Ford Focus RS review
The third car to carry the Ford Focus RS badge is a 345bhp, four-wheel drive monster, the firm’s most extreme hot hatch yet
The Ford Focus RS has taken its place at the top of the high-performance hot hatch tree having been named our 2016 Hot Hatch of the Year at the annual Auto Express New Car Awards. For once, the term mega hatch is fully justified when applied to the RS Ford. The fastest Ford Focus is great to drive and comes at a bargain price - that puts it among some of the exciting and affordable cars on the road today, of any type. It's agile and sporty in all the right places and offers massive acceleration, while the turbocharged engine delivers a suitably sporty soundtrack too.
It wouldn't be a hot hatch without being at least a little down-to-Earth, and the Focus RS is also well equipped and solidly built - so you can use it every day. The stiff ride and small boot might be sticking points for some buyers, but in all other respects the RS is one of the performance car bargains of the decade.
This is the third-generation Ford Focus RS, and it continues the bloodline by being the hottest version of the family hatchback ever. It also bucks the trend by introducing a clever four-wheel drive system, able to make the most out of the car's 345bhp 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine. Just like its main rivals, the Ford Focus RS aims to deliver supercar thrills combined with the everyday practicality of a family hatchback - and all at a competitive price.
That 345bhp power output places the Focus RS on a par with rivals such as the Audi RS3, Mercedes-AMG A 45 and Volkswagen Golf R. However, with a price tag in the region of £30k, the Focus RS is far better value than the Mercedes and Audi, costing around the same as the less powerful Honda Civic Type-R.
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As you'd expect from a top-of-the-range Focus, the RS is well equipped. The biggest changes are to the outside, as the RS is fitted with an aggressive bodykit, redesigned front end and 19-inch alloy wheels. The gaping grille with matt black surround, prominent front splitter, bulging wheelarches and high-rise tailgate spoiler ensure the RS looks like it’s driven straight off a rally stage. Inside, the changes are less distinct, but you do get body-hugging Recaro sports seats, blue finished dials, RS badges and a drive mode button next to the gearlever.
It’s under the skin where the biggest changes have taken place. The Focus RS features a six-speed manual gearbox and four-wheel-drive transmission, but Ford’s engineers have developed it to deliver sports car-style handling, so it has a bias towards the rear wheels that other four-wheel-drive super hatches can’t match.
While many four-wheel drive cars can understeer slightly in corners, the torque vectoring system in the Focus can send extra power to the rear wheels to give the car a much more rear-biased character. There's even a special Drift Mode that allows you to get the car sideways in corners without the risk of spinning.
Then, of course, there’s the engine. The turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder is taken from the latest Mustang, but a number of internal revisions, including the addition of a unique cylinder head machined by British tuning specialist Cosworth, has helped boost power to 345bhp and torque to a muscular 440Nm.
Overall, the new Focus RS is the most extreme hot hatch Ford has built since the Escort RS Cosworth of the early nineties. However, while that model was designed to go rallying, the Focus RS is simply designed to be one of the fastest cars on the road - and for most driving conditions in the UK, there's little to better it.
Engines, performance and drive
Fast Ford models have always had a reputation for delivering thrilling driving dynamics, but the RS engineers have pulled out all the stops with this Focus. As a result, it’s the first high performance Ford to feature four-wheel drive since the legendary Escort RS Cosworth. Yet unlike the fairly agricultural system fitted to its ancestor, the Focus’ transmission is packed with cutting edge kit.
At the heart of set-up is what the company terms its Rear Drive Unit, which can send up to 70 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear axle, then up to 100 percent of this power to an individual rear wheel. In effect, Ford has engineered in a torque vectoring facility that aims to combine the stability and traction of an all-wheel- drive car with the adjustability and agility of a traditional rear-driven machine.
In addition Ford has ditched the Focus ST’s variable ratio steering rack in favour of fixed rate set-up that promises even more consistent responses and greater feedback. Also included are two stage adaptive dampers, plus a Drive Mode that allows you to choose from Normal, Sport, Drift and Track modes.
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On the road, this hi-tech cocktail results in one of the most exciting hot hatch driving experiences money can buy.
