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Driven: Ford Focus RS. Image by Ford.

Driven: Ford Focus RS
Yes, believe the hype - the Ford Focus RS really is an absolutely blinding mega hatch.

 



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Ford Focus RS

5 5 5 5 5

Good points: The steering, the brakes, the body control, the looks, the performance, the noise, the whole lot, truth be told

Not so good: Optional bucket seats mounted too high, interior is a little bit plain... but we really don't care

Key Facts

Model tested: Ford Focus RS
Price: Focus RS from 31,250, car as tested 35,765
Engine: 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: all-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 175g/km (800 rod tax first 12 months, 140 per annum after that)
Combined economy: 36.7mpg
Top speed: 165mph
0-62mph: 4.7 seconds
Power: 350hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 440Nm (470Nm on overboost) at 2,000- to 4,500rpm

Our view:

There's a Mountune kit already available for the Ford Focus RS. It lifts peak power by 25hp and torque by 40Nm to maximums of 375hp and 510Nm. It costs just 899, takes one-and-a-half hours to fit at a Ford dealership and it preserves the manufacturer's warranty. It also trims the 0-62mph time by two-tenths to 4.5 seconds. It's undoubtedly a brilliant package, similar to the upgrade the company used to offer on the Fiesta ST before it brought out the ST200.

But we have no earthly idea why you would want the Mountune upgrade. Because the regular, third-generation Focus RS has to be one of the most belting, invigorating, thrilling and downright magnificent hot hatches going - not just of the examples on sale today, but of any era.

If we're to stop this being a rambling eulogy of unreadable length to the Focus RS, we're going to have to limit references to the competition to the three German cars that have similarly turbocharged drivetrains with four-wheel drive. That means no comparison to the front-wheel drive Honda Civic Type R, SEAT Leon Cupra or Renaultsport Megane. Nor to the BMW M140i, something of an oddity in itself.

Instead, the Focus should be held up against the Volkswagen Golf R, Audi RS 3 Sportback and Mercedes-AMG A 45. When Ford first announced its hyper hatch, it was slated to be even cheaper than the Golf at a price rumoured to be a laughable 28,000, although since that point its starting point has crept up a little to 31,250. Nevertheless, that's still ridiculous value, massively undercutting the base prices of the Audi (39,620) and the Mercedes (39,995) - although both those cars need to be optioned up to more like 50,000, if you want to realise the best residual value. The Focus RS is still just a touch cheaper than the VW, as well, to the tune of 435, but then that premium would only see you sat in a three-door Golf, not a five-door model like the Ford.

So that certainly gives you room to put a few desirable extras on the Focus without getting anywhere near the RS 3 and A 45. The options aren't absolutely essential, but given the overall price of the test car was still less than 36 large, we think you might as well have them. Outside, the Nitrous Blue paint chucks on 745, the forged 19-inch alloys finished in black another 975, and a further 100 will see the Brembo brake callipers coated in blue.

There are also clever 85 retractable door edge protectors as well, which you don't see until the door is partially open; we like these but they do make an odd, clattery noise as they're unfurling/packing themselves back into the doors of the Focus. Never mind; the Ford looks superb from outside, different enough to ensure that it couldn't be a badly modified ST masquerading as the real deal and yet not as overtly aggressive as the MkII RS, which wasn't everyone's cup of tea.

Elsewhere, there's a 1,000 Luxury Pack fitted, bringing power folding mirrors, rear parking sensors, the Ford Key Free system (keyless entry and go, in essence), cruise control with a speed limiter and privacy glass, as well as 465-worth of upgraded infotainment in the form of SYNC2 with satnav, 10 premium Sony speakers, a sub-woofer and a rear parking camera. However, stars of the show are the 1,145 'race-style' Recaro RS shell seats in the front. These are perfectly sculpted to hold you in place during hard cornering and lift the ambience of the interior considerably. It's a crying shame they've been mounted about two inches too high, though, which is a glaring ergonomic error by Ford's own high standards, and also that - save for the RS-branded steering wheel and some blue stitching - this cabin isn't much different from what you'd find in a Focus Zetec. Admittedly, the MkIII has the nicest interior of any generation of Ford's hatch thus far, but this is the one area where its rivals have the RS covered.

