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Ford Focus RS Mk3 Review and Test Drive

Ever since the third generation Focus RS was confirmed as being four wheel drive, it has undoubtedly been one of the most anticipated cars of 2016. Enthusiasts had been crying out for Ford to make a 4WD version of the hot Focus since it’s incarnation, allowing it to fully live up to the Rally Sport badge, and follow in the footsteps of it’s iconic older brother – the Escort Cosworth.

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See our re-make of the original Cosworth advert featuring the Cossie and RS…

The Mk 1 RS, launched in 2002, was an immediate hit although it did develop a bit of a reputation of being sensitive to suspension geometry and road surface, if the torque steer was to be kept in check. The second generation added more power (up to 301bhp), a dose of attitude thanks to its less than subtle styling, and some trick front suspension. All of which made for a very effective combination but still, it was an RS driven by all four wheels that everyone wanted Ford to make. And now it’s here…

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The headline figures are very impressive: 345bhp, 347lb ft, 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds and 165mph flat out. This, combined with a clever four wheel drive system, sounds like it should be a good recipe. And it is. Very good.

My formative petrol head years were spent in hot hatches, when Escort RS Turbos, 205 GTI’s and 5 GT Turbo’s were the order of the day. Back then 120-130bhp was considered fast, but hot hatches have now morphed into ‘hyper’ hatches, with power approaching 3 times that. Figures such as those above are only part of the story as to how far the game has moved on.

First up though, the looks. When I first saw the Mk 3 back in March at the Geneva Motor show, I wasn’t convinced. Based on the standard Focus body, I didn’t think it looked ‘special’ enough for something from the RS division. Now though I reckon they’ve got it just about right. Not as ‘shouty’ as the ‘all wings & arches’ previous generation, but more purposeful than say a Golf R, with a subtle hint of aggression to let you know its intent. Aided by the stunning Nitrous Blue paintwork (a cost option) of the test car.

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The four cylinder, 2.3 EcoBoost engine is shared with the Mustang, although it receives a few tweaks for installation in the RS, including a revised turbo & inter-cooler. It might not be as characterful as the five pot from the Mk 2 but it’s not without charm. Torque is plentyful, it has a linear power delivery with very little lag, is responsive and loves to be rev’d. At times the straight line performance didn’t feel quite as quick as I expected but its very impressive, is never caught lacking and is extremely effective at hurling you down the road at some serious speed.

The RS uses a clever, specially developed 4WD system which utilises two clutch packs on the rear axle, enabling the car to actively vary the amount of torque sent to each rear wheel. This includes sending a greater overall percentage of the power to the rear – nice. All of which helps to maximise grip, minimise under-steer and, in the infamous Drift mode, behave more a like a rear wheel drive car. Additionally, there are three other driver modes, Normal, Sport and Track. For road use I tended to use Sport most of the time. This sharpens up the throttle and makes a bit more noise, including gunfire like cracks on the overrun. All a bit childish and unnecessary really… so Sport mode it is then. While it sounds pretty good, some of the noise is fake and fed into the cabin via the speakers. I’m not a fan of these type of systems but I didn’t find it too fake (are there degrees of fakeness?) and the external exhaust noise sounds the part. As for drift mode, well seeing as we only drove the car on the public road we obviously didn’t try that… honest. But allegedly it requires some provocation to do the YouTube style drifts 🙂

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Independent of the driver modes (thankfully), there are two suspension settings, hard or harder. Select the Sport dampers and it stiffens the already borderline firm suspension by approx. 40%. The result is just too stiff for the majority of the roads in the UK and making progress becomes unnecessarily uncomfortable. Leave it in Normal and it’s probably still firmer than some folk would like for a daily driver but it’s acceptable. The pay off is superb grip, handling and cross country pace. The front end turn in is fantastic, with little sign of any under-steer and fast, accurate, communicative steering allowing you to place it exactly where you want. Simply put, it’s fantastic to drive. Although not being constant all wheel drive, the RS still has a tendency to tram line and torque steer a wee bit when accelerating hard whilst overtaking necessitating the need for some quick steering corrections.

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It’s a confidence inspiring car, being agile and easy to drive fast yet also rewarding and huge fun. The pace at which you can cover ground is very impressive. With the performance being so usable, combined with the RS’s appetite for being driven hard, you do need to keep yourself in check sometimes! Thankfully, the Brembo brakes are more than up to the job. I genuinely think that on the majority of roads, in most conditions, you’d keep up with pretty much anything in the RS. Unless the hypothetical supercar driver decided to leave their brain at home and drive at properly daft speeds that is.

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When it comes to the sensible stuff, being a Focus (albeit a very fast one), it does that pretty well too. Although there are some issues. For a car that’s the best part of 35K by the time you’ve ticked a few boxes, the interior is too similar to the ‘cooking’ versions. One exception are the excellent hard backed shell Recaro seats, which do a great job at keeping you put, although they could do with being mounted a wee bit lower. The official mpg figure is 36.7 but I think it’s fair to say that no owner will see that unless they try really, really hard. Driving ‘enthusiastically’, we averaged low twenties, show some more restraint (if you can) and I suspect you’d still be doing well to average high twenties. This combined with the small fuel tank equates to a real world range of 200-250 miles between fill ups. Still, at least you’ll collect plenty of Shell points. Oh and it has a turning circle that makes an oil tanker look maneuverable.

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Despite these minor niggles, I absolutely loved the RS and the hype it’s received is well and truly deserved. If you’re after an Über hatchback which you can hoon with the best of them, do the school run and then commute in, the then RS is up there with the best. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve owned a hot hatch, maybe it’s time to fix that…

Mike.

Ford Focus RS Mk3

PRICE: £31,250
ENGINE: 2.3 Litre EcoBoost, 4 cylinder, 6 speed manual
POWER: 345 bhp
TORQUE: 347 lb.ft
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 165 mph, 0-62 mph 4.7 secs
CONSUMPTION: 36.7 mpg (offical combined)
CO2: 175 g/km

TT Rating:
TT Rating 4½