Ford's Chance for a Hot Hatch

By Edward A. Sanchez | January 12, 2009
The next few years will be a fortuitous time for the domestic automakers. Although we may see one of them swallowed up by a foreign entity or chopped up and sold off in pieces (Chrysler), both Ford and General Motors are poised to re-take critical market share in the U.S. The ironic benefit of the dramatically smaller market is that the contraction has actually increased Ford and GM's market share percentage-wise. Combine that with some new, internationally engineered and inspired vehicles perfectly suited to the new reality (i.e., higher fuel prices, higher CAFE), and you're cookin' up a recipe for success. Although it's not slated to go on sale in the U.S. until the 2011 model year (probably in showrooms in Spring 2010), I'm already keenly anticipating the new Ford Focus. If it's even close to the model currently offered in Europe, then it will truly be a game-changer for Ford in the compact market. Inevitably, I know there will probably be a few changes for the U.S. model. While I'd gladly take a Focus ST verbatim, the Volvo-based 5-cylinder probably isn't the most efficient or cost-effective powertrain option. At 2.5 liters and 225 horsepower (even with turbocharging), it lags many of its competitors in specific output. That level of output could be achieved with one less cylinder. I'm thinking a 2.0L four-cylinder in direct-injected, turbocharged EcoBoost configuration could easily match that power level, as well as being lighter-weight and more fuel-efficient.
I have to say I'm not a particular fan of Ford's Gillette-inspired front grille treatments of late. I fear the clean, understated styling of the Euro Focus is going to be ruined with a chromey razor-nose. Please Ford, spare us the blade beak on at least your sport-oriented models. And don't fall prey to the old-school thinking that people are only interested in two-door performance models. Isn't it evidence enough that the majority of compact performance cars are offered in a four-door configuration? Witness the Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi Evo, Volkswagen GTI, Chevy Cobalt SS, and Mazdaspeed 3. If indeed, Ford, you offer an ST (or equivalent model) in the U.S., please give us working stiffs a practical option that satisfies our performance cravings while meeting our practical needs. I'm not going to assume to speak for all compact enthusiasts on this issue, but I would be willing to spend as much as $26,000 for a well-equipped, high-performance 5-door. As long as it has SYNC, Nav, and the usual level of equipment. That amount is still under what many of the competitive models are fetching, comparably-equipped. Please don't assume we're not willing to pay a fair price for a well-equipped, well-engineered performance compact. Budget-minded shoppers can look at the Fiesta. Mark and Allan, if you're listening, I'm ready to wait and to buy come Spring 2010. Remember: 5-door with a 2.0L EcoBoost, SYNC & Nav. I've got my checkbook and pen in my pocket waiting.