By Zack Klapman.
Casting for Roles in the Hot Hatch Game; this test includes two cars that broke new ground for their respective OEMs. Ford came back into the hot hatch game with the Focus ST, and I must say, well done. Fast, cheap, comfortable, with a smart front diff that sticks the front, rotates the back.
The 2013 Volvo C30 Polestar also deserves champagne. This is the first time Volvo has sold a model bearing the tuning company’s (Polestar) name. Polestar ran Volvo’s racing division for decades, now they’re in dealerships. The badge promises a faster, more driving-oriented Volvo. I like this idea.
I got 5 on it. The 2013 Ford Focus ST is a 5-door hatch, so it has more space than the Volvo, but it’s no pig. With an Ecoboost inline-4 turbo producing 247HP and 270 ft-lbs down low, it’s equally fast to 60MPH as the C30. The engine is pretty much without fault, delivering lots of speed when asked, and a frugal 32MPG to boot.
It also turns in faster, sticks better, and has better much better steering feel. Left-foot braking rotates the back, and on highway cruises the long-ish springs soak up bumps. You do feel more “on” it than “in” in, but this grocery getter has a delicious naughty streak.
The cabin is clearly targeting young-ish people. The panels are leather and soft plastic, but their design looks like the panels on a Transformer; angles and pieces laying together, waiting to turn into a robot.
But you can’t deny the quality and usability. All the computing power of a NASA shuttle, for only $24,495. Add SYNC and NAV, and it peaks at $29k, just beyond where the Volvo starts. Ford’ went into a market dominated by GTIs and WRXes (and the occasional MSP3), under-cut them, and emerged on top.
Nice butcher shop, but where’s the meat? The C30 was Volvo’s Mini Cooper fighter, but the Mini couldn’t be stopped. We’d fallen for the bug-eyed Brit. Didn’t help that the C30’s front looked exactly like every Volvo parked at a Pre-K.
It’s been re-designed since then, and ours had the R-Design option ($2,400), which looked very trick. It seems to lean forward, ready.
The engine is the same Inline-5 turbo as the regular C30, but with a Polestar power bump (+23 HP, +37 torque). It pulls harder with each gear and feels as smooth as an oil pipeline. Despite the extra cylinder, it makes almost identical power to the Ford. Someone is sandbagging, or there’s more in this engine. Methinks both.
Inside is standard Volvo. It’s very clean, very neat, like a perfectly manicured lawn, or a simple smoking room. The materials are high-grade, the blacks and aluminum look nice, but nothing separates it from other Volvos, and the center stack is like a pile of Chiclets below a calculator screen.
With a 6-speed manual and a bunch of “R” badges, you’d think this would be a truly energetic 3-door, but sadly it’s not. The steering is numb, the pedals have the resistance of a vacuum, and the grip ends much earlier than you expect. Fully-loaded its $35k, which is nearing a JCW Mini, which has enough grip for two cars. For all the flares and badging, it left me disappointed on anything beyond a normal commuter route.
A hot hatch should be: A. Practical, B. Exciting. The Ford is better at both. Nice as it feels on the road (and it does), the Polestar/R-Design facelift is just too expensive for its shortcomings.