As you’d expect, there’s bags of grip, and the Focus turns eagerly into corners and stays locked on your chosen line. The steering is quick, well weighted and packed with decent feedback, while selecting the sportier driving modes adds a little extra weight – although it doesn’t really need it.
Despite the sharpness of the steering, it’s the four-wheel drive system that really impresses. Even in Normal mode, the rear differential sends significant torque to the outside rear wheel, helping to point the nose of the RS into the bend. Go for the Sport setting and the effect is even more pronounced. In wet and slippery conditions you’ll even get a delicious flick of oversteer when you apply the power.
The Brembo brakes also deserve special mention. Not only are they powerful, but they’re easy to modulate thanks to the progressive action of the well-weighted pedal.
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Then there’s the exciting sounding Drift setting. Prod a button on the transmission tunnel, and the four-wheel drive system is primed to deliver controlled and graceful sideways slides without the risk of spinning. However, in reality this addition is a bit of a gimmick, especially for drivers more used to a traditional rear-wheel drive layout. Initially the rear wheels spin to push the rear of the car round, but soon power is delivered to the front axle as the electronics attempt to pull the car straight. It’s okay for a bit of show-boating in wide-open spaces, but ultimately rather unsatisfying.
When you’re not playing the hooligan, the RS is pretty much an ordinary Focus, which means it’s easy to drive and fairly refined. The pedals and steering are reasonably light, while the gearbox has an easy and precise action. Only the firm ride lets the car down.
Even with the standard adaptive dampers in their 'Normal' setting the Focus fidgets and follows almost every bump in te road - although it's no worse than the Fiesta ST in this respect. Tap a button on the end of the indicator stalk and you'll engage the 'Sport' setting, which stiffens the suspension by a further 40 percent. However, this mode is far too firm for road use and should only really be used if you're taking the car on track days.
The Focus RS is a standalone model, so there’s only one engine choice - but it’s a corker. Based on the turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine already seen on the recently introduced Ford Mustang, it features a number of tweaks that push power and torque up to 345bhp and 440Nm respectively. Technical highlights include a separate oil cooler, a larger turbocharger, a high capacity radiator and a large bore exhaust. Fans of older fast Fords will also be heartened to discover that British tuning specialists Cosworth produce the unique aluminium cylinder head.
As you’d expect, performance is impressive, with the RS demolishing the benchmark 0-62mph sprint in a claimed 4.7 seconds. However, when we tested the car we recorded a 0-60mph time of 5.0 seconds. This figure is achieved in conjunction with the standard launch control, which automatically holds the engine revs at the perfect point for a the fastest getaway. This system is effective but brutal, and it's likely the frequent use will put a lot of strain on teh clutch and transmission.
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Yet on the road it’s the car’s mid-range muscle that really impresses. Once the revs climb past 2,000rpm the Focus simply flies. There’s virtually no turbo lag and the engine responds crisply to the throttle. The slick six-speed manual also allows you to make the most of the considerable performance.
The 2.3-litre unit sounds good, too. A valve in the twin exit exhausts opens at higher revs, boosting gas flow rate and adding a hard edged growl to the soundtrack. Lift off the throttle and you treated to a barrage of pops, crackles and bangs on the overrun. It’s not quite as charismatic as the Audi RS3’s five-cylinder unit, but it’s not far off.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
You’re not going to buy a Focus RS if you want efficient transport, but Ford has added stop-start to the 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine to help reduce your fuel bills when you want to take it easy.
An official combined economy figure of 36.7mpg is around 3mpg behind the VW Golf R and Mercedes-AMG A 45, but is slightly ahead of the Audi RS3. Of course, if you’re going to use the EcoBoost engine’s performance, then you’re unlikely to come close to Ford’s claimed economy figures, and the car will easily dip in to the 20s without too much provocation. That’s especially true if you use the car’s overboost function, which bumps torque up from 440Nm to 470Nm for 15 seconds at a time - perfect for rapid overtakes, but less so for efficiency.
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Emissions of 175g/km mean road tax costs £205 a year, which is £25 a year more than the VW and Mercedes. Despite its higher emissions figure, the Focus RS is a cheaper company car than the A 45, thanks to its price tag of just over £30,000, but the Golf R is an even better option for business users.
