Car reviews - Ford - Focus - RS
Supercar-scaring handling, superb balance and poise, engine’s top-end reach, good steering and ride
Room for improvement
Infuriating ergonomics, ride can be hard, cabin feels downmarket compared with a Golf R
Click to see larger images
12 Jan 2017
Price and equipment
ATTAINABILITY makes mere mortals more excited about a potential performance proposition than a supercar with a super-sized pricetag. At $50,990 plus on-road costs, the Focus RS is within reach of some and closer than a pie-in-the-sky dream for many.
Lavish equipment is not the forte of this Ford, though, it focuses on the driver. The RS comes equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels and leather/Alcantara Recaro front seats, the inclusion of the latter means that side airbags have been dropped from the Focus, leaving only dual-front and side-curtain protection.
Keyless auto-entry with push-button start, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with digital radio, reversing camera and (the imminent arrival of) Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology are all standard.
However, the likes of adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and a sunroof are not available – despite lesser Foci offering such equipment, and the above kit forming $3350 worth of options above the $52,740 base price of a Volkswagen Golf R.
The current Focus interior debuted in 2012 and has aged rapidly even among $25K small-car rivals. At around double the price of the Trend model grade, the rubbery dashboard plastics, scratchy lower trim and hard rear door panelling all look and feel especially downmarket. In this regard, a certain R competitor trumps the RS at every turn.
A highlight is the touchscreen, which includes Ford’s decent Sync2 infotainment system (although it is about to be upgraded to the newer Sync3 update). The system works well to deliver the modern essentials of Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB or digital radio music connectivity, satellite navigation with handy voice control and a rearview camera.
The colour trip computer screen, thin-rimmed leather-wrapped steering wheel and metal-topped gearlever and pedals also combine with the Recaro buckets to at least give this cabin a purposeful, if not premium feel.
Unfortunately, taller drivers in particular will feel as though the beefy buckets have been positioned far too skyward and there is no height or tilt adjustment available. Even this moderate 178cm-tall tester found them awkwardly placed, like sitting above a go-kart rather than inside one.
Ford’s marketing and OH&S departments have also been let loose inside, with warning buzzers and beepers for the nav – which reads out a warning to watch your surroundings before use – and a four-setting Drive Mode button that infuriatingly defaults to Normal mode on each start up.
Engine and transmission
A 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 257kW at 6000rpm, and 440Nm from 1600rpm until 5000rpm, should be quite an event in a five-door hatchback. Even a kerb weight of 1524kg – 89kg heavier than a Golf R – has failed to blunt the realistic 4.7-second zero to 100km/h claim.
The default Normal mode does, however, blunt proceedings around town. Throttle response is lethargic and the sports exhaust barely murmurs a quiver of spirit, which is not helped by the fact the gravelly four-cylinder engine does not sound as crisp as the previous model’s five-cylinder unit.
Switch to Sport and the throttle becomes nicely sharp, the exhaust fruitier.
Drivers then have the option of individually selecting a sports suspension mode for the Sport setting, which takes two presses of the Drive Mode button and one press of the end of the indicator stalk … only for everything to default to Normal after every start up.
However, the new Focus RS easily chases down the loud, abrasive shadow of the previous model, which cost $59,990 when it sold here in limited numbers in 2010. There is surprising lag until 3000rpm – despite peak torque claimed from 1600rpm – but, combined with a slick six-speed manual, the explosive result thereafter is to be savoured.
When freed of urban constraints, this hot hatchback revels in fast, frenetic driving, with a lust for revs as a hard-edged snarl develops past its 6500rpm redline. There is also a lust for fuel – with another 50 per cent added to its combined cycle fuel consumption of 8.1 litres per 100 kilometres in our test car.
Ride and handling
A single optional extra on the Focus RS is a $2500 performance wheel package fitted to our test car, which flicks the standard multi-spoke silver alloy wheels for lighter, gloss-black rims, and replaces Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres with the racier Pilot Sport Cup 2 model.
As with the drivetrain’s Normal mode, however, the Focus RS has lost the edginess and character of the previous model around town. The steering – a Ford of Europe pièce de résistance – has become slightly vague just off the centre position, but the adaptive suspension’s standard setting rounds off large road imperfections with newfound poise.
Again, though, the slightly tame urban behaviour is but a veneer for a model that absolutely devours a country road. Add some steering lock and the whole system tightens up beautifully, while the grip from the optional tyres is staggering.
It is this halo hot hatch’s expansive dynamic repertoire that proves most impressive of all. The ride is tough, yet composed and even refined in a sophisticated way typically reserved for the likes of a Porsche 911 GT3. Its agility rivals the likes of the BMW M2 and above, and yet the famed ‘twinster’ all-wheel-drive system sends plenty of drive to the rear wheels, so the choice to nip its cornering line in the bud (or in this case butt) is presented to drivers for the taking.
There is no need to ascend to Race or Track modes, because Sport mode is willing, communicative and apes a rear-drive configuration enough for fun, frisky on-road driving below racetrack speed, with the Sport electronic stability control setting perfectly tuned.
Safety and servicing
Seven airbags (including dual front and front-side protection), ABS and switchable electronic stability control (ESC), rear parking sensors and rearview camera.
ANCAP has not tested the Ford Focus RS, but the Focus small-car range on which it is based scored a maximum five-star crash safety rating.
Ford’s lifetime capped-price servicing program covers annual, or 15,000km, checks at an average cost of $375 for the first three, and $520 for the fourth, all with free roadside assistance included.
In many ways the Ford Focus RS simply does not know what it wants to be – but this is a rare case of that confusion being an overwhelming positive.
On the one hand, it is a practical hatchback with all the usual hot tricks of lithe small car, merely enhanced here. It is fast and grippy simple. Yet, the new RS also possesses an inner muscle car streak, a willingness to slide its tail as though it is a Mustang, with an angriness when let off the leash.
Suffocation by Drive Mode has occurred to some degree compared with the more visceral and ‘always on’ previous model, but at least the latest fast Focus offers quite liveable ride quality and contemporary infotainment choices.
Ford has broadened this model’s horizons, expanded its abilities and in doing so has created a refreshed and refreshing compact all-wheel-drive performance legend.
Subaru WRX STi from $49,490 plus on-road costsUnchanged turbocharged all-wheel-drive recipe still has raw appeal and genuine boy-racer credentials, but ageing engine lets down the overall hugely competent package.
Volkswagen Golf R from $52,740 plus on-road costsOutclassed by Focus RS for handling, but the Golf R still offers a superb all-round package with better equipment and higher levels of interior quality.
The Road to Recovery podcast series
All car reviews
Click to share