It has been some twenty years since Ford have made a Rallye Sport (aka – RS) model worthy of getting excited about, a model that’s roots stem back to the pinnacle of Ford’s rich motorsport heritage to incorporate four wheel drive.
Between ceasing production of the infamous and iconic Escort RS Cosworth in 1996 Ford have continued to produce RS models of the Ford Focus (which replaced the Escort around the turn of the century).
This production was mainly for homologation purposes to allow them to rally the Focus model within the World Rally Championship and to be honest the models produced didn’t do much for many other than the purists, despite being great cars in their own right.
Having produced the later Sierra RS Cosworth and Escort RS Cosworth models in four-wheel-drive, there was anticipation that the early Focus RS may well have been converted from front-wheel-drive to four-wheel-drive for the sought after RS badge to be worthy of a place on the tailgate.
Sadly this was not the case for the mk1 Focus and when images first leaked of the mk2 Focus with its much greater girth, the chat once again turned to “will Ford finally reintroduce four-wheel-drive again”.
The same answer was applied reference the drive train as a few years before, however the mk2 Focus RS did come with a rather fruitful and fantastic sounding 2.5L 5 cylinder turbocharged engine which, combined with the chassis, created a great package for sure – but not a package that was hugely exciting or could stand against Subaru’s WRX STi or Mitsubishi’s Evo.
Turn the clocks forward a few years now and just a year or two ago the chat started ref the 2016 mk3 Focus RS, chat that stirred opinion with many purists and Ford anoraks out there. Firstly due to the model only being available in five-door and also at the prospect of a four-wheel-drive RS model once again.
Close to launch many complained about the fact that a three-door option wasn’t available, but when it came to the confirmation of four-wheel-drive there was an air of excitement all-round for this all new RS. Some twenty years it has taken Ford to reawaken the RS…
Outside and the 2016 Focus RS perhaps isn’t as beefy around the arches as the model before, but I do feel it looks absolutely stunning with this test model finished in the only colour for this car in my eyes.
An exclusive colour by the name of ‘Nitrous Blue’ that is a more than affordable £745 option which glistens like coral in the sunlight, yet when overcast you wouldn’t even know it was metallic, accentuates the lines and curves of the latest RS perfectly.
The front of the RS swoops down sharply into the front bumper which has pretty large upper and lower air vents to keep the engine cool. At each side of the bumper there are fog lamps with small vents to the side which I can only assume are to feed air to keep the brake temperatures under control.
A purposeful black splitter sits along the bottom of the bumper to aid tarmac hugging at speed whilst moving around the side reveals blue coloured (£100 option for the colour) Brembo 4 pot callipers which are very meaningful looking behind the 19 inch satin black (£595 option) alloy wheels.
This model tested is also equipped with a £1000 lux pack which includes electric folding mirrors, keyless entry with push button start, rear privacy glass, cruise control and rear parking sensors. These sensors are also accompanied by a reverse camera on this model which works via the £465 option infotainment upgrade.
Around the rear and starting from the top there is probably one of the nicest looking spoilers gracing the top of the tailgate with the RS logo embossed on each side plate with the centre section fins and cross beam in black plastic.
The rear bumper has a large black plastic valance housing a centre reverse light with the large dual exit exhaust pipes protruding at each side. The exterior of this RS tested is the perfect combination of options and gets serious attention on the road and in the rear view mirror has quite a presence with its nose down stance.
Load space within the boot at a glance looks limited, however as the photo shows, it is far from it, holding a lot of camera gear as well as hand bag, a pair of child booster seats and some groceries. Height of the boot maybe isn’t as good as others in the segment due to the four wheel drive system but it is more than ample for most needs of the track day lover or family.
Inside the new Focus RS is a combination of lush leather and alcantara, blue stitching and soft touch plastics making up most of the dash with the centre console being a little too “plastic” in my eyes and maybe would benefit from some carbon panels or such likes.
Plenty of room is available both front and rear and head room is ample enough for average sized adults. This model is fitted with the optional Recaro bucket seats and at £1145 extra I feel they are absolutely worth it. They offer more support than you would ever need in all the right places, yet on a three hour drive home from Donegal, more than comfortable.
The driving position was one of sitting high up, there is no height adjust-ability with the Recaro seats and as such I felt higher than I ought to be in such a car with no option to sit lower to the floor sadly. All of that said though, this is a personal opinion which not everyone will agree with and a comfortable driving position was easily got within the first few miles.
