After just over 2 months of ownership and nearly 2,500 km, I feel I can safely talk about what’s it like to live with a Focus RS.
As a massive petrolhead, I headed down to Ford in September ‘15 to order a Mustang GT, but I wasn’t prepared to join the wait lists nearing 12 months, so I looked for other options. My dealer told me the RS would likely be a 6 month wait, an acceptable number, so down went the $1,000. I placed my RS deposit in November ’15 sight unseen, as most people did around that time. A quick test drive of a Focus ST gave me a good idea of the interior, but that was about all – given how mechanically different the RS would be. I had looked at plenty of other cars at the time, but the only one that came seriously close was probably a BMW 228i. Ultimately the Focus RS won because of its price/performance equation and its rich history – previous Europe only Focus RS’s were objects of desire – the BMW was just another 2 door BMW in some ways (and I can’t afford an M car). I ticked the only 2 options available: the forged alloy and track tyre combo, and metallic paint. I had a hard time deciding on the colour. The Nitrous Blue was spectacular in the promo materials – the CarAdvice team confirmed it looked best at the launch in Spain – but it was also very popular, and I didn’t want my RS to look like every other RS on the road. I settled on Magnetic in the end which is standard Focus colour.
In mid-June ’16 my dealer advised the car would be here ‘any day now’. That day finally came towards the end of June, and I found myself impatiently waiting in the dealership for the last few things to be done before they’d unveil it for me.
The first thing that struck me was the colour. In magnetic grey the RS is very much a Q car; it would probably go completely unnoticed by anyone other than a car enthusiast. The colour really sets off the blue brake callipers (standard in Australia), and when optioned with the black alloys, the whole package came together nicely: just enough aggression without being too overt. The grey also highlights the RS’s unique front bumper, which loses its detail with the other colour options.
The interior is generally a nice place to be, but not all that different from the lower Focus models. A decent audio system (though not the Sony unit available overseas) and great connectivity (Bluetooth phone and audio plus the ability to connect to Wifi hotspots) make it easy to get your music on. The touch screen and interface are a little laggy and not a patch on modern smartphones – but with a little patience you get used to it. The voice recognition of Sync 2 has been praised in other Ford reviews, but I’m not convinced. Admittedly, I’ve not used it much; since it got a few things wrong initially, I usually use the steering wheel controls for music and manual entry for GPS navigation.
The highlight of the interior are the Recaro shell seats. They lift the interior significantly in terms of making it feel special and I like that Ford Australia made the call to make them standard here. That said, they are definitely too high. I didn’t notice at first, having come from an SUV, but within a week realised that the RS doesn’t give that same cosseted feeling you get in true purpose-built sports cars. The steering wheel and shifter are both feel great to use, but that is about all you get in the RS that is different or special on the inside.
Onto the driving…and oh what fun it is! Having previously owned a ’89 205 GTI, a ’00 Pulsar SSS I knew enough about the hot hatch driving experience…or so I thought. This car makes me look like a much better driver than I actually am, carrying speeds into corners that I simply shouldn’t be able to in a car at this price. It simply ‘sticks’ and inspires confidence with its handling. The steering is not overly communicative, but I’m having so much fun in it that it doesn’t matter anyway. Brakes are definitely a highlight and offer great pedal feel and response.
Normal and Sport driving modes are well tuned, though I wish Ford had included a customisable mode to mix and match settings, like BMW and VW include in their cars. Normal is just that, and offers a comfortable but sporty drive. Most of my driving for anything more than 20 mins is done in Sport mode, which has the same suspension settings as Normal mode and suits Brisbane roads. Throttle response in Sport mode is noticeably faster and putting your foot down is very addictive. I have yet tried Race or Drift modes, and am saving those for a track day or a skid pan.
Control points like steering, gear shift and clutch are great. The clutch is a little on the heavy side but that is to be expected given the performance available. The steering weight changes depending on the drive mode, though I’ve found the heavier weighting enjoyable rather than tiring. Gear shift feel is satisfying and only slightly notchy when cold. The exhaust sounds great – the cracks and pops are thoroughly juvenile but you can’t help but smile whenever it happens. Of course those moments are rare, since they tend to happen past 3500 rpm and redlining first and second gear will see you over the speed limit almost everywhere in Brisbane. Freeway on-ramps at low traffic times are my favourite place to put my foot down, and enjoy the first and second gear rush and that very addictive boost.
A warning on the performance though – the fuel tank isn’t very big so you’ll struggle to get past 420 km from a tank even if you only occasionally use the performance available. I can’t comment about reliability yet, and only time will tell how well the AWD system holds up long term. That is one area that I am happy to have a mass produced car as that generally implies reliable minimum level of engineering.
Overall (as you can probably tell), I’m very happy with my purchase. I can’t believe Ford delivers this much performance and handling at this price. Unfortunately, if you’re only making the decision now it will be a long wait for your RS, unless you buy a used one. The hype is certainly well deserved and Ford have made a car that will flatter your ego as you blast up and down windy mountain roads all day.