EVO - March '06
Morego BBR – ST280
Can the already stonking Focus ST really be improved? Morego reckons so and Peter Knivett drives the result.
“All credit to the Focus ST, because after the patchy effort that was the Focus RS, it’s shown the world that the Ford hasn’t lost the ability to produce hot versions of the UK’s family favourite, heavy as it may be. Indeed, thanks to its combination of charismatic, lusty five-cylinder turbo motor, competent chassis, sharp looks and keen £17,495 price tag we’re big fans of the Focus ST here at Performance Tuner. It seems we’re not alone either, because Ford UK is selling twice as many ST’s as VW UK is Golf GTI’s, which begs the question – with a standard car this good, why modify it?
Happily, the folks at Brackley-based tuning specialists Morego have an answer with this, their Focus ‘ST280,’ which as the name suggests, boasts rather more firepower than the stock example. Okay, that might answer the first part of the ‘why tune it?’ equation, because despite packing an engine that’s blessed with a noise to die for and ample torque, the 222bhp ST tips the scales at a hefty 1392 kilos. That’s 88 kilos more than a 227bhp Escort RS Cosworth, which, lest we forget, boasted a heavy four wheel drive system to lug around, whereas the majority of the ST’s bulk seems to come from it’s weighty ex-Volvo powertrain. Tellingly, this reflects in the standard ST’s 16.3 second 0-100mph figure, which is a full 1.4 seconds slower than Ford’s less powerful – but lighter – Focus RS.
Also, I rather doubt the Ford’s 150mph top speed claim, as one press car I drove struggled to clock more than 144mph, even on the wide open expanses of Bruntingthorpe’s two mile straight. Why is this? Well, the Mk2 Focus has a larger frontal area than the previous version, meaning it takes more power to punch it through the air, particularly at higher speeds. In part if you do some sums and you’ll realise that the stock ST’s engine produces a slightly underwhelming 88bhp per litre – far below the Focus RS’s 106bhp per litre output. So if we add these factors together and we’ve built a pretty good case for tweaking the ST’s motor, have we not?
But that’s not all, because unfortunately that weighty five-pot ST engine exposes another chink in the Focus’s armour – its handling balance. At modest speeds it’s connected, neutral, fluid and planted, but push harder and the heavy 20-valve Duratec makes its presence felt as the ESP kicks in to stop the ST understeering off into the bushes. Okay, that’s safe for the masses, but it’s downright frustrating for committed pilots, particularly trackday fans, because switching the ESP off or adding damp tarmac simply makes the situation worse. Clearly, improvements here would be welcomed and on paper, apart from the horsepower hike, this weakness is exactly what Morego’s Focus ST280 claims to have licked.
But, let’s begin with the engine package. Morego’s efforts here have concentrated on ensuring the Duratec breathes properly, starting with the inlet side, which suffers from Ford’s decision to locate the base of ST’s Bosch ECU inside the airbox piping. This design works well to keep the Focus’s ‘brain’ cool, safe and protected, but it creates a serious restriction, because incoming air has to squeeze past the ECU and through a narrow section on the inlet trunking at this point.
To remove this bottleneck Morego has designed a moulded carbon fibre spacer that moves the ECU out of harm’s way, but, crucially, keeps the back of the unit exposed to the flow of cooling air. “It’s important to keep that flow of air otherwise the ECU starts getting hot,” says Morego’s Neil Mckay. “We did tests on the dyno to see how heatsoak would effect the ECU if it was taken out of this airflow and it was hitting 90 degrees C.” Longer term, this heat could pose a problem to the delicate circuitry within, so Morego’s bolt on inlet spacer is an easy to fit, elegant solution. An effective one too, because when used with a free flow air filter element Morego’s Neil Mckay reckons it’s worth 12bhp alone.
Incidentally, this power figure isn’t arrived at by chance, because Morego’s development has involved test running an ST engine on its own Superflow bench engine dyno to ensure realistic, repeatable results. “It’s the only way to find small but worthwhile power gains,” Mckay explains.
It’s no surprise that Morego’s ECU tweaks didn’t end there, because the ST’s ‘brain’ has been subject to comprehensive ‘Starchip’ reflash, with settings designed to suit the conversion. “We change the fuel, ignition and boost parameters,” says Mckay, “but we don’t run much more boost than standard.” This restraint is due to the ST’s small Borg-Warner KKK04 turbocharger, which is great for low down response and torque, but limits the amount of outright boost it can run. Indeed Mckay reckons that turning the boost up much beyond this level merely produces heatsoak, as the turbo starts to overspeed.
