T-Roc R vs Focus ST: hot hatch always beats a quick crossover, right?
“Other Ollie”, said Ollie, “I’d like you to pop over to South Wales and have a go in that new VW T-Roc R." This was good news, not least because the 360-mile round trip would provide the acid test of the Focus ST’s startling improvement in fuel economy. Over the Christmas holidays, as the mileage climbed past 6,000, it’s as if the engine’s suddenly running in a vacuum and being lubricated with greased silk.
Having previously struggled to haul economy beyond the mid-to-late twenties to the gallon, now the Focus stubbornly returns low thirties. A small but important psychological gain, meaning 300 miles per tank is now the norm, not the exception. And of the average speed-camera-blotted M4 heading west to Cymru, the ST managed to win Dry January with a feat even Ford thinks shouldn’t be possible – it claimed over 40mpg. I got 380 miles from that tank. Props to the immense torque – 310lb ft from a burly 2.3 litres means the ST can be coaxed along like an elderly minicab, labouring from 30mph with the motor doing a handful of revs a minute. It’s a very welcome party trick.
Good GT car, too. Three-and-a-half hours in the saddle, only a mildly numb bum resulted, but none of the pins and needles the Fiesta ST’s narrower Recaros cause with their pinching bolsters. I find a momentary blast of the lava-heated seats is good for loosening up the back. And lunch, if they’re left on too long. Now I’ve learned to trust the matrix-beam LED headlights, their always-on-main-beam tekkers is genuinely spectacular.
Amidst the motorway drudgery, the ST’s standard radar-cruise was most welcome, though the ‘you’re on your own now’ handover if the speed drops below 25mph is abrupt and means this isn’t a hot hatch that can take care of itself in a jam. But then, it is a manual – automatics are better suited to semi-autopilot. There’ll be a paddleshift ST later in 2020, just in time for that imminent new Golf GTI.
And the ST’s reward for this slog? Depositing me at the door of a curious rival. The VW T-Roc R is another hot hatch. Now there’s no Golf R, for the time being, it’s VW’s only family-sized fast car. And it’s fine. It goes well and stops fine and goes around corners suitably and makes a parpy noise. But it’s taller, heavier, less agile and somehow less appropriate than a car like the Focus, and the only advantage I could level at a hot crossover is a taller sightline to peer over hedgerows. The T-Roc’s economy settled at 24mpg. I swapped back to the Focus ST a couple of times, and never failed to enjoy a sense of homecoming.
Put it this way: a hot crossover like the T-Roc R is like one of those gourmet ‘finest range’ ready meals. It’s convenient, untaxing, and does the job for most people. But a truly talented hot hatch is a homemade toastie. More satisfying, less wasteful. Especially when it’s doing 40mpg.
Oh, one more thing. Yes, I did get the Focus ST rather stuck in a muddy car park while taking some pictures. A kind man helped push it out (thanks, Craig). The AWD T-Roc, as it happens, needed no such muscle to get on its way...