And yes, we did just say 'one area'. From this point on, the Blue Oval walks away with the honours. First to fall is the RS 3. Within a mere few miles of being at the wheel of the RS, the Ford's direct and hugely informative steering has already got the Audi's stodgy rack licked, while there is absolutely none of the fun-sapping understeer in the RS that the Sportback possesses in spades. Indeed, you can feel how much of an attitude adjuster the rear of the Focus is once you've piled into your first few 'hot' bends, its back end constantly doing its best to get the car through a given corner at the maximum possible speed, whereas the Audi only ever stays resolutely neutral-to-nose-led. The supposedly inferior S3 is a much better handling package, essentially because it's a Golf R in disguise. So despite its totally marvellous five-cylinder soundtrack, the fact you have to pay 8,370 more than the Focus for the less capable RS 3 is the final insult; Ingolstadt out.

Then the Ford does for the Mercedes for much the same reasons. It just takes a little longer to convince yourself that a Focus truly has got a 40,000 AMG covered. The adaptive damping and front diff fitted as options to the A 45 make it a more exciting car to drive in its 381hp guise than it was with 'only' 360hp, but even so you can unlock less of its ultimate potential on the roads than you can in the Focus. Put simply, there's more fun to be had at legal speeds in the Ford than the Merc. And to get the AMG to the right sort of specification for maximum driving thrills means ticking various boxes on the order form to push the cost well beyond 45,000. Goodbye, Mr A 45.

Which leaves the Golf R. Now, anyone with an interest in cars will tell you this thing is sublime, whether it has three doors or five, be it a hatchback or the even more desirable estate. It's much closer on price to the Ford than either of the Mercedes or the Audi, and it has proven time and again that it can provide massive grins for its driver at speeds that wouldn't necessarily see you serving a stretch at Her Majesty's.

Yet, for all that, the Focus is better again. Faster is preferable in this hyperhatch world and for all the Golf's brilliance, it's down on power against the Ford to the tune of 50hp and 60Nm. So while the 0-62mph times of the pair are just two-tenths apart in favour of the Ford, that doesn't tell the whole story. The Focus simply feels more urgent and more responsive at all road speeds, while the 2.3-litre engine breathing through those massive rear cans makes a tremendous racket that even the wonderful VW cannot match. We'd even go so far as to say the regular level of damping on the Focus RS is perhaps up there on a par with the Golf R's set-up, and that's something we never thought we'd say, despite Ford's excellent historical record in chassis calibration. The R is a more urbane daily machine than the RS, but it's the Ford that will leave the longer-lasting impression on a keen driver's memory.

What an astonishing car the Focus RS is. Previous generations have been fabulous, but this one is another phenomenal kettle of dynamic fish entirely. OK, its two-stage dampers are way too firm in the Track setting for road use, but there's a little shock absorber symbol next to a button on the end of the left-hand column stalk in the Ford which allows you to have its engine, steering and four-wheel drive in full-on attack modes, while knocking the dampers back to their softer setting. And, in this configuration, the Focus RS is unbeatably good on even the most knackered of British back roads. It is sublime.

Of course, it still functions as a Focus - it'll cruise to the shops in reasonable comfort and (relatively) sip at fuel in the process; not that we managed that, as we drove it so enthusiastically that we emptied three-quarters of its tank in a mere 145 miles, at 19.9mpg overall... ahem. Moving swiftly on, there's space on board for four adults and the boot is OK too, although it's down to a rather-less-than stellar 260 litres with all seats in place thanks to the rear differential underneath its floor. Yet, considering the unequalled hot hatch thrills the Focus will provide you with, it's entirely conceivable you could live with it as your only car, driving it on a daily basis.

The best hot hatch ever? It's a huge debate and is subject to the personal whims of those who might be arguing the toss. But, for our money, it has to be a very serious contender for the ultimate crown, and it would still be in the running even if Ford charged what Audi and Mercedes ask for their hatches. That it's available from just 31,250 is tantamount to criminality. It would be extremely hard to improve on this near-perfect car... oh, wait a minute, what was that about a 375hp Mountune version again...?

Alternatives:

Audi RS 3: Sadly, despite its wonderful five-pot soundtrack, the RS 3 is another one of those fast Audis that's dynamically aloof. Focus RS is far more fun to steer.

Mercedes-AMG A 45: It didn't only get faster with its 2015 upgrade to 381hp, it also seemed to receive some extra chassis sparkle. Therefore brilliant, but ludicrously expensive; RS wins.

Volkswagen Golf R: A wonderfully resolved car in all departments but it's a little bit outgunned in the power stakes in this company, sitting at 300hp/380Nm. Yep... we'd have the Ford.


Matt Robinson - 19 Dec 2016









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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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