Ford Focus RS review
This is the Focus RS tasked with taking the fight to the Volkswagen Golf R, which is slower, plus the Audi RS3 and Mercedes A45 AMG, both of which cost quite a lot more.
What's not so good
Find out more about the Ford Focus RS
If anything, this new Focus RS has more in common with the picnic-table-winged Escort RS Cosworth than the previous Focus RS as it too 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 £1,050.
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.
This is not only a really fast car both on road and on track – it’s also amazingly good fun
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.
To see what sort of offers are available on the Focus RS, look at our deals page.
The Ford Focus looks after its driver very well, and it’s pretty good for passengers, too. The only price you pay in practicality is that the four-wheel drive system takes up some of the boot space
People will concentrate on the extra performance and sharper handling in the RS, but it's impressive how Ford has done all that and still left the Focus as a usable family car
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. 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.
As in the Focus ST, the RS generally has a good level of interior space, with its large glovebox and an array of smaller cubby holes to store sunglasses and other smaller items. The only problem is that the rear door bins are slightly on the small side, however, the ones in the front are easily big enough to house a bottle of water each.
Boot space in the regular Focus hatchback isn’t a strong point – 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 –that’s less room than you get in a Fiesta.
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.
The engine is from the Mustang but has a bigger turbo
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 full power.
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. An electronically controlled exhaust flap and a silencer are there to shield the outside world from the noise being created under the bonnet when you’re done being a yobbo.
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 independent tuner Mountune is offering a warrantied power upgrade that takes the RS up to 375hp thanks to tweaks to the engine management and improved breathing. Fitted, 0-62mph takes 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 are 175g/km.
Lung-squeezing acceleration is available in spades (and all weathers) courtesy of the four-wheel drive system, but that’s 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 of 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 you feel at the centre of the action better than the (admittedly quicker-shifting) 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.
If we were in an uber-harsh mood, we could say the Focus RS’ reasonable price is reflected by the reasonably unexciting interior.