The Ford Focus RS is the poster child for the affordable yet highly capable mega-hatches of Australia. Transcending the normal crop of fast diminutive runabouts like the evergreen Volkswagen Golf GTI, Subaru’s legendary WRX and Renault Megane RS, this little blue rocket plays in an altogether more stratospheric arena dominated by heavy hitters such as the Mercedes-AMG A45, BMW M140i, Golf R, WRX STI and the Audi RS3 to name a few.
An aggressive pricing point and hilarious chassis and drivetrain tune result in this little Ford claiming a few prized scalps, though, which may not have seemed possible from a mainstream brand better known for the Falcon and Territory.
My purchase of an RS was less considered than most people looking at a fast little rocket in the $50–$60K bracket. Like many, I drooled over the hyperactive hatchback when it was launched, its exterior draped in hardcore ground effects with vents everywhere and lashed with eye-popping blue paint.
I actually remember sharing a picture on my personal Facebook marvelling at how extreme this thing looked without ever imagining getting the chance to buy one. Fast-forward two years and there’s one sitting in my parking spot right now.
Looking at my previous vehicle (that I actually only reviewed here two months ago!), you’d be forgiven for thinking I was a sheep following the crowd with a nice, inoffensive plain-white Golf 92TSI manual – about as exciting as a loaf of bread then.
I bought that car to save money at the time, as I got my performance kicks from my motorcycles. However, after a big move from Brisbane to Melbourne and the ability to ride lessened by cooler temperatures and higher propensity for rain, I found myself driving 90 per cent of the time and the itch for a properly fast car seeping back in. It was almost on a whim then (and the fact I drove past a Ford dealership every day with a blue RS on their front line) that I walked in one day off and got the ball rolling.
To not talk about the party piece first – the engine – would be a disservice to the immense output Ford has extracted from the humble 2.3-litre four-cylinder dubbed the thoroughly mundane-sounding EcoBoost unit. Far from actually being fuel-efficient (I have averaged about 14 litres per 100km even in general driving), the outputs of 257kW and 440Nm of torque are absolutely unbelievable from a production engine.
Power comes on after a little lag in a huge surge, carrying you up the rev range and encouraging you to push harder, the exhaust popping and banging on each gear change for a thoroughly intoxicating driving experience. You really need to take it on a track to properly enjoy it – if you have slight regard for keeping your licence – as the speed this thing can pack on is eye-opening.
The drivetrain supporting this monolith of a powerplant is a technological marvel. The way Ford has managed to apportion the torque split (70 per cent rear wheels and 30 per cent front wheels) in a constant fashion means it’s very hard to lose grip in most driving conditions, including wet weather. Even when you do, the chassis defaults into oversteer rather than understeer unless you really overcook it into a corner.
However, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres do need some heat in them before they’re at their best, just like any high-performance rubber does. Also, if you’re aggressive with your inputs on hard cornering before you’ve given them a bit of attention on this point, you’ll find yourself accidentally performing huge lairy tail-out moments deemed unfavourable by any lurking police who lay eyes upon you.
Interior and equipment-wise, there’s all the technology you’d expect from a flagship hatchback without delving into the realms of the most recent safety systems like Blind Spot Monitoring, around-view cameras, Adaptive Cruise Control or Cross-Traffic alerts. However, in a high-performance car, you could arguably say this isn’t what Ford should be spending the money on.
One interior highlight you’ll immediately notice is the addition of hard-shell RS-badged Recaro bucket seats. These hold you in place harder than you grip an umbrella in a cyclone, and for larger frames may actually be a deciding factor in their purchase of the car, as I imagine it would borderline suffocate them. There is no height adjustment, so for taller- or shorter-torso individuals this could pose a real issue, but luckily I am in the Goldilocks Zone and it works well for me – albeit a touch too low to comfortably see everything over the towering wall that is the dashboard.
Gauges adorn the top of it in a pod with boost pressure, oil pressure and temperature allowing you to keep an eye on these vital signs for any immediate warning of issues. They’re especially handy if you’re planning to give it a hiding on track days, but apart from boost pressure for some visual drama, possibly moot for predominantly daily driving.
Apart from this, there are a few other tech touches throughout the cabin, including a button for the adaptive suspension that takes the tune on normal roads from hard to bone-jarring, and best left on normal for anything other than glass-smooth racetracks.
There is also the drive-mode select button to the right of the gear shifter that encompasses Normal mode, Sport mode, Track mode and the much-hyped Drift mode. Each of these adjusts the baffling in the exhaust, the throttle response and suspension settings to best suit the driving you tell the car you’re going to be doing.
I generally have the car in Sport myself for the bangs and pops from the pipes and sharper throttle response, but when I want to relax I put it in Normal. While Track mode is fun, it does switch off Traction Control and puts the suspension in hard mode, so it is best left to those situations. However, if you want ultra-sharp everything for the road, you can manually switch the suspension back to normal and turn Traction Control on for arguably another mode to drive in.
Overall, I’m finding my experience with the car is just as I’d hoped for. I admit I was expecting the thrust from acceleration to be more rabid and frenetic for a hatch with over 250kW, but a tune would give it a more aggressive character for those needing a bit more of an edge. Fuel economy is above expectations, but for the performance on offer it is par for the course.
If you’re looking for a dual-purpose track and daily weapon, it’s really hard to recommend anything else.