Timing is everything. Not too long ago, mention the word ‘diesel’ with ‘hot hatch’ and nobody would bat an eyelid.
Renault tried with a moderately powerful engine to make the Megane dCi 175. Hell, even Toyota tried slotting a 178hp engine to make the Auris D-4D T180. And lest we forget the Golf GTI PD, Leon FR TDI and Skoda vRS TDi…
But what was the overall consensus with all of these? They were more grand-tourers than sporting hot hatches; the chassis was usually too soft and the absence of revs was enough to detract from the experience. A loud diesel racket was never going to sound sporting either, so throwing in extra sound deadening masked out any form of soundtrack.
Fast forward a decade and not much has changed with the basic formula. But people’s buying habits have, and a sporty looking hatch that’s cheap to run is more desirable than ever.
Since 2014, after just one year on sale, the diesel accounted for 45% of Focus ST sales.
Saving money on running costs is one thing, but saving money without anyone else knowing is another. So while the ST diesel bears the same looks and chassis set-up as the petrol variant, there’s no TDCI badge to rat you out either.
We met up with a Powershift version of the ST Diesel to see what’s on offer…
Engine and drive
Officially the diesel’s 0-62mph time is 8.1 seconds – 1.6 seconds slower than the petrol on paper. But the Powershift version here drops that time by 0.4 seconds to 7.7seconds.
What catches our attention though is the 400Nm of torque which, combined with the quick-shifting dual-clutch gearbox, could be something to look out for in the mid-range. There may not be much reward when you reach the top of the rev range, but this level of flexibility could still be an effective tool down on a country road.
We’ll put them head-to-head to find out though so watch this space…
Whether this also leads to more torque steer and a struggle for traction in wet conditions will have to be confirmed at a later date.
On the road, the ST diesel benefits from the same chassis setup as the petrol which means the soft, wallowy, grand-touring diesel hatch days are definitely over. The nose may be a touch heavier than the petrol’s but you’d have to concentrate hard to notice.
It doesn’t sound bad either. Yes, augmented sound isn’t always taken in a positive light – especially if it’s not done well – but the symposer manages to help here, providing a bassy burble not too dissimilar to the petrol version. It doesn’t sound as fruity as the petrol but proves to be more appreciable, letting the sound deadening filter out the diesel clatter.
Can you spot the difference?
All ST models, regardless of what they are fuelled by, will be dressed the same on the outside. There’s no favouritism here, which means both wear the same bodykit, central exhaust, and the same selection of alloy wheels and colour schemes.
It’s pretty much the same inside too, but you’d only tell by spotting two potential giveaways: the rev counter and, since the petrol is manual-only, the automatic gearbox selector.
Potentially. If you’re concerned about residual values, the diesel may perform better in the long-run. Demand for affordable cars that look great and yet won’t cost the earth to fuel or tax has risen sharply since the recession. Plus you’d attract more interest from those using it for work too.
We’ve tested the Skoda Octavia vRS 2.0-litre 184 4×4 , and it comes as no surprise to find that it has a better gearbox and engine combination. It still has six-gears, but considering the VW group have been producing and calibrating these for a longer period of time, the shifts are a touch slicker.
The engine is a touch gruff though and doesn’t feel quite as muscular in power delivery as the Focus.
The handling is the biggest difference though. The Octavia’s longer wheelbase is great for long distance cruising and comes with a softer ride quality, but the brakes and chassis feel numb in comparison to the Focus. Throw in lighter steering and there’s little sense of adjustability through the bends, while you’d never feel 100% confident in knowing where the limits are.
The Octavia lacks any drama in the sound department too, although seeing the Skoda’s rear spoiler in the rear-view mirror is a bonus…
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