Filed under: 2001 Ford Focus (Slow-cus)

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My experience in such matters is fairly limited as yet, but I'm still amazed at how much of a difference it makes driving a different car for a while. When I first got my Focus, I'd been driving a J-reg Polo, which was hardly sprightly (55bhp) new, and even less so 100k miles later.

As such, the Focus felt quite quick. While this gradually wore off, I didn't especially feel it (or rather I) was wanting for more power - it seemed adequate. I was under no delusion that it was a performance machine, but it didn't seem excessively underpowered and the engine felt lively enough.

Three weeks of Saab 9000 ownership later, and the Focus feels utterly, glacially, slow when I get back in it. Foot to the floor in 1st, 2nd, 3rd gear. Where is the power? Where's that surge of acceleration as the turbo kicks in and the boost gauge swings round towards the red, the steering wheel writhing in my hands? It feels like someone's stolen half the engine, and before too long I'm at the redline wondering when anything's going to happen!

Granted, a 19-year old Saab is only moderately quick by today's standards, and the way it delivers its power probably makes it feel quicker than it really is, but it still feels in a different league to the Focus performance-wise. Perhaps most striking is the difference in 5th gear, as the two cars are geared remarkably closely - at motorway speeds both are doing about 3000rpm.

Floor the Focus in 5th on the motorway, and there's no sensation of acceleration. The speedo needle gradually moves, but that's about it. Floor the Saab and it really picks up and surges forwards as the boost rises. On paper it's a good 10 seconds quicker to 100mph than the Focus, and it really shows.

I can but imagine what a tuned 9000 Aero (225bhp stock) must be like, but maybe one day I'll find out as for reasons I can't quite fathom, the insurance on an early one is barely any more than I pay on the Focus!

Despite all that, the Saab does show where the Focus is strong. It's probably as much to do with my particular Saab as anything else, but driving the Focus smoothly, with it's light clutch and slick, tight gearchange requires very little effort. It's quiet, nothing rattles, everything works, no fuss. The way it deals with corners and roundabouts is far more confidence-inspiring too. Having driven the same roads day after day this summer, there's very little difference in the sort of overall pace each will maintain.

The difference is the Focus feels utterly planted and solid, limited mainly by visibility, lack of acceleration and eventually what is legal and/or sensible on the road. The Saab on the other hand feels far more uncertain - not edgy like a powerful RWD car (or a twitchy French hatchback) might be, just far less glued to the road. Cheap tyres and aged suspension don't help either, I'm sure. Driving it in the wet requires serious restraint to avoid rampant wheelspin, torque-steer and understeer!

I'm sure something will come along to completely re-calibrate my sense of acceleration again (Matt's kit-car would be a good start ;)), for now I shall continue to enjoy the seemingly relentless surge in third and fourth gear accompanied by Radio 4 and all manner of other strange noises....