

So, how does it drive?

There are two engine choices available for the 2022 Honda Civic: a turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder (as equipped on my Touring test car) and a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder. Both engines have outputs of 180 horsepower and 158 horsepower respectively. Torque figures are 177 lb-ft at 1,700 to 4,500 rpm, and 138 ft-lb at 4,200 rpms respectively.

I found the turbocharged engine more than adequate for its class, with strong initial acceleration off the line. The wide torque band was appreciated in passing maneuvers regardless of speed. I’d suspect that the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre wouldn’t be quite as flexible.

Both engines are paired with Honda’s latest CVT transmission, uniquely tuned for each engine. The CVT paired with the turbocharged engine has improved torque converter performance and Step-Shift programming which does a pretty darn good job at simulating actual gears. This eliminates much of the rubberbanding sensation commonly found in conventional CVTs.

In addition to the standard Normal and Eco driving modes, 2.0L Sport and 1.5L Touring trims of the 2022 Civics now feature a user-selectable Sport mode. Using a toggle switch on the centre console, the new Sport mode alters the drive ratios and mapping for a sportier feel and changes the meter lighting to red. Eco mode reduces throttle and transmission sensitivity, as well as air conditioning output to help preserve fuel efficiency.

Handling is nimble, with little body roll and quick steering.The Civic felt capable, secure, and sporty for a compact car. No doubt this is thanks to a stiffer body structure and the additional 35 mm of wheelbase versus the previous-gen Civic.

Road noise, a former complaint of other Civics, was nicely muted even at highway speeds. But one caveat is that my top Touring trim had added sound insulation. Reviews from other auto journalists have stated that lower-trim Civics could also benefit from this added insulation, so be sure to test drive different trim levels.

If you’re looking for more performance and better handling, you’ll have to step-up for the Civic Si model, which once again represents the sportiest Civic in the range till high performance Civic R makes its debut. The Si is only available with a six-speed manual transmission and a 200 horsepower turbocharged engine.

Final thoughts

35 years later and with nearly 11 million units produced in North America (5.3 million of which have been in Canada), the 11th generation Civic appears poised to continue its success with Canadians looking for a reliable compact car.

Later this year, the all-new Honda Civic Type R will be officially unveiled. This highly anticipated model will be the best performing Type R ever, capping the current 11th generation Honda Civic model line-up.

Continue Reading

Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2022 Mercedes-Benz S580 4Matic

Published

on

For decades, people at the very top – be they CEOs of international companies, presidents of nations, or royalty – travel in Mercedes-Benz S-classes. Often dubbed the “best car in the world”, Mercedes-Benz has long since launched their latest in luxury, technology, and design on this model, their flagship product.

And now, there is a new one. When I say new, I really do mean new in every respect. After all, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz S-class is supposed to represent the pinnacle of the Mercedes-Benz brand.

As expected, there is the requisite new body, new engine, new suspension, new interior heights of luxury, and the latest technology.

Mercedes-Benz continues to expand the S-class range to include Mercedes-AMG models and now also even more luxurious Mercedes-Maybach models.

For this review, we’ll be sampling the mid-level version of the personal limo for the ultra-wealthy, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz S580 4Matic.

Have the very best of Mercedes’ engineers, designers, and craftspersons created another technological tour-de-force? Let’s take a closer look.

What’s new

Now in its seven-generation, this all-new S-class can still be regarded as the iconic flagship of the brand. That being said, after almost half a century of existence, the lines have blurred a little whole lot in the luxury marketplace, including the shift to electric vehicles and consumers still favouring SUVs.

It’s no surprise then that there is a Mercedes-Maybach version of the GLS SUV, with the “S” part of the nomenclature added on purposely to draw upon the association with the success and status from the S-class.

While we live in confusing times these days, the S-class is still supposed to be the company’s most important brand exercise and the epitome of the company’s latest tagline of “The Best or Nothing”. With electric vehicles now manded by many countries within the next decade, we’re at the cusp of a changeover for both the auto industry and the consumer. Mercedes themselves have launched the “EQS580”, once again borrowing on the “S” nomenclature. Yet, both models exist simultaneously, for now anyway.

The 2022 S580 is a good example of this leading edge of the wave towards electrification of traditional ICE vehicles. Look no further than its impressive 48 volt mild-hybrid Mercedes EQ Boost technology, unbelievably opulent creature comforts (along with eye watering option list prices), and an impressive array of electronic and infotainment technology. This includes 3D OLED displays to facial recognition technology to a GPS navigation system with augmented reality.

While V8 engines seem to be on their way out, Mercedes-Benz has managed to keep one under the hood of the S580 in the form of a 4.0-litre 496 horsepower twin-turbo V8.

