For Ford, RS is a badge that cannot be treated lightly. The weight of expectation for a new RS model is always immense. The last car to wear the Rallye Sport badge was the last generation Focus. It packed 300hp but was only front wheel drive. Purists were frustrated that the road going version of the Rally car did not drive all four wheels. Luckily Ford have listened and this new Focus RS promises to raise the game and break the mould.
This time built to sell world-wide and not a reflection of their Rally entries (new Ford Rally Cars are almost all Fiestas now), the new RS is the Jewel in the crown for Ford Performance until the GT hits the streets. Ford set out a clear mandate for the RS, it must be fast, fun and AWD. The fast bit is covered by a 2.3L EcoBoost engine from the Mustang but with 345hp. It drives all four wheels but up to 70% of the power can be sent to the rear wheels. 0-62 is despatched in a frankly insane 4.7 secs. All without the benefit of a super-fast flappy paddle gearbox. You don’t have to go back too far to find slower Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s.
To help with the fun element, Ford brought in their consultant tyre slayer, Ken Block of internet fame. Ken’s Expertise in getting a car to do silly skids and spins was used to develop the now-famous ‘drift mode’. This allows even the most ham-fisted individual to get the car all kinds of sideways. To satisfy the AWD requirement, Ford developed a bespoke drivetrain for the RS but one unlike most in it class. The system can send up to 70% of the power to the rear and up to 100% of that power to either side.
Focus RS Performance
It will come as no surprise, the Focus RS is fast, really fast. That 0-60 time only tells part of the story. In gear the RS’ acceleration is ferocious. There is actually some lag on depress of the right pedal, but it only serves to add to the drama. Where cars like the Golf R are very fast but sort of uneventful, the RS feels frenetic. It urges you to wring every last horse from the 2.3l EcoBoost whenever possible. Unfortunately, this means the RS will get through quite a lot of fuel unless you have the restraint of a monk.
Launching the RS from standstill is as epic as you may think but what amazes me is how it launches on loose gravel. There is some initial wheel spin but it’s like you are being fired out of sling shot. The acceleration feels almost as rapid as it does on tarmac. Point to point there isn’t much that would keep up with the RS.
In the current climate, the manual gearbox seems an odd choice as most of the RS’ key rivals have super-fast double clutch gear-boxes. Ford wanted the RS to be fun. They wanted it to be a drivers car. They weren’t chasing numbers. The RS had to be more than a set of stats on a page. A manual gearbox ensures the driver feels part of the process. It isn’t one of the best ‘boxes to shift through but it is far from the worst. Changes are light yet accurate and it suits the nature of the car perfectly.
Focus RS Ride and Handling
If you’re looking to waft down the road then stop reading now, the RS isn’t for you. The RS is a fast car, and as you would expect, it has a firm ride. That being said it isn’t harsh at all. It is perfectly usable day to day and comfortable on a long journey. My first experience of the car was a 200 mile round trip and the car barely broke a sweat. So the RS does exactly what a Hot Hatch should do, it works in the real world. That is not to say say it is boring. It is far from boring.
That four wheel drive platform coupled with sticky Michelin tyres means the Focus RS has grip in spades. You can barrel into a corner and floor it out. Every time with a huge grin on your face. Engage sport mode and the steering & throttle sweeten for maximum enjoyment on the road. For sadistic types, you can press a little button on the end of one of the stalks to firm up the suspension. Personally I’d say never do this on the road. It ruins the balance. It is there for the smooth tarmac of race tracks. Not the unforgiving broken British road network.
Focus RS Drift Mode
By far the most talked about thing is the drift mode. Friends and strangers alike have come up to me and asked if I’d tried it. So in the interests of journalism I found an empty patch of abandoned runway and did my best Ken Block impression.
Selecting it is as simple as hitting the drive mode button and selecting drift mode. The idea is that you turn in, mash the throttle and the car does the rest of the work. You may not be solely responsible for the sideways action that ensues but it is no doubt a lot of fun.
As we didn’t have a wide open track I couldn’t fully exploit the mode but regardless I was able to do things I’ve never done in a hatch back. Drifts, donuts, you name it, the RS will give it a go. It feels more like a rear wheel drive car. Simply put, it is superb fun. However, if you want to own one, find a best friend who works in a tyre garage won’t you..
Focus RS Looks and Styling
The new Focus RS has dived opinion when it comes to looks. Fans of the old car say it doesn’t look aggressive enough, others think it looks superb. I fall into the latter. The car has so much presence and attitude from the front but almost blends into the background from the side. Its stance is a little awkward from the rear three quarters but it’s a small criticism of what is overall a good looking car.
Although the Nitrous Blue of our test car looks superb and is a stunning colour, I think I’d spec a more subtle shade if I wanted it on my driveway. The attention the car gets in this colour is immense and finding it in a car park is a breeze, I just wonder if it is too much to live with every day.
Focus RS Interior
Inside the RS is 90% normal Focus. Rivals such as the Audi RS3 and Mercedes A45 AMG will feel infinitely more special but are significantly more expensive. The latest Focus dash is not bad though. It is less cluttered than previous generations and is well put together. It doesn’t feel expensive but suits the car well. The extra dials on top of the dash have become a requirement on a fast Focus.
Technology and infotainment isn’t lacking either. Ford’s SYNC system works well and will benefit from an upgrade to version 3 very soon. The navigation is simple to use and easily followed. The stereo sounds good regardless of what music is pumped through the speakers from either your phone, DAB or memory stick.
Our test car came fitted with optional Recaro seats. A must have option if you ask me. They not only look great but strike that balance between support under harsh cornering and comfort. In the back you’ll find decent leg room and plenty of space for two normal adults. The only let down is the boot. It is substantially smaller than a normal Focus thanks to the extra differential driving the rear wheels.
Ford Focus RS Review Conclusion
Ford know a thing or two about making fast cars for normal people. The Focus RS is another great example what they are capable of. It is a supercar for the masses. There are better built cars out there and the slower Focus ST is more practical but for extracting maximum fun and performance whilst still being able to do the school run, the Focus cannot be beaten.
The Focus RS is far from perfect but I’d have one over an AMG and spend the change on a few nice holidays, some track time and plenty of tyres to exploit that epic drift mode.