Talking of temperatures, while many tweaked ST’s run larger aftermarket intercoolers, Morego’s 280bhp conversion still runs the factory item. Surely, that’s a mistake given conventional wisdom would dictate that vital horsepower is being lost due to the inlet air charge being heated to dangerous levels by the extra boost that’s being run? Not so, according to Neil Mckay – “We’ve not seen inlet temperatures of more than about 40 degrees C on the road, so we can’t see the need to change it.”
But one major stock item that has been junked is the exhaust, being replaced by a smart looking Milltek stainless steel system running twin four inch round tailpipes. As with the inlet tweaks, this understated pipework fits neatly and discreetly, so much so that it requires a second glance to see what’s been changed, particular as it lines up with the clearance apertures in the bumper in a factory neat fashion. Pretty and it would seem, effective, because when used together with Morego’s other engine tweaks it helps hike the ST’s power output to 277bhp, allied to 301lb/ft of torque, which promises a quick, exciting ride.
Pleasingly, the remainder of Morego’s work has centred on fine tuning the ST’s chassis, with the twin goals of improving poise and handling balance. With that in mind, Morego tried six different sets of lowering springs before signing off the definitive slightly stiffer and subtly lower set, while the stock Ford dampers are left untouched. That done, Morego applied its now well proven ‘Powergrip’ modifications to the ST, which entailed modifying the front suspension wishbones to widen the track slightly and produce 1.5 degrees of negative camber. It’s a simple, classic motorsport style tweak that has few obvious drawbacks, other than possibly increase wear on the insides of the Continental tyres. And that’s that on the modifications front, which begs the question, how does the Morego ST280 perform?
Graphics aside, Morego’s ST280 certainly looks the part, as the ride height reduction and altered front geometry combine to produce an aggressive, purposeful stance. Twist the key and it’s clear that thanks to the Milltek system, the five-cylinder Duratec has found its voice, burbling away at tickover with a gorgeous, yet restrained offbeat warble.
Once underway it feels instantly more responsive to the throttle, with serious torque – and surprising urge – on tap from as little as 2500rpm. It’s refined too, because at 80mph in sixth with just 3,000rpm showing the exhaust note is barely audible, with just a hint of turbo whistle to accompany it. Work the engine above 4000rpm and the burble changes to a gutteral roar rising to a howl, as this Duratec is keen to rev, pulling to 7000rpm with Evo troubling thrust. That said, the spread of torque and progressive nature of the ST280’s power delivery means changing gear at a relaxing 4500rpm still produces serious pace, particularly as the Morego’s chassis changes have transformed the ST’s dynamics from frustrating to fabulous.
From the well-judged comfortable ride quality to the lack of noticeable roll during cornering, Morego’s Focus ST is beautifully compliant and composed, allowing you to attack wet and unfamiliar A and B roads with joyful verve, as bumps, lumps and cambers refuse to throw it off line. Pleasingly, the front geometry tweaks have produced ample front end grip that quells the dreaded understeer, which combines with a feelsome, talkative steering set up to enable seriously rapid easy progress, whether the ESP is switched on or off. Without a doubt, dynamically the Morego Focus ST is a big step forward.
Downsides? Granted, these goodies mean an extra £2338.24 to fork out on top of the ST’s £17.5K base price, which takes it perilously close to Impreza WRX territory, but there’s real long term involving entertainment value on offer here, which the base model Subaru arguably lacks. Also, there’s nothing to stop you fitting the Morego upgrades in a piecemeal fashion, as funds allow. So, money aside, I’ve racked my brains and drawn a blank on potential negatives. Nothing. Nada. None. Zilch.
Clearly while at first glance the case for tuning the ST might seem paper thin, Morego’s effective, good value tweaks prove the reverse is true, allowing our favourite Focus to really punch above it’s weight, with an exciting, stimulating, well rounded package that ticks all the boxes. All told then, it’s something of a triumph for Morego, who’s stock as a tuning company rises with every new conversion it unveils. And as for any performance hungry Focus ST owners out there – you know who to call…”
Engine 2521cc, in-line five cylinder, DOHC 20-valve Duratec, Morego inlet spacer and free flow panel air filter, Starchip ECU remap, Milltek stainless steel cat-back exhaust system with twin 4 inch round tailpipes.
Suspension Morego lowering springs, Morego ‘Powergrip’ front suspension including 20mm wider track and 1.5 degrees of negative camber.
Power 277bhp @ 6350rpm
Torque 301lb/ft @ 4100rpm
Price as tested: £2338.24 fitted, including VAT