Thursday, 14 April 2016

FIRST DRIVE – Ford Focus RS

Invites arrive in my inbox for car launches from time to time, but often it just doesn’t work for me to go. They’re often mid-week and can be out of the country, making it difficult for me to go. However when one dropped through from Ford inviting me to come along and get behind the wheel of the new Focus RS, well I’d have been a fool to let that one go. So, early one Friday morning, I set off to Aynhoe Park in Oxfordshire.


Now I understand that some people will not have the time nor the attention span to read this whole article. They want to know if the RS is any good, not the drag co-efficient value. So let me help you out with a brief conclusion; the Focus RS is utter perfection. It is the car of 2016 without a shadow of a doubt, and those who have one on order will not be disappointed.

Anyway, here are the headline facts. Under the bonnet is a 2.3-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, producing 350PS and 440Nm of torque (470Nm with overboost). The power is sent to all four wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox. What a powertrain; 0-62mph is dealt with in a blistering 4.7 seconds, and the Focus RS will reach an impressive (and licence-losing) 165mph. The economy figures make for pleasant reading too, with combined fuel consumption of 36.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 175g/km (£205 road tax, £295 first year rate) mean that the RS won’t cost you the earth to run.

Ford’s design team wanted to create a car that looked aggressive; it had to look like an RS. But they didn’t want to simply stick on a load of plastic bits (take note, Honda), instead choosing design features with function. The result is a 6% better drag co-efficient than the 2009 Focus RS, and an impressive feat in the creation of a car with zero lift at the front and zero lift at the rear. The exclusive colour for this model is Nitrous Blue, and you haven’t really seen it until the sun is shining. There’s a lovely sparkle to it, and it is hardly surprising that it’s been the most popular choice; with 61% of customers so far opting for it.



In terms of performance and handling, the RS is a thoroughbred. From the very front- with an optimised grille mesh that is 86% open, compared to the 56% of the Focus ST- to the very back, and the sports exhaust designed to run as straight as possible, complete with valves which open to provide a sportier note. The RS also features a ‘lion’s foot’ which connects the rear strut towers through the floor pan, offering greater torsional stiffness. It’s just another example of Ford Performance engineers doing what they have continually done over the years in making fast Fords special.
The AWD system with torque vectoring is incredibly clever. It can transfer up to 70% of torque to the rear axle accounting to Ford (although in testing figures of over 90% have been recorded in certain circumstances), and can then send 100% of that to either wheel. It can switch from left to right in 0.06 seconds, and manages to eliminate the AWD’s Achilles heel; understeer. The adjustable dampers help the RS corner flat, and have two settings. ‘Normal’ is very similar to the Focus ST, and is comfortable on the road. ‘Sport’ stiffens the dampers by about 40%, and that’s a very noticeable change. But all this creates a car with smile-cracking cornering ability. It dances around from bend to bend with all the character of a rear-wheel drive, but with that AWD sure-footedness providing confidence to push on through. From your local B-road to Silverstone, the Focus RS performs faultlessly, achieving speeds through the bends you wouldn’t think possible.



The Focus RS has 350mm, four-piston Brembo front brakes ensuring it stops as impressively as it goes. These sit nicely behind 19-inch alloy wheels with 235/35/R19 Michelin Super Sport tyres. There is an optional forged wheel, and this will provide a weight saving of 950g per wheel. If you are considering any track time, or just want an all-out performance tyre for dry summer days, then you can specify some Michelin Pilot Super Cup 2’s. Be prepared to get the wallet out though; at £1,200 a set it’s an expensive option!

There are four drive modes for the Focus RS; Normal, Sport, Track and Drift. For each there are six key settings affected. What’s key here is that when in sport mode, the adjustable dampers are in normal. That means you benefit from the sharpened throttle response and steering, without having a bone-shaking ride. You can also change the dampers via a button on the end of the indicator stalk should you wish. The Focus RS also comes with a launch control feature; which is a first for me in a manual car. Once engaged you floor the throttle and the car holds 5,000rpm. Side-step the clutch and the car absolutely flies. There’s minimal wheelspin, and no bogging down of the AWD system. The head-throwingly fast acceleration will surprise your passengers, and put an ear-to-ear grin on your face.
The interior uses the timeless recipe seen in generations of Fast Fords. The main attraction is the pair of body-hugging Recaro seats. The standard ones are similar to those in the ST. They offer plenty of lateral support as well as being comfortable and surprisingly easy to get in and out of. For an additional £1,145 you can choose the Recaro shell front seats. These look more lightweight than the standard seats, and for me would be a definite yes. However this seems to be the area of most uncertainty for buyers; only 50% have opted for these. I can understand why. There is no height adjustment on them. At 5ft 7in I was perfectly comfortable, and a 6ft 2in driver said he was too (albeit with a little less headroom). They are also much harder to clamber in and out of, which isn’t such a big deal for me; although I could see myself getting paranoid over bolster wear. The shell seat is no less comfortable once in and on the move, and I also like that it gives a subtle nod to the previous Focus RS.



First deliveries of the Focus RS are imminent, so expect to see them on the road soon. And should you wish to order one, the final surprise will come when you see the price. Starting at £30,000, it represents unparalleled value for money. Even a fully-specced car (which many will be thanks to enthusiasts) comes in less than £35k, and if previous models are anything to go by I would expect residual values to be good.

So to sum up then. The Focus RS has been one of the most eagerly anticipated cars of the decade. And not only does the real thing not disappoint, it actually takes that high level expectation and raises the bar significantly. I haven’t got a bad word to say about it. I should be getting one in for review later this year, but more importantly I feel like I am going to have to own one at some point. I think it’s time to make a few phone calls… watch this space.

Ordered an RS? Taken delivery? Share your thoughts and views with us.

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