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Ford Focus ST, Opel Astra OPC, Renault Mégane R.S. Compact athletes put to the test

Rossen Gargolov
Ford Focus ST, Opel Astra OPC, Renault Mégane RS
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Z and also afford Ford , Opel and Renault partly very elaborately knitted undercarriages. But which development department has the Focus ST, Astra OPC and Mégane R.S. done the best job? In Great Britain countless miles of kitsch-drenched coastal roads wind their way along the island's edges, in Switzerland endless strips of asphalt screw up the Alpine passes - and the people of the country appreciate this gift by happily reaching for sporty, pointed compact cars. They romp through their refuge given by nature and the road construction authorities, seemingly completely ignoring the currently omnipresent moral CO2 index finger.

Renault and Ford with a significant increase in performance

And the Germans? Regardless of the equally beautiful roads, they prefer to use mildly motorized diesel variants. It's a shame, some of the most attractive representatives of the so-called hot hatches category fall off the production lines between Füssen and Flensburg. VW Golf GTI and R are just getting fresher, but Opel Astra OPC and Ford Focus ST have just put on a new look, and even underneath, almost nothing has remained the same. And our French neighbors drive the facelifted Renault Mégane R.S. at, which now sends 265 instead of 250 hp to the front wheels.

With the model change, the performance of the Ford Focus ST also increased. Its predecessor still got by with 225 hp, which a charismatic five-cylinder squeezed hoarse seething from its combustion chambers. Now a 250 hp four-cylinder from the Eco Boost family works under the hood, made entirely of aluminum and compressed at 9.3: 1.

Just as well as these key data sounds, the engine also starts working. So was everything better in the past? No, not really. Although the maximum torque of 360 Newton meters is only available at 2,000 revolutions, the twin-scroll charger fills up turbo holes with a steady build-up of pressure and doesn't let go up to 4,500 rpm.

Ford Focus ST with a fantastically composed soundscape

But even if the torque curve drops again, the ambition of the four-cylinder continues - at least up to around 5,800 rpm, above which the revving pleasure drops despite the short-stroke design noticeable. So the Ford wants to be moved with the power of its Newton meters, quickly asking for the next higherits six cleverly spread gears. However, the engineers should still work a little on the guidance of the easy-to-use gearshift lever, because especially when shifting down quickly, it only crouches with difficulty in the intended alley.

Further suggestions for improvement will follow later, but first kudos: The sound engineers should be named Employee of the Month - at least. Yes, the sound is synthetically amplified, but it would easily win any naturally aspirated engine imitation competition.

As if the intake tract were attached directly to the headrest of the driver's seat, the direct injection, charged with up to 1.4 bar, seems to be snorkeling greedily for air - throaty, deep, thrilling. And as long as it goes straight ahead, the performance of the Focus coincides with the magnificent acoustics.

In the sprint from zero to 100 km /h it undercuts the factory specification by two tenths with a time of 6.3 seconds, and only in the speed ranges above does the 1,461 kg Ford have to pull the lighter and more powerful Renault to let.

Helplessly understeering, the focus approaches the first curve

If the first curves emerge on the horizon - whatever Whether on the British coast, the Swiss Alps or the Rhenish Plain - the big appearance of the chassis, which was rightly cheered on by the two previous generations, should now follow. Sportier designed springs and dampers on the front axle as well as larger steering knuckles and newly designed anti-roll bars at the rear lift the ST setup from the base.

In addition, the engineers recalibrated the electric power steering and gave the ESP three steps to take with it: on, dynamic and off. Sports seats bought from Recaro with a generous portion of lateral support and the overall satisfactory ergonomics complete the lateral dynamics package.

But while the seats keep their promises, and the steering implements the driver's commands promptly and reliably, the chassis cannot keep up. The Ford pushes helplessly understeer into the first bend in order to suddenly send the rear towards the outer edge of the bend when the gas is reduced. Even after a few driving tests with different tire pressures, the severity of the load change reactions does not decrease.

Desperate whining from safety vest wearers and hazard warning lights addicts? No don't worry Such indifferent self-steering behavior, however, torpedoed every fast lap, which the times on the small circuit in Hockenheim confirm. Here, even the Opel, which has turned out to be rather clumsy at just under 1.6 tons, takes a second off the Ford.

Ford Focus with moderate traction

Part of the blame for the difference is also the moderate traction of the Focus, which is known as only desTrios have to do without a mechanical limited-slip differential. The ST leaves a somewhat unfinished impression, as if humorless controllers pulled the handbrake early on.

