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Car reviews - Ford - Focus - RS

Our Opinion

We like
Prodigious performance from the Volvo-sourced five-cylinder engine and racket to match, road-planted handling, engineering solutions to the eternal problem of torque steer, no-nonsense ergonomics
Room for improvement
Limited availability, no cruise control, rock-hard ride, rear seat accommodation, no sat-nav screen, late arrival in Australia

24 Sep 2010

MOTORING scribes drive a lot of cars, many of them incredibly fast ones, but only a handful create the kind of fuss the RS has.

It leaves all those who have driven it with wide eyes and broad grins. All this from a car that costs $60,000. That might seem a lot of money – almost double the best price that can be extracted on a Focus XR5 that the RS is based on (now in run-out) – but the RS is special.

It provides the kind of extreme pleasure that supercar customers shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for.

Of course, the RS will not match anything from Maranello in a drag, but it could well keep close on certain winding roads and create just as much of a stir (if you order one in lime green).

Car nuts are drawn to the RS because it is so overtly sporty. That massive front spoiler, the huge rear mounted wing, the pumped-out guards and those awesome twin drain-pipe exhausts are mostly theatre, but aren’t they great?

Don’t write off the RS as being more show than the go, because it is a seriously fast car, representing a serious automotive breakthrough.

We have never driven a car that manages to push so much power through the front wheels without giving the impression it will rip your arms off under heavy acceleration.

Whatever Ford has done to the front differential (which I’m told is a new special limited slip diff from Quaife) and the special ‘Revo-knuckle’ suspension, it works.

There is still some tugging through the steering wheel (torque steer), but negligible.

Despite the monstrous torque forcing its way into those front wheels, the RS puts its power down so much better than recent high-power front-drivers such as the TRD Aurion and the wild Mazda3 MPS.

If Ford can apply this technology to future models for other car-makers follow, the near future could be full of fun for high-performance front drivers.

Of course, I would always prefer an all-wheel drive over a front-drive, but this is still remarkably good.

It isn’t perfect though, with the odd thump feeling like some kind of one-off axle tramp and a strange clunk from the front end that suggested the system might not be perfect, at least on this hard-pushed test car.

We are told the Focus RS can match AWD rockets such as the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO and Subaru WRX STI around certain tracks, but the best part about this car is the sound.

The XR5 it is based on makes fantastic induction and exhaust noises at relatively low engine speeds – I know because my wife has one – so it is only natural that the RS sound even better.

The audible turbo of the XR5 becomes loud in the RS, especially the prominent ‘psssh’ of the spare air released from the turbo when backed off. As well, a fantastic loud bang accompanies every gear change.

The 224kW power figure is impressive for a small car, but this torquey engine does not need to revved to the red line (a little above the max power point of 6400rpm).

It hardly has any turbo lag either. The official 0-100km/h time is 5.9 seconds, but with all the sound and the fury, it feels so much faster.

The gearbox feels fairly standard, so don’t expect mega-fast shifts, but it is adequate and the clutch is light, which is not always the case with such potent engines.

Ford has also done a brilliant job tying this car down. Passengers I took for short runs were blown away by the mid-corner grip and its flat cornering, helped by the RS’s bigger footprint.

The rigidity of the suspension is appreciated in short bursts and would also be a great plus if on a track, but it doesn’t come without sacrifices.

It is so incredibly firm that every wrinkle in the road is transferred through all the components, into the seats and though the body of all the occupants.

I’m not sure if I could live with this harshness for everyday driving, as it is quite tiring, but that is something you would only be able to judge after a while with the car. The pleasure might well outweigh the discomfort.

The interior of the RS isn’t really that much chop. All the money was obviously spent on the rest of the car, which is only right.

The interior is almost identical to the XR5, with its faux carbon fibre plastic trim and two-tone grey dashboard carried over along with the instrument cluster and sound system. The only difference is the climate control buttons instead of manual air system.

Ford has changed, ever so slightly, the steering wheel and the seats. The new seats are Recaros, with a mix of suede and leather and more support than the optional leather seats in the XR5, but less comfortable. They also sit a bit higher off the floor than is ideal.

Rear leg and headroom is restricted in this three-door hatchback – the three-door in the Australian Focus range. However, rear occupants (there are only two rear seats) are likely to put up with a lot to come for a ride.

Retaining your licence might be a challenge with the ever present temptation to experience the car’s mighty acceleration, but an extra degree of difficulty is added as the RS misses out on cruise control.

That’s right: a $60,000 car without cruise control. This is the same with the XR5, and it spoils a great car. This is a ridiculous omission. Of course, you can have an aftermarket version, but who wants one of those on such a nice car?

Even though we have just receiving this car in Australia – in limited numbers – Ford has stopped building the RS and a new generation Focus is on the way.

A replacement RS will be at least a year or two away in Europe, and no doubt it will probably be faster and handle better and so on. However, it won’t have a Volvo sourced five-cylinder under the bonnet.

Chances are it will be powered by a wildly tuned Ford EcoBoost four-cylinder turbo. I’ve never heard a four cylinder turbo that sounds blissful, except for the Subaru boxers, so it is extremely unlikely it will ever sound as good as this RS.

$60,000 is a lot for a Focus, but this isn’t just a Focus. It is a remarkable ground-breaking model – a raucous, huffing, puffing slingshot that will keep close to supercars in certain conditions and perhaps upstage some when it comes to drawing attention. In this context, it’s a bargain.

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