Ford Focus RS: old vs new hot hatches compared

January 26, 2016 by

The latest Ford Focus RS has been expected since the release of the current Focus hatchback in 2011. It offers massive performance and that desirable ‘fast Ford‘ image in a practical, four-wheel drive package but is it better than its wild forebear?

The second-generation Focus RS was released in 2009 and was something of a star in its own right. It was hugely powerful, thrilling to drive and came with a bargain price tag. We’re comparing the new RS to the old model to see which is better.

If you’re sold on it, put the Ford Focus RS in our car configurator to see the deals carwow could help you get.

Ford Focus RS old vs new – styling

Ford’s RS division has never styled its cars to appeal to those of a modest inclination and the last two generations of Focus RS have been no different. At the front, both have gaping air intakes for extra engine and brake cooling and both feature a set of 19-inch alloy wheels and oversized brake discs.

The similarities between the two are most obvious at the rear, however. Both feature huge twin exhausts sitting at either end of a deep rear diffuser and the latest model’s roof-mounted spoiler bears a clear resemblance to its predecessor’s one.

A major change from old to new is that the latest model is available as a five-door only to appeal to global markets – a shame considering three-door models are favoured by UK hot hatch buyers. Some might miss the lurid Ultimate Green available on the old model – aside from the lively Nitrous Blue shade, the new RS’s colour options are fairly subtle.

Ford Focus RS old vs new – interior

Neither new nor old models have class-leading interiors compared to their peers – the current car’s dashboard is too fussy and the older one feels cheap looks bland. The newer model’s cabin, however, feels more substantial, contemporary and has taken a step up in quality over outgoing car.

Both models get a few sporty touches to get the driver in the mood including RS-branded Recaro sports seats which, on the new model, are optionally available with flashes of blue on the side bolsters. If you want the ultimate performance, you might be tempted to upgrade to the lighter, body-hugging Recaro racing seats – a £1,145 extra. A subtle blue theme continues throughout the interior, with hints on the dials and matching stitching on the gear lever and three-spoke steering wheel.

The old model was treated to similar upgrades. It also had Recaro buckets, a sports steering wheel with prominent RS badging and metal pedals. To add a little theatre, the old RS also featured a starter button, located just behind the gear lever. In a long-standing RS tradition, both cars feature the three extra dials sitting atop the centre console, displaying oil temperature, turbo boost pressure and oil pressure.

A hot hatch is intended to be used every day and, while both are much more practical than a two-seater sports car, both have their compromises. The three-door shape of the older car makes access to the rear seats a little tricky and the new car’s layout means it offers a comparatively tiny 260 litres of boot space – significantly less than its rivals.

Ford Focus RS old vs new – engine

The new car is powered by a 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder petrol – a more powerful version of the unit in the entry-level Mustang. Its 345hp output places the RS comfortably ahead of rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf R.

Paired to a six-speed manual gearbox and, in a departure from previous RS Focuses, four-wheel drive, the latest RS is capable of covering the 0-62mph dash in just 4.7 seconds. That’s 0.4 seconds quicker than the Golf, and only a couple of tenths shy of the £41,000 Audi RS3.

The latest RS has its predecessor beaten in terms of performance, too. The older car sends its mere 301hp through the front wheels only, and covers the 0-62mph benchmark in 5.9 seconds. That’s still deeply impressive even among the latest crop of hot hatches – the Honda Civic Type-R takes 5.7 seconds – but the latest RS has moved the game on.

It’s hard to deny, however, that the older car’s five-cylinder unit has more character then the new car’s four. It made an excellent noise and, while it’s not as fast, the satisfaction gained from flooring it was hard to beat. The new car doesn’t sound boring by any means but, in comparison to the old version, it doesn’t offer the same audible drama.

Ford Focus RS old vs new – driving

The current RS doesn’t just launch off the line faster thanks to its four-wheel drive, either. In fact, it’s in the corners where the system helps it to truly shine. The driver is offered a choice of four drive modes – Normal, Sport, Track and Drift. Normal is for everyday driving, while Sport sharpens the throttle response, and adds ever-so-slightly more weight to the steering.

Track mode firms things up to a point where, as the name suggests, it feels too sharp for road use. Most enthusiasts, however, will be more interested in its unique Drift mode. Drift sends as much as 70 per cent of the engine’s torque to the outside rear wheel when cornering, allowing the RS to induce lurid yet controllable slides quite unlike any other four-wheel drive sports hatch.

The RS delivers huge front end grip on the move, making it one of the most capable ground-covering machines on the market. The six-speed gearbox shifts with precision, and brake discs measuring 350mm in the front are more than up to the task of hauling the RS’s 1,547kg weight to a halt.

The front-wheel drive layout of the older RS makes such driving almost impossible, but that doesn’t mean that it lacks in any excitement on the road. With so much power directed to one axle, it requires a delicate touch at times, and those who are a little too aggressive can feel the front differential fighting to keep traction. The steering, though light, is very precise and has plenty of feel and, thanks to a kerb weight 80kg lower than its replacement, it never feels wanting for sharpness when turning into a corner.

The old model’s gearshift has the kind of heft you’d expect from a powerful car, though a slightly grainy feel to the shift action means that it isn’t quite as satisfying to use as that in newer fast Fords.

Ford Focus RS old vs new – value for money

Ford’s performance models are always seen as blue collar heroes and a large reason for that reputation comes down to their price. The latest RS costs £29,995 – more than £800 cheaper than the slower and arguably less exciting Volkswagen Golf. The Mercedes A45 AMG and Audi RS3 might be slightly faster but cost at least £10,000 more and neither is as fun to drive. By anyone’s maths, that makes the RS a complete bargain.

A look through the classifieds at the old car suggests the latest RS will probably be a pretty safe investment, too. Costing £24,995 when new, the best kept examples have barely lost any value and the limited edition RS500 model might even appreciate. Even the most well-used examples rarely dip below £17,000 today.

Ford Focus RS old vs new – verdict

Make no mistake, the hype surrounding Fast Fords is entirely deserved. Both of these cars deliver enormous thrills and epic performance for prices that are hard to match elsewhere. We’re sure there’ll be those of you who prefer the older car – it’s a little more raw to use which can make it feel more visceral. If you can put up with the drab interior, it’s a stunning example of a very fast hot hatch.

The new model, meanwhile, shifts our perception of what a car like this is capable of – it beats the older car in terms of straight line speed, refinement and fuel economy. It’s the four-wheel-drive system which can be credited with the greatest step, however. The new Drift mode is unmatched by any rival and, for that alone, plenty of enthusiasts are sure to sign up. Could this be a future classic? We think so.

Save money on your Ford Focus RS

If you’re sold on its vast breadth of ability, put the Ford Focus RS in our car configurator to see the deals on offer. For more options, head over to our car chooser to narrow down your new car search.