£31,250 Price range
Motoring journalists tend to get excited when a new Ford Focus RS model is revealed, for good reason. The RS badge is famous for bringing rally-bred performance to your local Ford showroom, and in the past has adorned such four-wheeled delights as the Ford Escort RS Cosworth and the original Focus RS.
If anything, this new Focus RS has more in common with the picnic-table-winged Escort being, as it is, four-wheel drive. Power comes from a four-cylinder 2.3-litre petrol engine that also stars in the new Ford Mustang. It pumps out 350hp – helping make this the fastest Focus ever sold. If that seems like a small number, independent tuner Mountune can take it up to 375hp for £899.
Although the four-wheel-drive system is worthy of note, it’s what Ford has done with it that is really exciting. Instead of giving the Focus a super-planted setup, the firm’s gone the other way – using high-tech mechanicals and clever electronics to make the car easy to slide and, by virtue of this – a hoot to drive. It’s fun in a way that its accomplished rivals – the Audi RS3, Mercedes A45 AMG and Golf R – have never quite managed.
A comprehensive aero kit is tasked with ensuring your RS is never mistaken for the 1.5-litre diesel model driven by your elderly neighbour. It amounts to a deep front bumper, rear diffuser and boot-lid-mounted spoiler that not only looks good, but also helps with stability, while the gaping grille keeps the engine cooled.
What’s likely to be one of the RS model’s biggest lures is a price that undercuts all of its rivals – some by a considerable margin.
Check out the colour choices for the Ford Focus RS in our handy guide and have a look at our Ford Focus sizes and dimensions guide to see if it’ll fit into your life. If you’d like your hot hatch to come with even more power, check out the new Mountune 370hp upgrade option for the Focus RS.
If we were in an uber-harsh mood, we could say the Focus RS’ reasonable price is reflected by the reasonably unexciting interior. There’s really very little to distinguish it from the likes of a standard Focus ST other than a pair of RS-embossed sports seats. Extra support can be had in the form of a pair of Recaro bucket seats that cost £1,145, while much of the interior is finished in RS-blue trim.
The bank of additional gauges plumped on top of the dashboard look sporty, but is shared with the ST. While robust enough and easy to use, the RS’s interior lacks the quality construction and simple layout of a Golf R.
Passenger space is the same as in a regular Focus, so there’s loads of room up front for adults and plenty of adjustment for the lucky driver to get properly comfortable. Boot space in the regular Focus hatchback isn’t a strongpoint – at 316 litres in size, it is some way off the 343 litres you get in a VW Golf R – so it’s a little disappointing to hear it’s shrunk to 260 litres in the RS to make space for the car’s four-wheel-drive system. By our calculations, that’s less room than you get in a Fiesta.
One way to get over the disappointment of that boot is to get yourself behind the steering of the RS with your seat belt clipped. Spark up the engine and the raspy note emitted from the car’s pair of chubby exhaust pipes gives some idea of the onslaught that’s set to come. Interestingly, the noise comes courtesy of a straight-through pipe with only an electronically controlled exhaust flap and a silencer to shield the outside world from the noise being created under the bonnet.
Lung-squeezing acceleration is available in spades (and all weathers) courtesy of the four-wheel drive system, but thats true of any of the Focus’ four-wheel-drive rivals. What sets it apart are the four modes it can be tuned to – named Normal, Sport, Track and (teasingly) Drift. The first two settings make the RS feel like a conventional four-wheel-drive performance car, allowing you to deploy full power without fear of being deposited in a hedge, while still letting the car slide a little mid-corner if provoked. Track, meanwhile, is designed for raw speed, with sliding taken out of the equation in favour of cornering a quickly as the conditions will allow, for lightening-fast lap times.
Drift mode is where the real magic happens, though, allowing the Focus’ tail to slide out in corners (much like in a rear-wheel-drive car) safe in the knowledge that the four-wheel drive system will send power forwards (pulling you out off trouble) should the angle of the slide become a little too ambitious.
Upholding the driver involvement theme is the six-speed manual gearbox that helps the you feel at the centre of the action better than the (admittedly quicker) dual-clutch automatics fitted to the Audi RS3 and Mercedes A45 AMG.
The suspension, meanwhile, is pretty firm but no more so than in the Civic Type R the Ford will also rival. In its road setting it’s perfectly tolerable, for what is a focused hot hatch, and Ford tells us the track option is exclusively for circuit use.
With 345bhp and 325Ib ft of torque, the fiery Ford gets from 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds – a second quicker than the old Escort RS Cosworth and the new Civic Type R, while the car’s top speed sits at a heady 165mph. An Audi RS3, meanwhile, is four-tenths of a second quicker, but that extra performance comes with a £10,000 premium. Turbo lag (the delay in acceleration while the turbo reaches its operating speed) is very well contained, with very little pause before the engine deploys its full accelerative force.
While the four-cylinder 2.3-litre turbocharged engine fitted to the Focus RS may lack the exotic warble of the five-cylinder fitted to the Audi RS3 – there’s very little else negative to say.
The straight-through exhaust pipe ensures that the noise that does come out gives a rally car flavour that one can assume is no accident and the RS has a purposeful tone – complete with pops, bangs and splutters – that no other Focus can match – and one that’s more likeable than the noise coming out the back of a Mercedes A45 AMG.
The Mercedes and the Audi are considered to be the heavyweights in the segment and come with about 380hp – a bit more than the Focus. To close that gap and to offer Ford drivers the chance to embarrass those behind the wheel of a more expensive Mercedes or Audi, independent tuner Mountune is offering a warrantied power upgrade that takes the RS up to 375hp thanks to tweaks to the engine management and a better breathing system. The 0-62mph acceleration time of this five-door family hatchback drops to 4.5 seconds and that’s as fast as the Ferrari 360 of the late ‘90s which, when it was new, cost upwards of £100,000. What a time to be alive!
Fuel economy probably isn’t a primary concern for RS buyers, but the Ford can return up to 36.7mpg. That’s a little less than the VW Golf R and Mercedes A45 AMG. CO2 emissions of 175g/km mean that road tax costs £205 a year.
The Focus RS is an incredible car that will make you feel like a hero for less than £30,000. To the more cultured performance of the VW Golf R, the RS provides the perfect antidote with a chassis that allows for lots of fun in the bends and an engine that not only goes quick, but sounds quick too. In fact, the Focus’ performance elevates it to the realms of the hyper hatch – occupied by the Audi RS3 and Mercedes A45 AMG – where its knock-down price and clever four-wheel drive system make it an extremely attractive proposition.