I purchased the Ford Focus RS in January 2018 after compiling a shortlist of five cars that met my criteria of a fast, practical (4-door) daily driver that was turbocharged and fun to drive. After test driving the Honda Civic Type R, Kia Stinger GT, VW Golf R, Subaru STi and the Focus RS, the car that I felt was the most fun to drive and left me wanting more was the Focus RS.
What I like about the Focus RS is the handling of the car. The balance is inherently neutral, bordering on oversteer, with up to 70 per cent of the power able to be directed to the rear wheels. The car points where you want it to go and the dynamic nature means quick changes of direction through a series of corners make it really rewarding to drive. I optioned my car with the Performance Tyre and Wheel Pack which adds lightweight forged alloy wheels and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. The grip provided from the Cup 2 tyres - once they are up to temperature - is prodigious, so the RS is not phased by any corner you throw at it. It just keeps gripping and holds its line.
Adding to the "sticks like glue" grip of the Focus RS is the trick all-wheel drive system, with torque vectoring delivering grip to the wheels that need it. While this changes the balance of the car, it also unlocks the highly-publicised Drift mode. I haven’t yet had the chance to sample Drift mode in my car, but I am hoping one day when my tyres are well worn that I will be able to enjoy controlled slides in my own car (in a controlled environment of course!).
The 2.3-litre Ecoboost engine sounds great, particularly on cold starts. Flick the RS into Sport mode and the valves on the twin exhausts open up to give you a healthy dose of crackle and pops as you shift through the gears or let off the loud pedal in gear after a burst of acceleration.
Inside the cabin you have Ford’s excellent Sync 3 system integrated into the high definition 8-inch infotainment screen to keep you connected to your mobile, music and navigation. The digital radio included as part of the package is great and delivers crystal clear audio and additional digital stations, although it would be good to have the addition of Apple CarPlay or Android Audio to complete the in-car entertainment picture. One option I would have liked to have seen included was a premium audio package. While the infotainment system is good, it is really let down by the speakers in the car which don’t deliver great sound quality. Hopefully this option will be added for the fourth generation Focus RS.
The Recaro buckets seats in the RS are fantastic and provide heaps of side and leg bolstering to hold you firmly in place while you use the car’s supreme grip to attack a twisty road. The Brembo brakes have some serious stopping power with the 4-piston calipers up front and the 2-piston calipers in the rear able to drop anchor and pull the Focus RS to a stop in a very short space of time.
One thing that takes a little bit of getting used to with this car is the turning circle. It’s not great and it takes a little bit of time to get used to planning how you will execute a 3-point turn if you need to. In the early days of ownership it was more like a 4 or 5-point turn to get it right. It’s only a small gripe and I didn’t buy the car for its turning circle!
During the first year of ownership, I haven’t had any issues with the car from either a reliability perspective or faults with the car needing attention under warranty. I know some owners had issues with a head gasket problem that affected earlier Focus RS models. My car was manufactured post September 2017 after this fault was identified and corrected, so I have experienced no issues with the head gasket.
As the Mark 3 Focus RS is a manual-only model, it will be interesting to see if Ford adopt a dual-clutch transmission to improve on the current car’s 0-100km/h acceleration time of 4.7 seconds and open the car up to a wider audience. For the Mark 4 Focus RS I think it would be great to see a bit more differentiation from the lower model Focus models in the interior, making it feel even more like a performance model and improving the sense of occasion when driving the car. Lastly a healthy bump up in power and torque in the next model will ensure the Focus RS is able to keep up with the ongoing hot hatch power war, and stay relevant in the fast moving game of "can you top this?" being played by the likes of Mercedes, Audi and BMW in this category.
Overall the Ford Focus RS is a potent mix of a high-powered turbo engine and tenacious grip from the cutting edge of all-wheel drive technology that makes the world of hot hatches so exiting right now. I have thoroughly enjoyed owning and driving the car and look forward to many enjoyable drives in the future.