Hot hatch versus hot sedan. Front wheel drive versus all wheel drive. Two litre turboed engine versus tw litre turboed engine. Wrap around seats versus wrap around seats. Euro style versus hard edged Japanese heritage. This was the situation presented to A Wheel Thing unexpectedly with the Ford Focus ST up against the Mitsubishi Evolution X. Unexpectedly as the booking sheet said Focus but not which one….an electric blue and alloy wheeled beauty sat quietly in the drive, awaiting its new, temporary master. Keyless entry offered me access to the inner domain; supple, snug, black leather and cloth seats with blue inserts to match the exterior with brushed alloy highlights on the doors and steering wheel; a clearly laid out but busy looking console and aircon control section with sports dials high atop the centre stack with a Power Start/Stop button just to the right of the satnav screen. The steering wheel? Two dials on either arm with an OK in the middle with no indication as to what they’re linked to and overactive buttons for Bluetooth and cruise just underneath….busy, very unneccesarily busy. Soft red lights glowing in places such as the central drink holder console complemented by the LED interior roof lights look the goods. There’s two small LCD screens, one for the driver and one just above the over buttoned yet clearly readable console. It provides reverse camera, radio and sat nav info and is surprisingly easy to use and read. There’s a splash of alloy with the pedals (a three pedal set for the six speed manual) and gear lever getting a touch of dressage. The exterior is understated, drawing no visual eyeballing, with just a ST badge and quietly spoken rear airfoil to say a sports car lives here.
The seats were firm and wraparound Recaro branded rippers, a combination of leather and a suede like material grips the body but they’re certainly not for people of a bigger build…The Focus is nominally a five seater but, like most mid size hatches, really suits four. There’s a good size luggage area under the hatch, which increases with folded seats, although rear leg room is somewhat compromised with front seats fully retracted.
In comparison the Evo X looks….bland on the inside, with just about nothing to differentiate it against its lesser brethren. In the centre console is a button for three kinds of traction, Snow/Gravel/Tarmac and an intercooler switch for water spray plus a black leather globe on the gear lever. The seats are also Recaro, with a kind of faux carbon fibre wrap at the top and a little less snug than the Focus but still comfortable enough, highlighted with a white stitching to contrast the black. Keyless entry also features, with the tiny touchpad nubbin on the doorhandles easier to use than the Focus’ blackspot style. However, still having to twist the knob where a key would normally go makes zero sense. There’s a Lancer dash, Mitsubishi’s always easy to use aircon, the now ubiquitous touch screen (minus satnav….. but available in the MR) and a left hand console mounted handbrake. There’s a compromised bootspace, with battery and wiper washer bottle moved to the boot for better weight distribution (which an average driver wouldn’t pick) and hidden by a plastic shroud.
Underneath the Focus rides on Eagle 1 tyres wrapped around Ford’s five and ten spoke 18 inch alloys, which blackened rapidly from the brake dust. The ride is sublime; the Control Blade suspension at the rear complements the well sorted strut nose and the torque vectoring system combines with tight steering to offer a superb, all rounded package. On the yumps and bumps, it simply rides over them, with no float or rebound. On all but the roughest surfaces it holds on, points, corners and feeds back every inch of the road through the delightfully well padded leather wrapped tiller. Under acceleration there’s a delightfully horny little growl that feeds back to the cabin from around 2500rpm, adding consciously and subliminally to the experience. The gear throw is natural, with reverse a lift up lockout to the left and up, whilst the clutch was light, with pickup around half travel and not requiring full depression of the pedal.
The Evo X was in the metallic white, a subtle shade which emphasised the squat stance and black highlights front and rear with a vented insert in each fender just behind the wheel arch complementing the bonnet vents while the rear copped an Airbus sized rear wing. Eighteen inch alloys cover red Brembo brakes whilst wrapped in semi slick tyres, with the all wheel drive system combining with the sticky rubber to hold onto the road like a six month baby to a bottle. The taut suspension, with Eibach springs riding with MacPherson struts and a multilink rear, isn’t ideal for anyone with loose fillings, a sore back or recently depiled bum. It’s a jiggly ride, feeling almost like the princess and the pea with every grain of sand being transmitted through the suspension to the cabin, with the 245 tyres covering some acreage. The Evo was also a three pedaller, this time via a five speed manual….this counted gravely in the economy stakes and made no sense with the torque available to twist a overdriven sixth. The shift is short, positive, with a ratchety snick into gear being felt. The clutch was surprisingly light but matching the pickup point with the throttle did prove to be somewhat a juggling act. Acceleration, unsurprisingly, is blistering, leaving your eyeballs at the starting point as it rips to 100 kmh in around five seconds.
There’s some serious mumbo from both engines; 184kW/360 Nm (5500rpm/2000-4500rpm) for the blue oval and 217kW/366 Nm (6500rpm/3500rpm) for the tri-diamond which will either sip or drain the tanks (62L vs 55L) depending on how often you sip the welly. With fuel becoming more expensive by the second, it’s somewhat worrying that the Evo ‘s economy, isn’t with the Ford easily sitting around the 8L/100km and the Evo getting nowhere the the ADR mandated 10L/100km. The range to empty counter also seemes more flexible than the Ford, with numbers fluctuating by up to sixty kilometres. With a difference of just seven litres capacity potentially offering an extra 90 kilometres for the Focus, the Evo’s range to empty seemed to diminish a whole lot quicker than what it should.
Although not quite an apples for apples comparison, it’s near enough to say that, for A Wheel Thing, the better ride of the Ford, the extra boot space, the economy, the slightly more sensible starting system overcomes the busy buttons on the dash and steering wheel. The Evolution stays true to its origins, which is not a bad thing, with a reputation of being hard edged and dramatically styled being only slightly diluted in the X. The relative lack of economy plus a massive price differential ($42400 d/a vs $66300 as tested), a five speed versus the Ford’s six speed, the undramatic interior lower the excitement factor just a little too much. There’s a car for every buyer and a buyer for every car; in this case the heart turns blue, with an imprint of three diamonds.