Ford Focus RS long-term test review: a car that deserves respect
The Focus RS has very much delivered on the considerable pre-launch hype
Is the Focus RS the king of hot hatches – or would you rather a Golf GTI or Civic Type R?
There’s something about an RS that cuts through brand loyalty.
There’s a lot to like about the Focus RS. It has very much delivered on the considerable pre-launch hype and it’s the kind of car that gets nods of approval from any true petrolhead, whatever their brand allegiances. You might be passionate about your Volkswagen Golf GTIs or a lifelong Honda Civic Type R fan but, when you see a Focus RS, there’s a mutual respect that transcends tribal aspects of the hot hatch world.
It can be as subtle as a slight nod of the head from another driver on the road or the full fanboy chit-chat at a filling station, but these kind of feel-good reminders follow you everywhere in the RS and make you feel properly involved with the legacy of the famous RS badge. Which is good, because there should be more to life with a true enthusiast’s car than the driving. You need to be invested emotionally, too.
That’s not to understate its abilities. Its Nitrous Blue paint shines brightly when clean but also looks good streaked with grime. Better still, this tells the world you’ve been enjoying your RS in the manner intended. It’s impressive in the dry, but on slithery roads the all-wheel-drive Focus comes alive and stamps its authority over front-driven rivals.
I drove the revised Seat Leon Cupra 300 recently on wet roads and even the clever torque-shuffling VAQ front axle couldn’t cope with 296bhp through two driven wheels. The Leon is fast and exciting but juddering axle tramp and lurid power understeer remind you that we may have reached the limit of what a front-driven hot hatch can deal with on a wet road. Meanwhile, the Focus’s pin-sharp front end, lack of understeer and easy throttle adjustability from its rear-biased all-wheel drive system remain standout dynamic characteristics.
Which explains the broad grin of anyone driving a Focus RS, especially one with a thick layer of grime.
FORD FOCUS RS
Price £31,000 Price as tested £35,135 Economy 26.3mpg Faults Speaker rattle from door card, front tyres losing air Expenses Tyres £683.88
Where the Focus RS comes alive
Although rather a lone voice in the argument, I had yet to be been blown away by the latest Ford Focus RS.
As a fast Ford fan and former owner – well, I thought a 1.8 Focus was fast back then – I was sad that a 345bhp four-wheel-drive version hadn’t quite yet beguiled me in the way it had so many others.
A couple of sodden days in our Focus RS left me far more endeared to it. I still have some reservations but, short of a Nissan GT-R, I’m not sure what else I would have rather driven during that wet weekend in the Cotswolds.
On the road, in dry weather and with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, the limits of adhesion are rarely breached, but on a slicker surface the Focus RS comes alive; not in a wild and lairy way, but simply in a fashion that gives the driver more to do and more to be excited by.
A combination of the constant overspeed of the rear wheels through the GKN all-wheel drive system and a super-sharp turn in gives you confidence that the Focus RS will dive into a corner and then power out of it with a hint of oversteer.
Attacking a corner in such a fashion in one of the Focus RS’s front-wheel-drive rivals would result in understeer. In a hot hatch equipped with a Haldex all-wheel-drive system, the experience is likely to be one of absolute grip. To feel a hot hatch such as the Focus RS powering out of a bend from the rear, and with the security of four driven wheels, is absolutely fantastic.
Our next tasks are to investigate a rattle from the speaker in the door card and to ascertain the maximum fuel economy we can manage. To achieve the latter, though, we’ll first have to restrain ourselves from having quite so much fun on greasy roads, which is easier said than done.
Read our previous reports below
How does it drive in the wet?
With the weather taking a turn for the worse, the roads are now slick with leaf mulch and standing water – perfect conditions for the Focus to prove itself. I have to say, though, that the bumpy roads round my way mean the RS’s super-quick steering, fierce springing and willingness to rotate into the corner on the throttle make more demands of the driver than I’d expected. As such, it’s proving itself more Evo than Volkswagen Golf R in nature and in no way dumbed down.
If you’re up for the challenge, that’s great news. Not so long ago, you’d have had to endure horrendous fuel consumption and weekly service intervals for this level of pace. That you can now get it in a Focus says much for Ford’s democratisation of performance.
Much as we’d love to spend the entire three months with the Focus RS in the Highlands, the fact is that a lot of its driving will be in town. It’s the same for many hot hatches, of course. And, sadly, the Focus doesn’t fare too well, with a tough low-speed ride, terrible turning circle and tricky visibility. Hopefully, more fun miles can redress the balance soon.
FORD FOCUS RS
Price £31,000 Price as tested £35,135 Economy 26.3mpg Faults None Expenses None Last seen 23.11.16
Source: Autocar Online