At the moment, hardly anyone would suspect this special manager species with a manufacturer other than Opel. Nevertheless, Volker Strycek, head of the Opel Performance Center (OPC), was given far more freedom in developing the Astra top model than in a standard marriage. A weight reduction was not possible, but a chassis with differently arranged torsion elements and 35 percent harder rubber bearings on the rear axle as well as a particularly powerful engine.

Opel Astra OPC is the strongest of the trio with 280 PS

With its 280 PS and the maximum torque of 400 Newton meters, it puts its competitors in the bag and thus also cheats itself with the power-to-weight ratio 5.6 kg /PS is just about midfield. So the bigger the surprise: The two-door model, equipped with 245 /40-19 wheels, snaps one turn after the other without hesitation, builds up similar high lateral forces as the Mégane and impresses with its high mechanical grip.

As the tire temperature increases, the self-steering behavior shifts from neutral towards understeer, but then remains constant at a tolerable level. Load change reactions? How is that spelled the same way? The Astra is the only one of the three to use adaptive dampers, which have a roll /tip control. Never heard? This function is intended to increase the compression level during rebound in order to bring more calm to the car during compression - for example when robbing the curbs.

When the asphalt meanders through the landscape as wonderfully as it does in Hockenheim, the dampers are welcome to work in the dust-dry OPC mode. On moderately maintained country roads, the sport level represents the best compromise, and the standard setting gives the Opel - incidentally - the best driving comfort of all three test subjects.

Hydraulic steering in the Astra OPC

But back to the ideal line: Here the driver gets the greatest possible support from the direct and communicative steering, which however fails to ignore drive influences. By the way: Compared to all other Astra variants, Opel has given the OPC a hydraulic instead of the less precise electromechanical design. A blemish remains, however, because it hardens in slalom.

The brakes, on the other hand, do not show any weaknesses, which, unlike the Ford, shoulder the torture of the racetrack with constant deceleration and an almost unchanged pressure point, thus enabling precise braking on corners. Less precise: the gearbox. Here the Opel is plagued by similar problems as the Focus, so please improve it as soon as possible.

As anotherParallels between the two opponents crystallize in the apparently great ambition in sound tuning. Not only the occupants, but also the audience, the Astra grabs firmly by the ears with its bassy, ​​downright threatening hiss - applause from the scene. The developers also paid great attention to another important detail. The somewhat martial-looking, 900 Euro expensive bucket seats offer first-class seating comfort, i.e. optimal support even for tall drivers and unyielding lateral support.

Renault Mégane R.S. engine with the best revving power

Even the Mégane won't let the driver and front passenger out of its clutches so quickly, provided they have also ordered the Cup package. In addition to the not quite as versatile adjustable bucket seats as in the Opel, this also includes the limited-slip differential.

The actual model upgrade measures can be ticked off quickly: Subtle optical retouching with a careful Formula 1 context on the front, a new wheel design - done. The French achieve the aforementioned increase in performance by increasing the boost pressure from 1.25 to 1.5 bar and promise that 80 percent of the maximum torque can be accessed from 1900 rpm.

In fact, the Renault - similar to the Ford - unfolds its performance comparatively harmoniously, because the Opel still does not want to completely shed the classic at-3,000-comes-the-turbo-hammer attitude.

The two-liter engine of the Mégane, however, stands out from the other two with the most committed revving, but places less emphasis on pointed expression.

Renault Mégane wins the comparison

Doesn't matter, because at the latest in the cross clip it becomes clear: The Frenchman is the very casual lecturer in the advanced seminar handling, achieved thanks to the combination of the best power to weight ratio and elaborate chassis with the steering axle decoupled from the springs /damper units, maximum cornering speeds.

As usual, the ESP avoids any heckling if the driver so wishes. Why should he? The Renault communicates to him at any time via the extended back and fingertips. Similar to the Opel, the Frenchman offers the almost perfect seating position, just a few millimeters too high, perhaps.

However, the relentlessly hard-sprung two-door car does not allow its occupants to take on other comfort escapades. Just as unyielding: the tireless decelerating brake. With a little practice, the basically neutral Mégane on the brakes lets the rear end just a little way into the next bend that it benefits one or the other driving style in order to set new personal bests. But even without this trick he is at the top of the podium, albeit with both lap times and acceleration valuesare behind the results of earlier models.

All three test candidates are allowed to blame the midsummer temperatures on the day of measurement. Maybe the test should have taken place on the British coast or in the Swiss Alps - it would have been cooler there.

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