Ford’s Focus RS is one of the most hotly anticipated cars of 2016. The pre-launch hype has seemingly been going forever, but after all the teasers and drip-fed information, we’ve finally driven it.
Traditionally, a review leaves the verdict until the end to build suspense, but in this case I’ll be up front. The new Focus RS is awesome, and instead I’m going to spend the rest of this review telling you why.
First, however, a refresher on the details. The third-generation Focus RS is the first to be built as a global model, and the first to receive all-wheel drive as standard. It arrives in Australia about mid-year priced at $50,990.
Under the bonnet is a 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 257kW/440Nm, though 470Nm is available on overboost (which is basically all the time). It’s a gem of a thing; tractable from low down with a muscly mid-range, yet it will rev happily to its 6500rpm redline and beyond.
The noise it makes is a little synthetic, but it’ll be a long time before you tire of the cacophony of pops and bangs that escape the exhaust on gear changes and overrun; it sounds like a refugee from the World Rally Championship.
A six-speed manual is the only available gearbox and it’s a light and accurate shift with spot-on ratios. The engine’s powerband means you could just leave it in third gear but the ease with which you can heel-toe down the ’box means you’ll be changing for the hell of it.
Like the pedal placement, the rest of the driving position is spot-on with beautifully supportive Recaro seats and the leather-bound steering wheel thankfully avoids being too fat. The interior sets no new standards in terms of design or quality, but while it’s no Audi RS3, there’s little to complain about at this price point.
There’s also little to complain about with the driving experience - it is utterly magic. The steering is quick at just two turns lock-to-lock but never feels darty or nervous. It will occasionally tug at bumps or road camber but also feeds a delicious stream of information back to your hands.
Equally, the chassis is always talking to you about what’s going on. This is an exceptionally easy car to drive hard and more often than not feels well within its limits. It flows down a road beautifully, with all the various mechanical components displaying a Porsche-like sense of cohesion.
Grip from the 235/35 ZR19 Michelin Pilot Super Sports is strong, with the Focus RS seemingly impervious to understeer unless you’re really trying to be silly. But never is it boring or over-gripped, with the highlight being the way the unique four-wheel drive system shifts torque rearward to rotate the car mid-corner and fire it out with with perhaps a hint of oversteer on exit.
Find a slipperier surface than dry Spanish tarmac, however, and it gets even better. The nose slides gently on turn-in but give it a quick bootful mid-corner and the rear skips wide, even within the boundaries of the Sport ESP setting.
Essentially, the Focus RS has all the involvement and feedback of Renault’s RS275 Megane with the security and traction of a VW Golf R. Best of both worlds? It sure feels like it based on this brief early taste.
About the only possible question mark regards ride quality. Its balance of compliance and control is extremely impressive, but Spanish roads are in general very smooth and there’s the possibility it will be a little jittery on crappy Australian tarmac. It also has a truly enormous turning circle, and likes a drink when driven hard.
But that’s about it, and they seem like small bugbears given there is so much right in this car. A full verdict will have to wait until the car lands in Australia mid-year, but based on this first introduction the Focus RS is not just one of the best hot hatches around, but one of the best performance cars full stop.
Engine: 2261cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 257kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 440Nm @ 2000-4500rpm (470Nm on overboost)
0-100km/h: 4.7sec (claimed)