What’s been produced as a result is the most frantic family hatch yet devised, with all-wheel-drive taming simply exhilarating performance. It’s quite a prospect.
Expectations are always high when you set out to drive an RS model from Ford – and particularly so given that this third generation Focus RS is arguably the fastest model that’s yet been made by the Blue Oval company’s performance sub-brand. Under the bonnet, there a 2. 3-litre EcoBoost turbo engine capable of powering you from rest to 62mph in 4. 7s en route to 165mph. More impressive than the sheer speed though, is the sheer traction on offer. The clever all-wheel-drive system is much more sophisticated than that used by rivals, featuring two electronically-controlled clutches at the rear that can switch up to 70% of the torque rearwards and up to 100% from side to side to maximise traction and forward motion.
You can also tweak the powertrain’s distribution of power through the standard ‘drive mode’ system which also deals with five other parameters – damping, throttle response, exhaust note, stability control thresholds and steering feel. Choose from ‘Normal’, ‘Sport’, ‘Track’ and ‘Drift’ settings, the last one for tyre-smoking power drifts and for test track use only. Use this Ford in a more conventional manner and it offers 36. 7mpg combined consumption and 175g/km carbon dioxide emissions. Some rivals with DSG dual-clutch gearboxes are more efficient, but we love the precision and feel of the RS’s six-speed manual transmission. The steering is also brilliant to use and the whole experience is accompanied by a wicked crackle from the twin performance exhausts. You’ll love it.
RS Fords have never been shrinking violets from a styling perspective. Fierce bodykits and super-sized rear wings big enough to hold a board meeting around have long been the order of the day, a theme this third generation Focus RS continues in its own muscle-bound style. You get that with rivals too of course, but with most of those cars, you’re looking at exterior embellishments made to a standard bodyshell. In this case though, things are fundamentally different under the skin, courtesy of the strengthened chassis necessary to cope with 4WD and the extra performance on offer. Virtually all the other mechanicals are bespoke too – the engine and the drivetrain obviously, but also the suspension and the steering too. No half-measures then.
Let’s see what this Focus RS is like inside. Very nice indeed is the answer, with grippy branded Recaro seats upgraded to race-style ‘shell’ status in a move that gives the cabin more of a rally-style feel.
We’re not quite so keen on the look of the leather-stitched flat-bottomed multi-function steering wheel: it’s OK in a Focus ST, but something a little less mainstream is, we think, required in this RS. Another feature shared with the ST is this bank of three extra gauges on top of the dash. These deal with turbo boost pressure, oil temperature and oil pressure and are there to serve as a nice visual throwback to legendary fast Fords of the past like the Escort Mexico.
Time to move rearwards, where the passenger space is accessed via wide-opening doors that can be fitted with neat edge protectors that pop out to prevent carpark dings.
Inside, fears that the curved rear roofline will severely compromise headroom turn out to be groundless. A couple of six-footers can be decently accommodated, though the wedgy side profile does hem you in with a slightly higher windowline.
Finally, let’s have a look at the boot. It isn’t very large. Rear cargo space is already an achilles heel of any standard Ford focus and having to package in this RS model’s 4WD system has made things even worse, reducing the 316-litre total you’d get in, say, a Focus ST to just 260-litres here – less than you’d get in a Fiesta. Still, look on the bright side: that’s only 20-litres less than you’d get in a rival Audi RS3.
Great things were hoped for from this third generation Focus RS and great things have been delivered. Going into this test, our only fear was that Ford’s enthusiastic development team might
have created something almost too good, perfect for extreme performance on track, but less impressive as a day-to-day driving machine.
In the finished product, there are certainly elements of that – the infamous ‘Drift’ mode for example – but largely, what’s been delivered meets the brief: namely, to create the ultimate road-ready hot hatch. Be in no doubt that that’s what this is.