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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 January 2019

A message to Ford: why are you killing the Focus in the Middle East?

We drive its hot-hatch variant, the ST, to see what we will be missing after the imminent demise of the Focus

Sometimes it is hard to understand the rationale behind the decisions taken by big bosses at car companies. Case in point: the Ford Focus is about to be ditched. Not by Ford worldwide, but it will no longer be available in our market. Err, what?

Dealerships seem baffled by the decision, as would almost any civilian paying attention while traversing the UAE. By all anecdotal evidence they sell well, and you certainly happen across plenty of examples of Ford’s small family car every day.

And that is without debating why on earth the powers that be at Ford did not see fit to bring the ultimate Focus pocket rocket, the 350hp RS, to these shores. We never were able to hit 0-to-100kph in 4.7 seconds; speed limits allowing, it can continue on to 265kph. It has a “drift” mode – that is a regular riot, right there. But no, no, let’s not allow anyone to have fun here. Earlier this year, Ford Middle East told The National that the Focus RS “is not suitable for the weather conditions here”. Party poopers.

My first car when I arrived in the UAE in 2011 was a Ford Focus. Scratch that: my first two cars here were Ford Focuses. The initial one, a rental car I had picked up about a month into my time in the country, was more or less written off by an inattentive driver in Dubai who rear-ended away half of the boot. That Focus was the ugly saloon in silver and the upside of that shunt was that the car was replaced the next day by a much more agreeable black hatchback – the only shape in which Focuses should be born.

They also happened to be the first automatic cars I had driven. During my formative driving years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, manual was king in my native England. The rental company had to patiently show me how to put it in gear. So there is a nice cyclical feel to the fact that now, almost eight years on, the final fling I am enjoying with a Focus in the Emirates is the antithesis of auto-gearbox highway cruising.

The Focus ST contains about as many thrills and spills as you can buy for a starting price of Dh104,895. I’m going to pin my colours to the mast early doors, too: for sheer simple pleasures, it was possibly my favourite car to drive during 2018.

The true joy of hot hatches has always been as cheeky urban-warrior versions of distinctly ordinary motors; angry older-brother tearaways that are capable of embarrassing most other motorists off the traffic lights and generally dash around in a mildly hooliganistic manner. And the front-wheel-drive ST is perfect for such pursuits, in that its nippy 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine, with 250hp, isn’t so fast that you will be catapulting into lamp posts and other street furniture.

It fulfils the definition of a street sleeper – unlike the RS’s shouty spoilers and skirts, aside from its badging, the ST shows little from the outside that screams: “Oi, I’m well sporty, me.” But dropping down a ratio on the six-speed gearbox to punt the RS through traffic is a joy that never seems to get old.

Inside, there are plenty of clues to its racy credentials, however, not least the three small dials (left to right, oil temperature, boost pressure and oil pressure) that sit proudly atop the dashboard.

The Recaro racing seats shouldn’t work in a colour scheme of black and yellow, but rather than evoking a squashed bumblebee, the pops of colour have a real rallying feel to them.

My pick of interior features is nothing to do with the ST’s sportiness, though. The adjustable cup holder in the centre console is a godsend for anybody who has endured the standard frustration in many cars of losing your bottle of water across the cabin after negotiating a mild corner – usually because the spaces were seemingly designed for Super Size Me-level gulp cups. The small piece of moveable hard plastic probably costs mere dirhams, but is worth every fils.

Ford’s Sync system has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, making the infotainment system clear and easy to use even when you first jump into the ST. In a motoring world increasingly averse to physical dials and knobs, it’s nice to have volume and AC controls that you can turn, rather than risk taking your eyes off the road to use the touchscreen. And Ford remains my personal choice for common-sense steering wheels – everything you need is within easy radius of your thumbs, from cruise control and limiter to fast-forwarding your music. Rain-sensing windscreen wipers also mean that you don’t necessarily have to reach for that particular steering-column stalk.

Next week, we will reveal The National’s Car of the Year – and the Focus ST is on the longlist. So, Ford, if you’re reading this, we urge you to have a rethink. Because, unless there is an awfully exciting new model around the corner to fill the vacuum that is about to be left after the ­Focus’s departure from the region, you are kicking yourself where it hurts by killing it now.

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