Ford Focus RS 2016 Road Test

Performance hatch enthusiasts have had to wait a long time for the new Ford Focus RS. Now, after more than a year of teaser videos and motor show appearances, Ford’s angry hot hatch is officially back, with supercar performance and a tempting sub-£30,000 price tag.

We should point out that this is actually the most powerful production Ford to ever be launched under the famous Rallye Sport name. The Focus RS is powered by a 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine, which produces 350PS, giving it more power than both the Honda Civic Type R and the Volkswagen Golf R. The RS will leave both trailing in a straight line sprint, with 0-62mph taking 4.7 seconds, putting the fast Ford into Porsche 911 territory. 

As well as being quicker than ever before, the third-gen Focus RS also gets a more conservative appearance. The previous model was likened to an ASBO on wheels by some, but Ford has toned down the styling for new model and only uses components that - it claims - enhances the aerodynamics and engine cooling. Yes, it’s got a body kit, rear spoiler and huge front grille, but that's about it. No doubt some RS enthusiasts will feel it's a little too understated, but the Focus does look a lot better for it. 

One of the biggest criticisms of the previous model was its unpredictable handling under heavy acceleration. The front-wheel drive set-up would often struggle to handle the huge torque levels and the result was was skittish handling. Thankfully Ford has fixed this by giving the new Focus RS four-wheel drive.

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This means the Focus RS can be pushed hard, without the driver having to worry about the steering wheel violently jarring as the car tries to detour into the nearest hedge. The system is a huge improvement and has been specially developed for the RS. It can divert as much as 70 per cent of power to the rear axle, while also varying the amount of torque sent to each individual wheel. 

On the road the Focus RS feels more composed, with improved grip and better mid-corner stability. The handling is more akin to a rear-wheel drive car, with the four-wheel drive system - more often than not - channeling the majority of torque to the rear, making it easy to get a clear understanding of the car's grip limitations. 

The 2.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine isn’t unique to the Focus RS. It’s actually a modified version of the four-cylinder unit found in the disappointing EcoBoost Mustang, but feels much better in the Focus, with more power and torque.  

Ford tell us the four-cylinder engine produces 440Nm from 2000rpm, but in reality it feels like a lot more, pulling strongly through all of the gears, right up to 5000rpm, to a chorus of crackles and pops from the twin exhaust. Economy is decent too, with a claimed 36.7mpg and 175g/km.

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The high revving Focus RS is brutally fast, but hugely controllable. Ford’s engineers used the 1990s Escort Cosworth as the benchmark for the handling and power delivery. And it shows. The Focus has mountains of torque and grip, which lets you brake late into corners and accelerate hard through the exit, without any hint of wheel spin or wobble from the steering wheel, which is superbly weighted.

Unlike its rivals, the Focus RS isn’t available with an automatic transmission, but we have to say the six-speed manual is more than up to the task, with short shifts and long ratios that work well with the huge torque levels. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the ride, which is extremely hard. We think this might prove a problem for some passengers, with the body vulnerable to bouncing heavily on uneven roads.

The interior also disappoints and is no match for the rivals like the Golf R. If truth be told, the interior is no different from the Focus ST, although addition of four-wheel drive has cut boot space to just 260 litres. Admittedly, everything feels robust, but there’s no hiding the fact that almost all of the rivals to the Focus RS are better inside. 

However, the minor flaws pale into insignificance when you’re behind the wheel. The Focus RS is a brilliant piece of engineering and will go down as the driver’s car of 2016. It’s also a bargain for £29,995 and should be the default choice for anyone wanting the ultimate hot hatch.

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