The iconic RS badge has finally returned and it is more track-focused than ever, as it comes with all sorts of engineering goodies to make the “innocent” Focus one of the most engaging hot-hatches out there. And, at the end of the day, it will also let you crave for more.
I clearly remember the last time I drove a Focus RS. That memory is still alive in my mind. It was way back in 2010, when Ford was preparing to end its production, and I was wondering if the Blue Oval would ever match again the lunacy of that thirsty 300 horsepower 5-pot 2.5-litre turbo engine sitting on a well-balanced chassis that was relying only on a front-wheel drive layout. And then, later in the year, the cherry on top came through the limited edition hard-cored RS 500, the swan song of the second generation Focus hot-hatch.
It seemed like a crazy idea to throw 350 horsepower to the front, but that ultimate edition proved that Ford’s performance division is one of the most skilled in the business, on the same level with Renault’s Sport Technologies unit. It is not an easy task to transform an ordinary family hatch into a thrilling one, but Ford managed to offer back than one the most capable front-drive cars ever produced. Therefore, the new Focus RS must live up to some high expectations.
First of all, some technical detailing is in order. It is powered by a 4-cyilinder 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine, lifted from the Mustang, an all-aluminum unit that brings 350 PS and catapulting the hatch in supercar territory, from 0 to 100 km/h in 4,7 seconds, nearly one second faster than the “old” RS 500. And now, the big news really comes. No more torture for the front wheels, as there is an all-wheel-drive system with dynamic torque vectoring. The system made by GKN is based on twin electronically-controlled clutch packs on each side of the rear to manage the car’s front and rear torque split, also controlling the side-to-side torque distribution on the rear axle.
What does this actually mean? It should dramatically improve the handling by sending a maximum of 70 percent of torque to the back, of which up to 100 percent of the available torque can be thrown to each rear wheel. And there is more. Four modes are available for the driver, Normal, Sport, Track and Drift, all accordingly altering the AWD system, suspension’s damping, steering, engine mapping, ESP and even the exhaust.
Have I mentioned the Launch Control option? Guess what it does. And for keeping the driver even more connected to the uplifting experience, Ford was confident that the raw power and torque could be managed by a manual transmission. Brilliant decision, as many automakers have started to play safe by fitting an auto box on their hot-models. There is nothing more engaging than a proper stick to squeeze the best of such a package.
Even after reading such an impressive specs sheet, the new Focus RS does not look so intriguing from a distance. It lost some of the aggressive styling of the previous model, which had some nice flared arches and vents or sculpted side skirts. Regarding that, you will be eager to step inside, where you will be welcomed by a familiar layout, similar with the ST version. Only some small signature features undercover its spirit, such as a few RS logos displayed here and there, coloured graphic on the gear shifter and blue stitching on the steering wheel and seats. Speaking of which, you are embraced by Recaro ones and by a sitting position not quite perfect for what this model wants to communicate, as they are perched a bit too high.
Our encounter with the RS was briefed, but intense. A gentle push of the gas pedal and the 350-horsepower EcoBoost responds promptly, with a matching rumble as well, but without throwing straightaway all its torque. The 440 Nm (470 Nm on overboost) are gradually released and swift at the same time, up to its 4,500-rpm sweet spot. You are building up speed in no time, so it is advisable to hold tight to the steering wheel, as this hot-hatch does not particularly like bumpy roads. The suspension is right on the edge between firm and uncomfortable, but staying on the tolerable side, while the steering reacts so fast to inputs that it requires some extra vigilance from the driver. But do not worry, there is plenty of stopping power coming from the front Brembo brakes with the massive 350 mm discs.
And all this happens in the Normal mode set-up. The spring rates were stiffened by 33 percent front and 38 percent rear compared cu ST. There is also a switchable setting for an even firmer ride. Do not push it while driving to work. Now imagine how Sport or Track modes feel, as these further sharpen all RS’ senses. Keep them for… the track, obviously. Regardless of what mood you select, the adaptive all-wheel-driving system is just impressive and it always watches your back.
It was quite challenging to offset the car’ balance on the track even with the ESP switched-off, making it so effortless to tackle the curbs. It does not matter if the driver is a rooky-wannabe-racer, the AWD on the RS offers such a neutral stance that it will make him look like he knows what he is doing behind the wheel. For some playing time, the Drift mode softens the rear dampers and sends more power to the back for the tail to relax and freely slide. And, as I said earlier, sticking to a manual-only and precise gearbox was the right choice from Ford, a decision that compliments the model.
Therefore, the lunacy has gone. The enthusiasts however can now sense the real essence of a hot-hatch, as Focus RS’ wonderful technical package makes the driver push harder than ever to find the car’s limits. And the new RS will not surrender that easily. Furthermore, it starts from 37,000 euros (41,230 dollars) and it has 5 doors if you want to share the excitement with friends or family. It is not without flaw, but it has just become the best offering in the class and in this price range.
Ford Focus RS, 2.3 EcoBoost 4WD, start&stop, 5-dr – 37,000 EUR
2,261 cc, inline four-cylinder petrol, turbocharged, transverse
Power: 350 HP (257 kW) at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 440 Nm at 2,000 – 4,000 rpm (470 Nm with overboost)
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Length – 4,390 mm, Width – 1,823 mm, Height – 1,472 mm, Wheelbase – 3,647 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 51 liters
Trunk Capacity: 260
Weight: 1,599 kg
0 – 100 km/h: 4.7 s
Top Speed: 266 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 10.0 l/100 km, extra urban – 6.3 l/100 km, average – 7.7 l/100 km
CO2: 175 g/km
Wheel & Tires
Standard: 8 x 19 RS Design 20-spoke cast alloy / Michelin Pilot Super Sport
Optional: 8 x 19 RS Design 10-spoke forged alloy / Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2
4.6 / 5