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.
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 engine is from the Mustang but has a bigger turbo
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.