Ford Focus RS

Can pioneering 301bhp monster crush Mazda into submission?

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to drive a WRC rally car, take a trip to your local Ford dealer and ask to try a new RS.

Although you won’t get the obligatory co-driver barking out pace notes or have to wear a helmet and overalls, you will at least find out how it feels to have just over 300bhp under your right foot.

This is the car that fast Ford fans have been waiting for. A spiritual successor to the legendary Escort Cosworth, the RS is the first front-wheel-drive hatch to break the 300bhp barrier.

Like its predecessor, it’s also a car with strong motorsport roots. Its design features a number of elements lifted from Ford’s WRC cars, including the multi-element rear wing, underfloor diffuser and beefy front bumper.

Inside, Ford has done well to create a cabin that looks sporty without being gimmicky. The carbon-effect trim that surrounds the centre console won’t be to all tastes, but the dash-mounted dials and kidney-crushing rally seats help to reinforce the sporting theme.

However, like the Mazda, there are elements that don’t work as well as they should. In the case of the Ford, it’s the driving position which is set much too high. As the seats are fixed on to permanent, racing style subframes, you’ll need a socket set to lower them.

Fortunately, these few gripes do little to draw attention away from the Ford’s main talking point – its engine.

A heavily modified version of the 2.5-litre, five-cylinder turbocharged unit fitted to the ST, it produces 301bhp and 440Nm of torque.

That’s enough to give the RS performance to rival the likes of the Porsche Boxster.

While the acceleration and flexibility never fail to raise a smile, it’s the engine’s character that really makes it special.

The warbling five-cylinder engine note gives the RS a unique sound that evokes memories of the original Audi Quattro. Blotting the copybook slightly are the gearchange and fuel economy.

The Ford’s shift feels heavy and vague after the ultra- precise Mazda, while an mpg figure in the low 20s means crippling fuel bills.

On the road, the RS’s chassis does its best to keep up with the rest of the package, and – on the whole – it does a good job.

The 19-inch wheels deliver a sporty ride, while the clever RevoKnuckle suspension masks torque steer very effectively.

However, there’s no getting away from the fact that the Focus is a heavy car with a big engine up front. Although few owners will ever be able to push it to its limits, the RS works its tyres extremely hard and it doesn’t quite have the delicate handling balance of cars such as the MINI Cooper John Cooper Works.

At £26,395, the RS is at the top end of the hot hatch market. And, unlike its Mazda rival here, it misses out on extras such as sat-nav and cruise control.

That said, the fastest Focus ever is a marvellous machine that knows how to entertain its driver. And for that, you can’t help but admire it.

Details

Chart position: 1WHY: The RS raised the bar in this class at launch earlier this year, and has the heritage and pace to back up its brash looks.

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