Performance Tuner - March '08
Morego's new take on the Focus ST produces a stunning 350bhp and 380lb ft and nearly cracks 160mph, but does the extra grunt add to the car's broad appeal?
Words: Peter Knivett Photos: David Wigmore
Let me get one thing absolutely clear – I like the Focus ST, as its blend of big, hairy-chested ex-Volvo five pot turbo motor, friendly chassis, good equipment and tempting £17,495 price tag make it one of the Blue Oval's finest recent offerings. Pleasingly, it's not only a desirable hot hatch, it's also a highly tuneable one, hence the steady stream of increasingly high powered STs emerging from a Ford tuning industry that's finally emerging from its post-Cosworth slump.
And while some of these ST offerings are good, some are exceptional. One that fell firmly into the latter camp was Brackley-based Morego's version (driven in PT2), which raised the ST's power from 222bhp to a torquey and driveable 280bhp. Allied to a supple, effective chassis package it upped the Focus's ante nicely. Now Morego's back for another crack at tweaking its way to the perfect ST, with a car that boasts 350bhp. But the question is, does this extra grunt make for a better drive? I certainly hope so, because this Focus ST conversion costs the thick end of £9394.12, so what exactly do you get for your money?
Plenty, as it turns out, because Morego's 'Phase Three' package features a well developed engine and chassis makeover. Under the bonnet the 2.5-litre Duratec inline five cylinder motor remains standard internally, but the biggest mechanical change engineered by Morego is a bespoke hybrid turbocharger, which replaces the standard Borg Warner KKK blower that runs out of puff much over 300bhp. Morego's Garrett unit features a ball bearing centre cartridge and has been carefully specified through engine dyno testing to improve pick up times over the standard unit. In turn, because the stock blower is cast into the factory ST exhaust manifold, Morego has fabricated a stainless steel replacement that repositions the turbocharger for optimum flow, whilst providing enough bulkhead clearance to avoid any heat soak issues with hydraulic lines. As part of this process, the ports are carefully matched between the manifold and the cylinder head to maximise flow efficiency. Interestingly, Morego's Neil Mckay points out that Morego has developed the manifold and turbo upgrade so that it can slot onto the Mondeo 2.5, plus the S-Max, which opens up even more tuning possibilities for these other five cylinder turbo Ford models.
But back to the ST. Mechanically, that's about it on the motor, but Morego pays plenty of attention to the inline five Duratec's breathing. This particular car is in Morego's 'Track Pack' specification (an extra £2109.12) so in addition to the Phase Three parts it features a larger replacement alloy intercooler that fills the width of the lower grille to really pin the charge temperatures down. According to Morego's data it's not strictly necessary even with 350bhp on tap, as the standard intercooler can still cope without breaking sweat, hence the option status.
Inlet-wise the stock air filter is junked for a high flow panel item, allied to Morego's well proven carbonfibre 'ECU Derestrictor' which repositions the ST's brain allowing more cool air to be sucked into the Ford airbox. On the fuelling front Morego's Neil Mckay and Dave Brodie have uprated the Focus's abilities, but they'd rather keep that confidential right now, so your guess is as good as mine, but the injectors are replaced, as is the mass air flow sensor. All of which means the underbonnet appearance of this Focus ST looks understated and stealthy, which speaking personally, is just how I like it.
Meanwhile burnt gasses are expelled through a Primary Designs stainless steel exhaust system, featuring a sports catalyst and twin 4 inch round tailpipes, which neatly integrate with the ST's bumper apertures for a subtle, factory look. Finally, there's a large amount of remapping involved to get the ECU to work with the revised components, torque limiters are removed in the lower gears and the boost is set to a modest 1.2 bar maximum.
Ultimately, the numbers Morego has achieved are sensational as this Focus ST produces a stonking 350bhp at 6200rpm, some 128bhp up on the factory power output. Significantly this is allied to a V8-like 380lb ft of twist, a staggering increase of 144lb ft over standard. This figure is available everywhere between 3400 and 5200rpm, so that's a wide spread of torque by anyone's standards which promises great driveability. Crucially Morego's ST pulls 0.5 bar of boost at 2800rpm, while the 300bhp barrier is crossed at just 5000rpm. Morego's Dave Brodie reckons that the 400bhp mark was breached during dyno testing, but this involved a cam swap and internal changes, so Morego turned the wick down to improve useability and trim the costs. Even so, with 350bhp on tap and accounting for the ST's hefty 1392 kilo mass, Morego's Phase Three package promises a sensational 251bhpper- tonne – within spitting distance of an Evo IX FQ-340. Hmmm.
