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Ford Focus RS Review
Model Tested: 2011 Ford Focus RS; 2.5-litre, five cylinder, turbocharged, six-speed manual
When it comes to notable advancements in car design, RevoKnuckle is unlikely to figure in your personal top ten. Yet this extraordinary piece of engineering has transformed the hot hatch forever, for conventional wisdom says that putting more than 160kW through the front wheels of a car makes it completely undriveable. And for proof of this you only have to experience Ford’s original Focus RS.
It’s widely hailed as one of the all time greats – a crazy, unpredictable steer that demands much from its driver. But despite fitting it with an advanced Quaife differential, it suffered from horrendous torque-steer. Put your foot down, particularly on a road that wasn’t billiard table-smooth and the Mk1 Ford Focus RS would make up its own mind which direction it went in, no matter what you did with the steering wheel. Entertaining? Certainly. Dangerous? You bet.
So, when the second generation of Ford Focus RS was on Ford’s drawing board, there was a big problem to overcome, particularly if it was to bloody the noses of stiff competition from the French and German manufacturers and reinstate Ford’s position as the daddy of the hot hatch scene.
What Ford’s UK engineers planned had many experts frothing at the mouth. How about pushing the power up to 224kW? Fine and dandy, that but through the rear wheels, surely? Ford reasoned that would increase production costs to an unacceptable level and ruin the company’s USP: affordable performance. So front wheel-drive it had to be. Which meant designing RevoKnuckle, but more of that later.
To look at the current Ford Focus RS, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a WRC contender minus the sponsor’s decals. Gaping air scoops and vents all over the place, a snarling, angry face, wide tyres, big alloys, big exhaust pipes and big spoilers, it’s no shrinking violet and its looks undoubtedly put off a certain percentage of potential buyers. But can the limited production RS live up to the tough guy image or is it a bit of a sheep in wolves’ clothing? Time to climb in and find out.
Ford’s build quality isn’t what it used to be. It’s way better. Plastics are now soft to the touch where they used to be rock hard and there’s a premium feel that, while it’s not to BMW standards, isn’t a million miles off. Sinking into the deep, hugging Recaro seat with memories of being scared out of my wits by the Mk1 Focus RS, my pulse quickens when I spy the boost gauge sitting within a trio of dials atop the dashboard. Deep breath, push the starter button, feel the mighty chug of that 2.5-litre, five-cylinder, turbocharged Volvo engine.
It’s already seen active service in the excellent Focus ST but here it’s in a different league. The turbo and intercooler have been uprated, there are new cams, pistons, a freer flowing intake and exhaust. There’s also a ‘symposer’ that ducts engine noise into the cabin, giving the Mk2 RS a soundtrack not dissimilar to the original Subaru Impreza. First impressions? Even at a standstill this is a brute.
The RS is, like any modern Ford, a pussycat when trundling through urban streets but once on the open road it really shows what it’s made of. Ford insisted that the power here should be entirely usable – if it wasn’t then the car wouldn’t exist. So with that in mind I drop into second gear and nail it. By now, in the Mk1, I would have been thrown into a hedge but this car just growls and rips up the tarmac, actually obeying the inputs of the steering wheel. And that’s down to RevoKnuckle.
Basically it’s a new design of MacPherson strut suspension that provides a lower scrub radius and unique kingpin offset that avoids the complexity and weight and expense of more advanced multi-link systems while providing the purity they give. Coupled with a new Quaife LSD, Ford claims to have all but banished the dreaded torque steer and it certainly feels exceedingly compliant. However it’s still there, albeit in much more benign and controllable levels. With my foot flat on the throttle, I veer onto the white line in the middle of the road and the steering wheel squirms – not much, mind, but enough to remind me this isn’t a four-wheel drive chassis.
It’s a hooligan of a car. With every gearchange there’s a very vocal exhalation from the turbo’s dump valve before it carries on growling and snarling all the way to its red line. Far from being fake or contrived, it’s just a reminder that this is a high performance motor that begs to be driven hard. Reaching a twisting section of mountain black top, I really let it off the leash. Knocking down into second again, out of a tight hairpin, the 19-inch tyres spin like a top and the wheel wriggles within my hands but before I know it, the Focus regains composure and guns toward the next bend. It’s addictive, corruptive performance.
Front end grip is huge, no doubt helped by the weight of that magnificent engine and when I come off the gas the rear end moves around just enough to keep me on my toes. Yet it still manages to feel nimble and entirely chuckable. The ride is firm, yes, but it isn’t about to shake out any fillings. The steering is precise, the clutch action is beautifully weighted and the gearchange nice and slick – in fact, the only thing this car shares with its predecessor is that RS badge on its rump.
On these roads I can’t help feel that the RS could outgun any Italian exotica. The power is, as Ford intended, entirely usable but there’s no feeling that the computers are in charge. On the contrary, this Focus makes its driver feel totally in charge, even if he isn’t. Ford’s RS boss, Jost Capito, reasoned that this car was just too powerful to allow the traction control to be entirely disabled but he made sure its interference was as unnoticeable as possible. Hats off to the guy because it works brilliantly.
Only the brakes are mildly disappointing compared to the stoppers fitted by Renaultsport. The single pot callipers are no match for the four-pot Brembos fitted to the hottest Meganes (which are also lighter cars compared to the Ford) but this is no deal breaker. For the Ford Focus RS delivers in spades with everyday usability, relative comfort and almost supercar levels of performance. It is, without any doubt, the hot hatch king. How on earth will they manage to top this?