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First drive: Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.

First drive: Ford Focus RS
No idea how, but the Ford Focus RS exceeds expectations. Buy one. Now.


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Ford Focus RS

5 5 5 5 5

In a world of hybrids and robot cars, the new Ford Focus RS is a bright blue reminder of why we love cars in the first place. Staggeringly good fun to drive, in all circumstances. Say hello to the new king of the hot hatches.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Ford Focus RS
Pricing: from 29,995
Engine: 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hot hatch
CO2 emissions: 175g/km
Combined economy: 36.7mpg
Top speed: 165mph
0-62mph: 4.7 seconds
Power: 350hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 440Nm at 2,000- to 4,500rpm
Weight: 1,599kg
Boot space: 260 litres (seats up); 1,045 litres (seats folded)

What's this?

It's the long-awaited Ford Focus RS, the third car to bear that legendary badge. The inheritor of a legacy that stretches back to the Escort RS1600 of the 1970s, the Focus RS has actually grown up a bit in this iteration. Gone is the driven-through-Halfords-covered-in-superglue look of the 2009 Focus RS, replaced by a more subtle, more mature look, partially dictated by the fact that big, extended wheelarches wouldn't fit down the Focus production line at the factory in Germany.

There is, of course, a spoiler atop the boot and a big diffuser underneath, but Ford is adamant that these are not styling affectations, but necessary aerodynamic addenda. How necessary? Well, Ford says that the Focus RS generates zero lift, from either end of the car, at speed and that is quite remarkable for a vehicle that began its life as a family shopping trolley. More subtle it may be, but there is purpose and muscle in that bodywork and it's clearly a more serious car than the ST it shares a chassis with.

Previously, the Focus RS also shared a basic engine with the ST, but this one buddies up with the Mustang, borrowing that car's 310hp 2.3-litre turbo four-pot EcoBoost unit and, thanks to new internals, a new head, new valves and a different turbo, bulking it up to 350hp, with up to 470Nm of torque available.

With that much grunt on tap, Ford had to step away from the front-wheel drive layout as used by previous Focus RS models and make this one four-wheel drive, the first 4WD hot Ford since the Escort Cosworth of the nineties. It's not just a matter of shunting some power to the rear either - the RS's four-wheel drive system is hugely intelligent. It can send as much as 90 per cent of the power to the rear axle, and can share all of that out to just one rear wheel if it sees fit. This mechanical torque distribution is then backed up by brake-based torque vectoring, which means that the RS can send its power, almost all of its power, to the wheel or wheels that can best use it.

Controlling all of that is a multi-mode electronics package that lets the driver choose between four settings - Normal, Sport, Track and Drift - with the option to separately alter the stiffness of the dampers at the same time. The changing modes tweak steering weight, throttle response, exhaust noise, damper stiffness and the electronic stability and 4WD systems to best suit your needs. All of that is put down to the tarmac by bespoke Michelin Pilot Sport tyres, riding on 19-inch rims, which can be swapped out for (950g per wheel lighter) forged alloy wheels if you like. Which we do.

If, after all of that tech-fest, the cabin is a bit of a let-down, well, sorry - it is in the standard ST too, and Ford hasn't done anything to fix that. At least you can spec it up with some gorgeous Recaro hard-shell bucket seats (which are far more comfortable than the standard chairs).

How does it drive?

It. Is. Brilliant. There's always a worry that a fast, four-wheel drive car will feel like a bit of a lead-sled - understeering through corners and simply being quick down the straight bits. Fast Audi syndrome in other words.

The Focus RS isn't like that. For a start, it actually feels more like a rear-drive car most of the time. In any given corner, all you need to do is bring the nose into the apex (the really quite wonderful steering, brimming with feel will help there) and then start squeezing on the throttle. That allows the 4WD system to use the rear wheels to help balance the car, making it both quicker and more fun. In fact, it's not beyond the realms of madness to suggest that the RS feels rather like a Mazda MX-5, fitted with a powerful turbocharged engine and a hatchback body; it really is that much fun to drive, even at relatively modest speeds.

Normal mode is fine for getting about town or popping to the shops (although you won't get much shopping into the 260-litre boot, truncated as it is by the big differential underneath), but Sport is where the RS does its best work. Sport doesn't stiffen the dampers, so although it's never less than firm, neither does it succumb to being harsh, allowing you to make the most of a favourite road even if it's a bit lumpy. Better yet, Sport allows the exhaust to join the party, setting off a ripple-fire of bangs, crackles and pops as you lift off the throttle. Ford is being old-school about this childish sound effect too - rival cars dump unburned fuel into the exhaust manifold to achieve the same effect, but the Focus RS's electronic brain actually instructs the engine to deliberately misfire to get the sound. It's rather like vinyl versus MP3 - one is more authentic.

Track mode is strictly for track days, and triggers a warning script in the instrument binnacle to remind you of the fact. Choose that and everything is in full-on mode from the dampers to the throttle to the steering. Out on the Valencia race track in Spain, the Focus RS in Track mode was, frankly, beyond mega. Incredibly fast (not every performance car feels fast on a proper race track - this one does), beautifully balanced and able to achieve some searing speeds through the corners and down the straights.

You're not going to drive it in Track though. You're going to drive it in Drift. With help from legendary, tyre-shredding internet lunatic Ken Block, Drift Mode does exactly what it says on the tin - it instructs the ESC stability control and four-wheel drive to help you slide and slip the car around, making you feel like a genuine Stig For A Day as you do so. Even those who, like me, aren't much good at drifting, will end their sessions feeling like driving gods, so adept is the system at helping you along without feeling like it's taking total control. It's not the quickest way to get around a race track, but it is the most outrageously enjoyable. Just make sure you've bought some shares in Michelin.

Maybe buy some shares in AP Clutches too - the Focus RS's final party trick is its launch control, a rare item in a car that comes only with a manual gearbox. A few flicks of the steering wheel menu buttons activates it, and then you plant your foot hard on the throttle and sidestep the clutch. With a heart-stopping bang and a mule-like kick in the backside, the RS really does feel like it's executing a launch, and hammers its way to a 4.7-second 0-62mph time. It probably won't do much for the clutch or gearbox's longevity though, so use it sparingly.


You can pick holes in the Focus RS if you like. It's still pretty brash, even if it is more subtle than before. The interior is disappointing. The fuel economy (20mpg on a good day) and emissions (175g/km) are pretty frightening and your mum's not going to like it. Frankly though, who cares? We may be coming to an end of the car as we know it, as batteries and robots launch their final takeover, but we're going out with one (possibly) final, brilliant, fun, hilarious, wonderful Focus RS. All hail the king of the hot hatch.

3 3 3 3 3 Exterior Design

3 3 3 3 3 Interior Ambience

3 3 3 3 3 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain

Neil Briscoe - 19 Jan 2016    - Ford road tests
- Ford news
- Focus RS images

2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.

2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.

2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.

2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.

2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.

2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.

2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.

2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.

2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.

2016 Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.


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