Road Tests

Triple Test: Ford Focus RS

Time 12 years ago

focusrs_1IT’S funny how two simple letters can stir so much emotion in so many people. That sweeping blue and white RS emblem can be traced back through a bloodline that plots a graph of hot-hatch evolution.

It’s a name that has graced the rear end of some truly awesome cars – from rally legends such as the RS200, to everyday family saloons, like the Sierra RS Cosworth that packed far-from-everyday punch.

Just think back for a moment to the Rallye Sport cars you’ve lusted after over the years. I’m willing to bet you still wouldn’t turn down your favourite. I know I wouldn’t.

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For me the Escort RS Turbo – Series 1 or 2 – will always spin my head faster than any busty blonde. I wouldn’t say no to a white Sierra Cosworth RS500 either.

Or, for that matter, a racing blue Escort RS Cosworth complete with ironing board rear wing. Prices for the latter are still unbelievably high – I know, I’ve checked. Regularly.

My most recent search (all of five seconds ago) revealed one ’96 model, in blue, with 50k on the clock going for £16,995. That’s a 13-year-old car that costs more than a new Focus ST. Which is frankly ridiculous, but does go to show the following that RS badge has.

Vauxhall must be pretty peeved. Whenever their arch enemy over at Blue Oval Lair lets loose their latest Fast Ford™ on an unsuspecting public, they must be pulling their hair out.

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Because, come on, really what have they got that competes? Try as they might, that VXR badge doesn’t quite have the same draw does it?

But that’s not to say the RS badge has been without its duffers. Not even the die-hard Ford followers would argue the Fiesta RS Turbo was a wise move. It was an ugly little bloater. And so there was scope for an almighty balls-up when top brass decided to resurrect the RS badge and pin it to the Focus.

focusrs_2In 2002 – five years after the last car to wear the badge bowed out – Ford unveiled the pumped-up variant of its family hatch. It was a fair first attempt. I remember driving one of the first press cars and it was immense fun, but hampered by torque steer.

Still, that didn’t stop the 212bhp machine flying out of showrooms and, just 12 months into its scheduled two-year run, the UK allocation sold out with more than 2,000 finding homes.

Fast-forward six years and here we are again. RS fans have a new hero to worship – and with a mooted Cosworth variant canned by the credit crunch – this latest model is as fast as Fords are going to get any time soon. That’s not to say it’s a slouch. The snarling 301bhp RS is rapid in every sense of the word.

Our test takes place in Wilshire, part of the Focus RS’s whistlestop tour of the UK. The car manufacturer has carted a 10-strong fleet of Focuses around the country for members of the press to try – and this was the last date in the diary. The PR team looked jaded, but the blue and white press cars were box fresh.

First impressions of the car are very good. I’ve got to declare an interest here – I’m a Focus ST owner. Bought it back in November. And after a day with the RS I’m regretting that decision.

The RS is a mean-looking machine. That gaping front grille, steroid-enhanced wheel arches and bonnet vents give it a menacing look from the front while the imposing spoiler and cool carbon fibre, sculpted diffuser give it presence from the rear. Inside it’s not too dissimilar to the ST apart from the fact the Recaro seats are comfier.

The driving position is superb, but it’s a little disappointing to see the steering wheel from the ST transferred over.

focusrs_3But, to be honest, no-one’s going to care what it looks like on the outside or for that matter on the inside. I’d put up with seats made of granite and a steering wheel coated in sandpaper if it still made me feel like this car does.

That 301bhp, beefed up ST-sourced 2.5-litre powerplant is sublime. The turbocharger has been wound up a few notches and with a
five-pot soundtrack it’s nothing short of breathtaking. Power comes throughout the rev range – helped by a healthy 440Nm dollop of torque – and it builds to a raucous crescendo accompanied by a stomach-churning rasp.

The engine is alive with noise, huffing and puffing as it sucks in air and punches out power. Performance stats back-up the in-car feel – the 0-60mph dash is despatched in 5.9s and it’ll go all the way to top out at 163mph.

Much has been said about the lack of four-wheel drive – here all that power is channelled through the front boots which sounds like a recipe for shredded tyres.

MIKE TYSON-ESQUE

But Ford’s engineers have added a system called RevoKnuckle – sounds Mike Tyson-esque, I agree, but it certainly does the job. Torque steer is practically non-existent and couple that with a wider track, lower ride height and faster steering and this is one utterly awe-inspiring car to drive.

There aren’t many Fords that make you feel quite as special as this RS. It’s a culmination of years of hot hatch R&D and the masters of motorsport really have got it spot on.

On the launch the PR team told us they’ve already sold 2,400 of the UK’s 4,000 allocation. And I’m pretty sure by now they’ve sold a fair few more.

As an ST owner I’m gutted. This car is another level compared to its baby brother, so much so I’m counting the days until my PCP is up. But as a fast Ford fan I’m delighted: This RS will go down in history as one of the greats to wear that iconic badge – and deserves the sales success it’s going to enjoy.

by James Baggott

I SELL THEM…

Here at Tunbridge Wells we are still awaiting our first RS – it is due to arrive in June. Our Redhill and Horsham dealerships have delivered one each to respective customers and the feedback is that they are thrilled.

The car has developed a huge amount of interest and so far we have 15 confirmed orders throughout the group. Many customers are willing to purchase only on viewing the car in the flesh! Similar to the last RS, when we have a demo orders should increase ten-fold.

The age of customer is varying from 30-50 so it is appealing to a wide range of people, many of these have previously owned an RS model and are loyal to the badge.

Richard Walker, Lifestyle Ford

Read the rest of the test here:

Triple Test: Introduction

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James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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