The layout of the dash and all switch-gear was good and all within reach whilst the touch screen required an extra stretch to operate whilst on the go in my seating position. For an RS model, media options are in abundance due to the previously mentioned added option on this model.
DAB radio, Radio, BlueTooth, Sat Nav, Reverse Camera and CD all being part of the system with the user interface being very easy to use and understand with the sat nav being superb both in the Donegal area and in NI where the car was tested.
Engine wise Ford have ditched a cylinder on this model over the mk2 RS Focus and as such the displacement is reduced also with Ford favouring their all new 2.3L turbocharged petrol “ECOboost” engine which produces a staggering 345bhp with 324lb/ft which propels from 0-62mph in 4.7seconds.
With launch control as standard this car really does mean business and although it doesn’t feel fast, with a flat sort of power as opposed to a kick in the arse load of boost like the Escort RS Cosworth of old provided, the speedo tells a different story and its only when looking at the dial do you realise that the Focus RS is a rather fast car indeed.
With a six speed manual gearbox only, the lowest two gears are great for pulling away but it is not until you pull third that the RS really shows its pace, at this point it pulls like a steam train and just keeps pulling through to sixth with ease.
Along the way there is plenty of popping and banging from the exhaust pipes and inside the engine note is very confusing indeed, being a four cylinder with a relatively odd capacity the note is somewhere between a WRX STi and a Golf R but I just cannot place the sound to anything other than a mash up between the aforementioned.
The clutch is reasonable heavy and tiresome over a long drive as expected for this type of car and the power is put via the ‘box to all four wheels with varying drive mode’s available depending on what you want from the RS at any given time.
“Normal”, “Sport”, “Race Track” and the Ken Block wannabe’s favourite “Drift” are the driving modes on offer which change engine, suspension, traction system and differential settings to suit varying types of use with Drift mode propelling 80% of power to the rear wheels equalling many hours of smiles for some lucky owners.
With a harsh ride due to the large wheels and adaptive sports suspension the RS is more comfortable and at home on a narrow B road than it is on the motorway, this is a sign that the car has been designed fully around the driver and driving experience as opposed to an A to B steed.
I took the RS into the hills of Donegal and onto some of the best rally stages Ireland can offer and I will admit, this is the perfect car for it, the progressive power and sheer agility is hair raising to say the least.
This RS loves being driven, and in Sport mode the meandering roads came and went as quick as I could change gear, a proper driver’s car that rewards with every press of the throttle, every change of gear and every turn of the ‘wheel.
A confident car that inspires confidence, a car with super handling, a car that when cornering just bites in, bogs the rear end down and goes just where you want it, a car that will warn you of any pending over-steer and a car that will leave a lasting memory.
With such drive-ability comes a small sacrifice however as the RS is a little clumsy around town and in shopping centre car parks due to poor steering lock which is simply down to the engineering of the four wheel drive system and common for such cars.
This means just one thing though and that is to enjoy it on the open roads where it belongs and is more comfortable. During my weekend with this car I was asked what it compares like against a VW Golf R and my answer was simple, “it doesn’t”.
Ford has once again built a proper RS model that is in my eyes a hardcore, proper driver’s car that needs driven. If you have ever driven the very latest Subaru WRX STi then you will know roughly what to expect with the Focus RS. A raw, unadulterated experience that requires huge driver input!
I personally feel I would struggle to live with the RS for daily life and school run type duties where as the Golf R is a soft, fast family car that fulfils daily tasks with more ease and comfort.
The only hatchback I have driven that I could pitch against the Focus RS, is the likes of the Audi RS3 which I do feel won’t be as rewarding, however it would cope with the comfort of daily life as well as outperform the Focus RS. This isn’t a fair comparison though as with a similar spec the Audi comes in at around £15,000 more expensive.
In an ideal world, I would have a Golf R Estate as a daily family wagon whilst the Focus RS could sit in the garage, hold its value better than any other cars on the market and get taken for a good trashing around a track or back road every now and again.
Pricing for the Focus starts at £31,000 with this model tested coming in at a snip over £35,000, road tax is a mere £210/annum and expect mid twenties when it comes to economy. Over a combined cycle of about 500 miles in a weekend I managed early 20’s mpg.