Fast Fords are nothing new. Many, including the Lotus Cortina, Escort Mexico, GT40 and the RS badged cars, are the stuff of legend.
Watch my “hot laps” in a Focus RS at Silverstone – in a 360-degree video!
Now there’s a new kid on the block. Literally. Partly developed by rallycross ace Ken Block, the long-awaited Ford Focus RS has finally screeched onto the hot hatch scene.
Under the bonnet is the same 2.3-litre EcoBoost turbocharged petrol engine you can find in the new Mustang, but with extra beans.
It now produces 345bhp which is around 40bhp more than two of its arch rivals, the VW Golf R and the Honda Civic Type R, but less than the Audi RS3.
All that oomph results in some Top Trumps-winning figures because it has a maximum speed of 165mph and can reach 62mph in just 4.7 seconds, making it the fastest accelerating Ford RS model ever.
But it’s not just the raw stats that matter – it’s how it handles all that power.
Apparently, the Focus RS pioneers Ford Performance All-Wheel Drive with Dynamic Torque Vectoring which offers “a new level of handling, grip and cornering speed”. Having driven the car on British roads and the tight Stowe Complex at Silverstone, I have no reason to think otherwise.
I can’t pretend to understand the technicalities of the AWD system – let’s just say that it’s very clever and can transfer drive around the wheels in tiny fractions of a second.
Fire up the engine and the Focus RS immediately sounds the part with a deep growl and the occasional pop – and the more it’s pushed, the more impressive it gets.
The six-speed manual box seems a little heavy, but I guess it has to be in order to handle all those horses. That said, the glorious soundtrack combined with impressive torque makes changing gear a pleasure when the need arises. Sadly there’s no automatic option, which may mean some potential buyers opt for the Golf R with its excellent DSG box.
A press of a button on the centre console allows you to swap between four drive modes that alter the car’s all-wheel drive tuning, dampers, steering, engine, stability control and exhaust note.
Normal is for everyday motoring, Sport tightens up the handling to let you have a bit more fun, Track turns the heat up another notch, while the industry-first Drift Mode allows you to light up your tyres (preferably on track).
If you like a gimmick, there’s also a Launch Control feature on an RS for the first time.
Even in Normal mode, it’s clear that the RS means business. The ride may be a little firm for some, especially on rougher roads, but this is a serious car with remarkable handling. There’s a huge amount of grip available, the steering is sharp and it feels super stable.
I’m under no illusions when it comes to my track-driving abilities, but the Focus RS flatters, even making my efforts in damp conditions look half decent. In short, here’s a performance car that inspires confidence.
My RS was fitted with the optional Recaro shell seats which are ideal for when you’re being thrown around Silverstone. Apparently, more than half of customers so far have opted for these seats which are certainly body-hugging, but result in a slightly high driving position.
The brakes are well up to the job too. In fact, the Focus has the most powerful RS brake system. And who can resist Brembo front callipers in Nitrous Blue?
The new Focus RS is a mightily impressive beast all round, but here’s the thing, the good news doesn’t stop there – it’s also fantastic value, starting at £29,995.
Its long list of standard equipment includes 19in multi-spoke alloy wheels, RS rear spoiler, twin-pipe high-performance exhaust, Recaro front seats, Bi-Xenon headlamps, heated windscreen and a dual-zone electronic temperature control.
Just like a regular Focus, there’s also a good sized boot and decent space in the back for passengers. It also pretty restrained, especially if you don’t opt for the popular Nitrous Blue paint job and go for black or white instead.
Economy isn’t generally a major buying factor with hot hatches, but it’s useful to know, and even here the Focus RS doesn’t disappoint – in theory, it’s capable of 36.7mpg.
Summary: The new Ford Focus RS is a lot of car for £30,000. Blistering performance and hardcore handling, combined with the practicality of a hatchback make it a compelling proposition.