It’s probably the performance snip of the year. The new Ford Focus RS,
…packing 345 horsepower, has supercar punch at an (almost) everyday price. Jonathan Smith gets behind the wheel of the £30k uber-hatch.
To say the third generation Focus RS has been keenly awaited is something of an understatement.
As rival makers hiked up the power of their hot hatches, expectations of the RS grew commensurately. VW neared the magic 300bhp mark with their Golf R and Honda burst through the barrier with the 306bhp Civic Type R.
“Ford already has more than 3,000 advance orders for the new car which sells for £29,995 until May 1st when prices rise to £31k. You better be quick.”The race was definitely on. And now – five years after the demise of the second generation RS – we have the 345bhp Focus, a full-fat, aggressively styled five-door that’s capable of blowing quite a few exotic sports into the weeds and well beyond.
For the first time a production Focus has four wheel drive rather than front drive to enable it cope with extra urge.
It also has a launch control system which holds the 2.3litre EcoBoost engine at exactly the right revs before the driver releases the clutch pedal sending the car to 62mph in a blistering 4.7secs. Top speed is 165mph, so Ford has deliberately omitted fitting the voluntary 155mph limiter. The engine has been taken from the new Mustang and tweaked to give an extra 35bhp.
Some clever wizardry by engineers at Ford’s Performance team has produced a rather special four wheel drive system that makes the Focus RS more dynamic and more fun to drive than most other AWD rivals, without detracting from its huge grip.
Basically up to 70 per cent of the torque can be sent to just one of the rear wheels in order to deliver the best handling and wipe out the curse of understeer. Drivers don’t really need to know the fine detail, but they will soon recognise the immense controllability of the new model.
The RS doesn’t exactly hide its attributes. With a massive, gaping honeycomb grille, ostentatious rear spoiler and vents for the brakes it is not a car for the introvert. But every adornment has its purpose. The honeycomb pattern grille improves air flow for better engine cooling and the rear spoiler and diffuser help towards a total lack of lift at high speed.
Inside, it’s businesslike and sombre in that well-fashioned hot hatch manner with lots of black plastic mouldings and few dashes of colour. The fitments are of decent quality and the dials and switchgear are clear and workmanlike, but it’s obvious the serious money has been spent on the engineering and boosting dynamics. The great thing about the RS is that it’s genuine four-seater with a decent boot allowing it to be used all year round as normal family transport.
“but they may well regret putting status before raw performance.”There are four driving modes available to the RS owner – two for the road, and two for the track or private test circuit. In ‘normal’ it is reasonable stiffly sprung with a low ratio steering rack, just two turns lock-to-lock. The RS is 23% stiffer than a standard Focus so body roll is all but absent. Select ‘sport’ and the responses are sharpened, the steering becomes weightier and there’s an accompaniment of pops and burbles from the twin exhausts.
The growing number of fans who enjoy track days can use either ‘track mode’ or ‘drift mode’ – a first in road going models. By selecting ‘track’, the electronic stability control is adjusted to allow more slip and the rear drive unit is primed to maximum traction under acceleration.
‘Drift’ sends as much torque as possible to the outside rear wheel, allowing the car to be pitched into easily adjustable power slides. Not quite sure when you’d want to use the facility, but I can assure you it’s bags of fun on a track…but don’t try it at home (as they say) or around a Waitrose car park.
The RS wouldn’t be complete without the right soundtrack. In fact, according to Ford’s global RS engineering chief Tyrone Johnson the exhaust system was redesigned three times during the two year development period before his team was happy with the result.
Ford already has more than 3,000 advance orders for the new car which sells for £29,995 until May 1st when prices rise to £31k. Better be quick.
For some a Ford badge may lack the key-fob cache of an Audi, Merc or Beemer, but they may well regret putting status before raw performance.
2016 Ford Focus RS 2.3T EcoBoost
On the road as tested £29,995
PROS AND CONS: Sheer brute power √ Dynamic dexterity √ Snarling exhaust note √ A tad brash X May attract boy-racer contests at traffic lights
FAST FACTS: Max speed: 165 mph, 0-62 mph: 4.7 secs, Combined mpg: 36.7
Engine layout: 4 cylinder 2.3litre petrol, 4WD, Maximum power 345hp, Maximum torque 470Nm (with overboost), CO2 175 g/km
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