As it’s a performance car, the Focus RS sits in insurance group 40, which is seven groups higher than the Focus ST. It’s in the same band as the Audi RS3, while the Mercedes A 45 is four groups higher, and the Golf R is six groups below. A Thatcham Category 1 alarm is fitted as standard.
The Focus RS features Ford’s MyKey system, which allows you to set up user profiles for whoever is driving the car, while xenon lights and a Quickclear windscreen help visibility. Ford’s Door Edge protectors are available as an £85 option – these pop out of the doors as you open them and place a plastic strip on the edge of the door to prevent car park scrapes.
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Our experts predict 51 per cent residuals for the Focus RS after three years, which is slightly behind the VW Golf R and nearly 10 per cent behind the Audi RS3, but it is marginally better than the Mercedes A 45.
From launch, demand has been good for the Focus RS, although if you order one today you won’t have long to wait for delivery. Even so, some early examples are already being advertised for over list price.
Interior, design and technology
The Focus RS is all about performance, and Ford has given it a suitably aggressive look to mark it out from the rest of the range. At the front there’s a gaping grille that has a secondary air intake below and a pair of inlets on either side. However, the main grille has a big slab of grey plastic across it where the number plate attaches, and while the blue RS badge stands out on it, the front end does look a little awkward.
Further back, there are 19-inch multispoke alloy wheels, or you can upgrade to lightweigh black forged alloys for £595, while deeper sills are added. At the back, the ST’s centre-exit exhaust is replaced by two pipes that protrude from either side of the diffuser, while a towering rear wing is fitted above the rear screen. As standard, the Focus RS comes in Stealth grey, while white is a £250 option, metallic grey or black are £525 and the exclusive Nitrous Blue metallic is a £745 option.
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Inside, the Focus RS has been given a few blue bits of trim and RS badges to mark it out from the rest of the Focus range, but the biggest change is a new pair of Recaro sports seats up front. They’re finished in leather and Alcantara with blue detailing if you go for the Nitrous Blue exterior paint. You can also upgrade to slimline Recaro Shell seats for £1,145. These are firmer and offer better support, but like the standard chairs they are set just a little too high.
The RS’s dashboard design is largely the same as the ST, with a large touchscreen on the centre console, while the twin dials in the instrument cluster flank a large trip display and two auxiliary gauges. Like the ST, there’s a set of three additional gauges on top of the dash above the centre console, while the RS adds a Drive Mode button next to the gearlever. The cabin quality is good, with plenty of soft-touch materials, while the layout is easy enough to get along with.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The Focus RS features a nine-speaker Sony stereo, eight-inch touchscreen and Ford’s Sync 2 voice control system as standard. The latter is controlled via a button on the multifunction steering wheel, and lets you adjust phone, stereo and climate settings without taking your hands off the steering wheel.
The infotainment system is the same as you’ll find in lower spec Focus models, so it’s easy to pair your phone via Bluetooth, plus you get a USB socket in a centre console cubby to connect your audio device and a DAB radio as standard.
Sat-nav is a £465 option, and again, it’s the same user-friendly system you’ll find across Ford’s range, with clear mapping, good traffic alerts and user-friendly guidance instructions. However. some of the buttons are Ford's SYNC 3 system will be available soon, too.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Like the standard Focus, the RS model isn’t the roomiest hatchback around. However, performance is a greater priority in a car like this, so buyers will be happier to overlook its smaller carrying capacity compared to its rivals.
The boot has less space than you’ll find in an Audi RS3 or VW Golf R, but at least the standard five-door body means it’s easy to access the back seats, while those in the front have plenty of room and a wide range of wheel and seat adjustment to get comfortable.
The standard Recaro sports seats are a bit bigger than normal, so legroom in the back is further reduced, although if you upgrade to the Recaro shell front seats this frees up some room - but some might find them a bit uncomfortable. Plus their large and solid backrests hinder the view forward for passengers sitting in the rear.
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Whichever seats you choose, you’ll find that like the last Focus RS, you feel like you’re sitting rather high in the Focus’ cabin. The seats don’t adjust low enough for some tastes, and makes you feel like you’re sitting on the car, rather than in it. Aside from the seats, the rest of the RS’s cabin is the same as the standard Focus, so you get decent door bins, a deep armrest cubby and a big glovebox.