Yet unlike Morego's Focus, the Mitsubishi has one massive advantage in its four-wheel-drive system, whereas the ST is a humble front-driver. And even though it's a good 'un, you can't escape the laws of physics, so how does Morego hope to contain this vast grunt through the ST's steered wheels? A quick glance at this ST reveals an aggressive stance and indeed it's running the same Morego developed lowering spring kit that attracted our praise on the 280bhp car. Ditto Morego's 'Powergrip' front suspension, which uses modified front arms to give 1.5 degrees of negative camber and widens the front track by 20mm to quell understeer during spirited cornering. In addition, as part of the Track Pack upgrade this ST runs a Quaife automatic torque biasing helical gear limited slip differential, which should help maximise traction by reducing wheelspin and is a well proven device. Even so, will it consign Morego's super ST into the 'torque-steering nightmare' category?
Settle into the cosseting standard interior and on start up you're greeted by a muted throb from the twin exhausts, as the inline five cylinder engine settles into a steady tickover. Once you're on the move the low speed tractability impresses, as for all the ST's on-paper firepower, it's as driveable – if not more driveable – than the standard version, with no nasty habits both at pottering speeds or on part throttle. So far, so good.
Squeeze the loud pedal harder and Morego's Focus delivers a genuinely surprising wall of mid-range urge that dispatches the intermediate gears rapidly, pulling strongly even from under 2500rpm in sixth, making it perfect even when you're feeling lazy with the lever. The real fun starts at this point, as the Morego ST's engine note moves up tempo while the exhaust does a passable impression of a Quattro Sport and the Focus delivers a massive surge of power, hauling down the road with shattering pace, hitting 100mph without breaking sweat.
There's really serious grunt on tap here, that takes some getting used to as it's way beyond expectations, being vastly quicker than any tuned Focus ST I've sampled to date, because above 4000rpm right up to the 7000rpm limiter it's jaw-droppingly quick. Indeed it launches out of bends and fires down the straights, the turbo spooling it up instantly, with impressive response and no sign of lag as you frantically try to keep thinking ahead of the car.
Happily it's not a torque-steering monster though; quite the opposite in fact, as this ST handles this enormous grunt extremely well. With the traction control on, flooring your right foot out of a bumpy bend sees the dash light flash on as the front tyres and the Quaife diff work overtime to contain the massive amount of torque, but there's no snatch, pulling or unpleasantness at all, as it's astonishingly well mannered. Turn the electronic safety net off and there's a slight wriggle through your hands under full bore acceleration, but considering the amount of squirt on tap it's amazingly benign – reinforcing the impression that the whole Morego package is refined, cohesive and well thought out, building upon the ST's inherent qualities, whilst upping its firepower into the sensational territory.
And this was hammered home by the performance figures achieved at the Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground. Two up, running Super Unleaded fuel and using our Vbox timing equipment, the Morego Phase Three Focus ST clocked a stunning 5.3 seconds to 60mph and smoked to the magic ton in just 11.1, comfortably demolishing the stock car's respective times of 6.7 and 16.3. That's quick enough to 60mph to shade a £39,160 Porsche Boxster S, while the 100mph time is ahead of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage! What's staggering is that it did so with ease, without melting its tyres, because Morego's chassis tweaks and the clever Quaife limited slip diff seem to have endowed this ST with serious amounts of traction. More remarkably, on Bruntingthorpe's 1.7-mile straight the Morego ST hit a storming 159.7mph, eclipsing the standard car by 15mph and creaming every Evo this side of an FQ-400; it means that Porsche Caymans are fair game. In fact unless you know better and can prove otherwise, you're looking at the fastest road legal Focus ST in the UK…
Then there's the price. As tested, Morego's Phase Three conversion plus the Track Pack options weighs in at a hefty £11,503.24 fitted, which on top of the £17,495 asking price for a new Focus puts this ST well into Impreza STI territory. So what would I rather have? Well, given the effortless performance on tap, allied to the sheer pleasure of driving this beast fast, I reckon the Morego ST still represents a good bang for the buck, particularly if you can find a decent pre-owned example to use as the base car. Which means that while I might like the standard Focus ST, I really love the Morego version – and despite the costs, so will you.