Ford Focus RS

Monday, 13 December 2010
I felt like a giddy school boy, anxiously waiting all day to get home and play with my newest toy. The toy in question was the Ford Focus RS.

Ford Australia has secured just 315 examples of the Focus RS, making it one of the rarest hot hatches in Australia. Crazily enough, at $59,990, almost all of the 315 examples have been accounted for.

As I rolled into Ford’s car park, I saw the Ultimate Green Focus RS waiting for me.

Entry and exit is a fuss-free effort courtesy of a proximity sensing key that remains in the pocket while the driver grasps the door handle to unlock and the car and presses the nipple on the handle to lock the car.

It’s worth preparing to clench if you enter the cabin at the wrong angle due to the hard, awkwardly placed side bolsters on the Recaro seats that offer an unpleasant surprise when landed on. Luckily it doesn’t take long to become accustom to their position and subsequent effect.

The cabin is a fairly remarkable place to be. The build feels solid and concise, while the materials feel robust and sturdy.
The only letdown in our test vehicle was a strange rattle coming from the back of the car in tune with the music.

The steering wheel’s perfect size and shape works in unison with the well-placed gear lever and handbrake to make for the perfect driving rush. Don’t expect an easy time when it comes to heel-toeing though, as the brake and accelerator pedal are awkwardly placed, making the manoeuvre somewhat tricky.

A proximity sensing key also means a starter button. The ‘Power’ labelled button sits just behind the gear shifter and requires a single stab to start the motor.

Music lovers will appreciate the great sound system and bevy of connectivity options, ranging from USB, right through to Bluetooth streaming and conventional CDs. Be careful though, an additional accessory is required if you’d like to use your iPhone as a music player.

The Focus RS is also equipped with digital radio streaming (although we couldn’t get it to work on our test vehicle) and a unique (to the Focus range) windscreen demister. The demister features invisible (unless closely inspected) heating lines that dissolve frost and fog without the need for air conditioning.

There is ample room available to carry rear seat passengers, making the Focus RS a practical option for punters. The boot offers 385 litres of capacity, which is helped by the lack of a spare tyre (tyre repair kit instead).

It’s the outside that most people will catch and recognise when it comes to the Focus RS. Finished in Ultimate Green, our test vehicle certainly stood out from the crowd and was the recipient of many pointing fingers and dropped jaws.

From the rear, two enormous exhaust pipes give onlookers an indication that this isn’t just a regular Ford Focus. A big air diffuser and large rear spoiler seal the deal – it can only be one thing, a Focus RS. Privacy glass follows flared wheel arches to the front where a gaping mouth exposes the front-mount intercooler.

From front on and looking in the rear vision mirror, it’s not hard to tell that the Focus RS means business. Functional bonnet vents and a front strut tower brace are the final touches to what can only be described as a visually gob-smacking car. The only other two exterior colours available are Frozen White and Performance Blue.

While it would be perfectly reasonable to simply sit and stare all day, I had to jump behind the wheel and turn the Focus RS over to really have some fun.

At idle, there is a meaty bellow that resonates for metres and even more so in confined spaces. The tight turning circle and fidgety brakes mean the Focus RS’s parking manners are fairly subdued. Once on the open road though, it’s a whole new beast.

Under the bonnet is the engine Ford shares with Volvo in the XR5 Turbo and the C30 T5, except this has had a few more ponies extracted for good measure. The 2.5-litre, five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine produces a hearty 224kW and 440Nm of torque. The official combined fuel consumption figure is 10.4L/100km, but I had it down at around 9.9L/100km during my time with the car.

The issue with cramming that much juice through two front wheels is torque steer – which plagues some if its competitors such as the Mazda3 MPS.

Ford has overcome this frustrating trait using a system called the RevoKnuckle. RevoKnuckle uncannily ensures that torque steer is virtually non-existent, even during full throttle applications and when cornering is thrown into the mix. With that in mind, I find it very easy to believe that a 0-100km/h dash of 5.9-seconds is readily attainable.

Coming with only a six-speed manual transmission, the gear shifts are smooth and short. The transmission works beautifully with the clutch which offers a bit of weight, but not too much. The clutch is also fairly robust, taking several hard launches and countless gear changes on the performance test.

As you would expect for a hardcore hot-hatch like the Focus RS, the ride is fairly firm but most definitely not overly firm. That gives you the flexibility of firmness for sporty driving and agility for B-grade roads and city locales. A 40mm wider rear track and sports springs and dampers ensure that cornering is almost a non-event.

Body roll is kept at a complete minimum while the super-grippy 235mm wide Continental tyres relentlessly hold on to all road available. The extremely direct steering is the perfect balance between weight and comfort, offering the driver a rewarding drive regardless of the drive or road conditions.

Stopping power is never far from reach with 336mm front rotors that fit snugly in the 19” wheel. Brake pedal feel is very firm, but responsive. A battering of the brakes proved that they were consistently ready to provide full stopping power with little or no fade.

When you try and compare the Focus RS to other cars on the market, you are left with a few choices such as the Volkswagen Golf R, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru Impreza WRX STI or even the Audi S3 and BMW 135i Coupe if you were prepared to spend a bit of extra money.

While each of these would offer a logical, fiscal and performance comparison, they quite simply cannot match the bottled rage that exists in the Focus RS engine bay. Each time you give the throttle a workout, you receive a soundtrack that none of its competitors come even close to the matching.

Then there’s the outrageous design and looks, not to mention the exclusivity.

Without driving the Focus RS, you’re going to think I’m absolutely bonkers recommending it over the fine pieces of machinery on offer from the competition. Quite simply, it’s something that needs to be seen and heard to be believed.

I haven’t had this much fun behind the wheel of a car in a long time and the last car I thought I would be having it in would be a front-wheel-drive.

I simply can’t wait to see what the crazies at Ford come up with for the next generation Focus RS. If it’s anything like this one, I’ll be lining up in a heartbeat. – Paul Maric

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