In terms of dimensions, the RS is the same size as the standard Focus. That means it’s similar in size to rivals such as the VW Golf R and Audi RS3, but slightly bigger than the Mercedes A 45.
Its five-door body means access is pretty easy, while the thin pillars help visibility out, too. The lower chin spoiler and an overall lower ride height than the standard Focus means you’re more likely to scrape over speed bumps, especially as the stiff suspension doesn’t offer any give over bumps.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Space for back seat passengers is limited when compared to models like the VW Golf R and Audi RS3. There’s just about room for three across the back, although the middle seat is higher than the two on either side, and legroom is even more restricted thanks to the transmission tunnel running to the back of the car. Like the standard Focus, the RS has two sets of Isofix points in the outer rear seats. Headroom is finein the Focus RS, although if you add the £575 sunroof it can cut headroom slightly.
Space up front is good, and while the Recaro sports seats are mounted on the high side, headroom is fine. The heavily bolstered seats hold you in place in corners, but they’re still comfortable in everyday use, but if you upgrade to the optional Recaro shell seats, you can expect them to be firmer. They do boost legroom in the back, though.
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There’s a four-wheel-drive system underpinning the Focus RS, and accommodating the rear differential has resulted in a smaller boot than the standard car – already one of the most cramped in the family car class. With the seats in place there’s a paltry 260 litres to play with, which is less than you’ll get in a Fiesta supermini. In comparison, the VW Golf R has a smaller boot than the standard car, but at 343 litres it’s still 83 litres up on the Focus RS.
While it’s not big, the Focus RS’s boot is a decent shape, with a large floor and no intrusion from the wheelarches or suspension. It also has a shallow boot lip and a wide opening. At least a 60/40 split fold rear seat is standard, and with the rear bench lowered there’s a reasonable 1,045 litres on offer. However, you need to flip the seat bases up if you want a flatter floor. The seats are released via a pair of shoulder-mounted buttons, and they are easy to fold, while the parcel shelf is easy to remove, too.
Reliability and Safety
The Focus RS is essentially an uprated version of the standard Focus hatch. It uses the same electronics and infotainment system as the standard car, while some of the mechanical parts are uprated kit developed from the Focus ST hot hatch.
The 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine is a development of the 2.0-litre EcoBoost in the Focus ST, and it’s also found in the Ford Mustang. However, bespoke components in the Focus RS mean power has been bumped up to 345bhp, making it the most powerful EcoBoost engine in the line-up. The six-speed manual gearbox is also a beefed up version of the transmission in the Focus ST, while Ford’s RS department has plenty of experience in motorsport, and its engineers will know how to build a car that is fast and reliable.
The chassis has been developed to deliver an involving drive, while the car’s electronics are designed to help you explore the car’s limits with an electronic safety net in place should things go wrong. There are four Drive Modes, while the four-wheel drive system and its torque vectoring electronics should ensure the Focus RS is a sure-footed performer, even in the wet.
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The standard Focus has a five-star Euro NCAP rating, and the RS model should be equally safe. Standard kit on the flagship model includes six airbags, tyre pressure monitors, auto lights and wipers, a Quickclear windscreen and high-performance Brembo brakes. You can also add autonomous emergency braking for £200.
The Focus RS is well built from plenty of bespoke materials, and considering the mass-market standard car performed reasonably well in our Driver Power survey, the tailor-made RS model should be a solid and reliable machine. It certainly feels well built, with plenty of soft-touch plastics used throughout.
As with the standard Focus, you get a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty on the RS model. That’s similar to rivals, while the 12-year corrosion warranty covers the paintwork against manufacturing defects. There’s a one-year roadside assistance policy with the Focus RS, while Ford offers warranty extensions of 1-2 years for a little extra outlay.
The Focus RS has the same service intervals as the standard car, at one year or 12,500 miles. It’ll be pretty easy to get your car maintained, as Ford has over 700 dealers across the country, just don’t expect a first-class service, though. Ford’s franchises finished poorly in our Driver Power survey, with owners complaining of a lack of personal service from its franchises.