In-depth reviews

Ford Focus RS (2016-2018) review

Wild looks, rocketship speed and sharp handling put the Ford Focus RS at the top of the hot hatchback tree

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

  • Strong performance
  • Agile handling
  • Great value
  • Firm ride
  • Gimmicky Drift mode
  • Small boot

The Ford Focus RS was for sale from 2016-2018, and while that wasn't very long, it established itself at the top of the high-performance hot hatch tree. For once, the term mega hatch was fully justified when applied to the RS Ford. The fastest Ford Focus Mk3 is great to drive and comes at a great-value price that puts it among some of the most exciting and affordable cars on the road 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 will be sticking points for some buyers, but in all other respects a used Focus RS is one of the performance car bargains of the decade.

There's no doubt that the Ford Focus RS was one of the best hot hatchbacks for sale between 2016 and 2018. It was a rival for cars like the Volkswagen Golf R and Mercedes-AMG A45, and thanks to the 345bhp (350hp), 2.0-litre turbocharged engine used under the bonnet, it had the firepower to take on these rivals. Today it's a great second hand choice at an even more competitive price.

But there's more to the Focus RS specs than just a powerful engine. It uses a six-speed manual gearbox, which in turn is connected to a trick four-wheel-drive system with smart electronics that include a YouTube-friendly 'Drift Mode' that takes electronic control of lairy slides.

Just one version of the Focus RS was available, although UK tuning specialist Mountune offered a power upgrade that was still covered by Ford's official warranty. It cost around £900 and boosted power by 30bhp. What's more, this kit is also available to be fitted as an aftermarket upgrade on a used Focus RS.

In 2017 Ford added the Option Pack to the list of RS upgrades. This added a Quaife limited-slip differential and matt black exterior tweaks, as well as the Nitrous Blue paint option.

Two special edition Focus RS models were also produced. The Focus RS Red Edition was limited to 300 cars and came in red with gloss black trim and the Quaife LSD. The Focus RS Heritage Edition was limited to 50 cars, and as well as orange paint and the LSD, it also had the 370bhp Mountune performance upgrade fitted.

Unlike the three-door Focus RS Mk2, the Mk3 only came as a five-door hatchback, chiefly because the basic Focus Mk3 was only offered as a five-door. However, stiffer suspension helps to give the RS a taut ride that's on the firm side, although many drivers will be happy to sacrifice some comfort for the sharp drive the Focus RS delivers.

• Best hot hatchbacks to buy now

As mentioned the Focus RS Mk3 followed in the footsteps of the Mk1 in 2002 and the Mk2 in 2009. Those two models featured front-wheel drive and a limited-slip diff to get the power to the road, but for the Mk3, Ford decided 4WD was the way to go. As a result, it has a 0-60mph time of 4.7 seconds, some 1.2 seconds faster than the Mk2 RS.

In a way, the Focus RS is a successor to rally-derived 4WD super saloons such as the Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru Impreza, and even Ford's classic Escort RS Cosworth, with its turbo engine and 4WD layout. There are plenty of rivals for the Focus RS, although the majority are hatchbacks. The Mercedes-AMG A 45 and Audi RS 3 Sportback deliver similar pace for more money, while both are available as four-door saloons (the A 45 version badged the CLA 45). The Volkswagen Golf R is an understated option that's still phenomenally fast.

If you want something different, the BMW M140i has rear-wheel drive, while the BMW M2 Coupe is a two-door alternative with muscular looks, and the M240i is the coupe variant of the M140i. Elsewhere, the Subaru WRX STi delivers a turbo 4WD layout in a saloon body, while the latest breed of front-drive hot hatchbacks can deliver thrills getting close to the RS for less money. If you're looking at these, then the Honda Civic Type R, SEAT Leon Cupra and VW Golf GTI are all worth checking out.

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