Like every S-class of recent vintage, every model rides on the Airmatic air suspension system. Optionally available is the E-Active Body Control system, which has a “curve” function that leans the cars into corners so as to reduce the centrifugal forces of going around a corner. For the first time ever, there is also a rear-wheel steering system that helps the big Benz to maneuver easily in tight spaces.

Interior: Comfort and Technology

The 2022 Mercedes-Benz S-class introduces a whole new corporate dash design, which we have already seen replicated in the all-new 2023 C-class and the upcoming GLC-class.

Gone is the wide central touchscreen, replaced by an even more massive centre touchscreen with an aspect ratio that is more squarish than it is rectangular. A 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster is fitted in front of the driver, but alas my test vehicle S580 wasn’t equipped with the 3D OLED screen nor the enhanced oversized heads-up display which is said to show navigation directions, via moving arrows, in augmented reality.

Wherever you look you’ll find multi-coloured and control responsive ambient lighting, leather, wood, chrome, satin metal finishes, and screens screens screens. Even if you don’t opt for the rear system, as with my S580 test vehicle, there is a rear centre console mounted Android tablet which can be used to control various functions for the rear seating area.

To make it easier to buckle your seatbelts at night, the seatbelt anchors are even lit. Opt for the optional executive rear seating package and the rear anchor point will also motorise up to make it easier for the buckle to be inserted into the slot. You won’t think you’ll need it till you use it for the first time!

Naturally, both front and rear seats are heated (and ventilated), as are the steering wheel and armrests. There are more intricate massage programs versus the model’s predecessor, for, both front and rear. Even the headrests can be spec’ed out with special pillows, rivalling the comfortable beds pillows you’ll find at high end hotels.

As you would expect, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz S580 is equipped with every advanced safety feature and then some. There is the usual cocoon of airbags that one would expect, but also airbags mounted in the front seatbacks for the rear passengers, and one mounted in the centre between the driver and front passenger. This new centre airbag is designed to deploy in a severe side impact, reducing the risk of front occupants cracking heads.

Moreover, aside from forward collision warning and mitigation, blindspot warning, lane departure warning, the latter two systems can also provide corrective action if so desired. The blindspot warning system even ties into the vehicle’s door locks, warning about a vehicle or bicycle passing should someone attempt to open the door into the path of either.

Ride and handling

My 2022 Mercedes-Benz S580 4Matic test vehicle was equipped with the latest system dubbed E-Active Body Control. Falling under the company’s “Innovation by Intelligence” umbrella, the system uses the 48-volt architecture and a network of over 20 sensors, five computer processors, and a stereo camera system to corroborate inputs at 1,000 times per second.

The Road Surface Scan system uses the stereo camera to proactively look at the road ahead, detecting changes in the road as small as two millimetres. This allows the system to predictively adjust the suspension ahead of time, readying it for a bump that is coming versus reacting to one that has already occurred. The feeling is a bit uncanny as ride motion over speed bumps are significantly muted by almost 80 per cent.

The same E-Active Body Control system has a safety party trick called “Impulse Side”. When tied into the side-mounted radar sensors, the system has the ability to recognise a potential side impact and raise the vehicle by 3.14 inches (80 mm) in just tenths of a second. As the side rocker panel sill is the strongest part of the car, there is potentially less intrusion into the passenger safety cell in the event of a side impact.

Despite the S580 being a massive car, the chauffeur doesn’t have to have all the fun. It feels surprisingly sporty, even in non-AMG form, and handles incredibly well in-spite of its size. Quick steering and good steering feel inspires confidence, even without the optional rear steering system, and S580’s permanent 4matic all-wheel-drive system worked flawlessly in poor weather conditions including during heavy snowfall.

The twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 engine and Mercedes’ 9-Gtronic automatic transmission are an incredibly well-matched pair, able to deliver both strong, push-you-into-the-seatback acceleration or graceful slow-speed departures with little fuss and few hiccups. Acceleration comes on quickly with a mere dip into the throttle pedal.

Final thoughts

It’s difficult to be disappointed whether you’re riding in the 2022 Mercedes-Benz S580 as a driver or a passenger. There is a reason why you still see leaders arriving in S-classes and significantly less so in competitors’ vehicles of the same class and size.

While its days as an executive limo, at least in its traditional form, may be numbered thanks to Mercedes’ EQ-line-up of fully electric vehicles, I doubt that Mercedes-Benz will retire the legendary “S-class” name badge anytime soon.

No doubt the S-class will continue to live on as the best car in the world, in any way, shape or form.

Continue Reading

Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2022 Mercedes-AMG E53 4MATIC coupe

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Trending

Copyright © 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Designed by Binary Souls.