First UK Drive: Ford Focus RS

At the launch in Spain, we declared the Focus RS to be a car that you simply must buy. Is it still as good on broken British roads?

Few cars have been as eagerly awaited as the new Ford Focus RS. The latest in a long and illustrious line of RS models, including the legendary Escort RS Cosworth and the unforgettable RS200 of the mid-1980s, the new boy has finally arrived on British shores. Can Ford’s hyper-hatch live up to the, um, hype?

*Spoiler alert*

It does. And then some. Even our terrible roads can’t ruin what will almost certainly be the best car of 2016.

For starters, there’s the engine. It is, in essence, the same 2.3-litre, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine found under the thrusting bonnet of the entry-level Mustang, but Ford Performance has breathed on it somewhat.

Whereas in the Mustang it produces 313bhp, the iteration found in the Focus RS chucks out 345bhp. This plentiful punch is sent to all four wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox (no you philistine, you can’t have an automatic), permitting a 0-62mph time of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 165mph – more than a second faster than the EcoBoost-powered Mustang and, crucially, faster than the Honda Civic Type R.

Although much of this performance is down to the RS engine upgrades, some of it is due to the ballistic launch control system. Unlike the Mustang’s uncharacteristically complex Line Lock system, you just press the button, stamp on the throttle, dump the clutch and then hope you can change gear quickly enough.

The RS doesn’t just go quickly though; it sounds quick too. The 2.3-litre engine in the Mustang sounds a little bit weedy, but the Focus RS’s straight-through exhaust makes it sound really guttural and ballsy. And although this is slightly aided by a few baffles and a system which spits unburned fuel into the exhaust to produce rally-esque crackles on the overrun, it’s all real – there’s no artificial soundtrack coming through the stereo.

So Ford has nailed the performance and the noise, but what about the handling? Well, this is typically a strong point for the Focus, so it won’t come as a surprise to find out that it’s pretty good. In fact, to call it ‘pretty good’ is to damn it with faint praise, but we’re stuck for words. We could call it ‘fantastic’, ‘epic’, or ‘incredible’, but we’d still be selling it short.

As soon as you get it onto a country road, you notice that the steering is nigh-on perfect, with a lovely weight and response to it, while the suspension is so good that it hardly rolls at all through the bends. The gearbox, too, is brilliant, with a smooth, short-throw shift that makes it a pleasure to use.

Get it onto a track, though, and it goes from brilliant to mind-blowing. Unlike most hot hatches, the Focus RS behaves like a rear-drive supercar, boasting a fine balance that’s tuned very marginally in favour of oversteer. This car’s ‘Drift’ mode has already become folkloric, but it really isn’t necessary. Getting the tail out is not difficult.

Even more impressive than the handling, however, is the ride. When you get into the RS, the body-hugging Recaro seats promise some form of immense discomfort that never really materialises.

Sure, the optional bucket seats are a bit of a pain to get in and out of, especially if, like me, you’re a bit clumsy and/or not very agile, but the way the suspension soaks up the lumps and bumps is incredible. Without driving the two back-to-back it’s tough to say, but we suspect that in ‘Normal’ mode, it might well more comfortable than the supposedly less hardcore ST.

It’s a more expensive car than the ST though, and performance aside, you don’t get that much more for your money. The princely sum of £30,000 buys you Recaro-branded sports seats, 19-inch alloys, an 8-inch touchscreen and keyless start, but that’s more or less it.

No wonder, then, that more than 90% of customers are specifying the Luxury Pack, which includes power-fold mirrors, rear parking sensors, cruise control and keyless entry, all for an extra £1,000, while a similar number are going for satellite navigation and painted brake callipers.

But even once you’ve put all the toys on and made it up to around £35,000, the RS is not an especially expensive car. In fact, considering you can spend that sort of money on 20-year-old Escort Cosworths, it’s a bit of a bargain. Even better, in 20 years’ time good ones will be worth an absolute fortune, because like the ‘Cossie’, this is one of the all-time great fast Fords.

Model Tested: Ford Focus RS
Price: £30,000
Engine: 2.3-litre turbo petrol
Top speed: 165 mph
0-62 mph: 4.7 seconds
Power: 350 PS (345 bhp)
Torque: 470 Nm (347 ft-lb)
Official fuel economy: 36.7 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 175 g/km
VED Band: H / £210 per year
Car insurance group: 40E
Kerb weight: 1,547 kg

Sam Baines

Sam is an automotive writer with experience of virtually every make, model and specification of car in the UK. If it's got wheels, Sam's got it covered.

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