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Ford Focus RS review

Superb driving dynamics

Jan 2016

picture of car from the front picture of car from the rear picture of car interior picture of car detail

Overall rating

4 out of 5 stars

Likes:

  • Superb driving dynamics thanks to all-wheel-drive stability
  • Entertaining driving experience and warbling exhaust note
  • Understated good looks with some sporty styling
  • Truly capable all-round as both a performance car and family wagon

Gripes:

  • Dated interior beginning to seem a bit cheap
  • Complex, sometimes contradictory range of driver aids
  • Some wind and tyre noise at motorway speeds
  • Standard seats are very bulky and less comfortable than optional 'shell' seats
The Focus RS is the latest in a long line of fast Fords that offer supercar performance for attainable prices. It's an attention-seeking pocket rocket with a head-turning exhaust note but don't let that snarling snout and silly spoiler put you off - underneath is one of the most brilliant driving experiences on the road today, let alone in hatchback form.

It has 345bhp and will hit 62mph in 4.7 seconds, similar to some much more expensive models and giving it a comfortable head start on nearly all other hot hatches. It has a complicated and very clever all-wheel-drive system – a huge upgrade from the vanilla Focus – which gives it excellent handling characteristics and the ability to powerslide theatrically if conditions are right.

It comes in one main flavour, with a turbocharged 2.3-litre Ecoboost engine, so any options you ask for will be relatively minor interior and exterior tweaks. The only option that will change the actual overall performance of the car is upgraded wheels, which allow you to fit track-orientated semi-slick tyres from the factory.

The Focus on which the RS is based is no longer a new car. The RS has been released mid-way through the life span of the parent model, and this shows in the interior more than anything. Wide expanses of grey and black make the cabin feel quite dated, and only the blue stitching and extra row of gauges point to this being a GBP30,000 car.

One of the main selling points for the RS has been the different driver modes, with a particular emphasis placed on 'track' and 'drift' modes. 'Drift' allows the driver to deliberately lose traction enough to perform predictable powerslides, something that isn't possible in any other car in this segment. 'Track' uses the computer to maximise performance during spirited drives.

Our verdict on the Ford Focus RS

The Focus RS is one of the best performance cars on the market. The brilliant engine, clever all-wheel-drive system and brilliant handling characteristics combine to form a thrilling driving experience, all within the package of a practical family hatchback. Drift mode, while fun, is unlikely to be of regular use, but buyers looking for lap time glory will be flattered by the unwavering effectiveness of 'track' mode.
Costs

The Focus RS is the most expensive flavour that the Focus comes in, but it still presents good value compared to similar products such as the Honda Civic Type R and the Volkswagen Golf R. Running costs will be higher than a standard hatch and insurance could be prohibitively expensive for inexperienced drivers. Fuel prices - especially if you drive the car enthusiastically - could be significant.

Space and practicality

The boot space drops to around 260 litres thanks to the intrusion of the all-wheel-drive system. The Focus already had a small boot compared to key rivals in the family hatchback segment, but the RS loses even more. The interior has enough oddment boxes to stow a family's clutter but this isn't the best car for regular long-distance hauling or trips to the dump.

Controls and display

As well as the clear and concise instrument binnacle, and the optional infotainment system, the RS has a row of gauges balanced along the top of the dashboard. The most notable is the boost gauge, which shows when the turbo is ready to perform. A little 'change-up' light quickly lets the driver know when to move up a gear, but the interior is still highly understated. The RS lacks the garish lighting or animated dashboard sequences that appear on more pretentious vehicles.

Comfort

With bucket seats fitted, four adults could travel in comfort. Without, the rear legroom is compromised by bulky front seats. An optional sunroof lets light into the cabin but the interior trim is quite grey and a bit gloomy. Generally, the inside of the RS is comfortable enough, though some compromises have been made compared to the more luxury-oriented Focus trim levels. Storage is good with plenty of boxes and compartments in the front, some with charging points.

Car security

A Category 1 Thatcham alarm is fitted to the RS, which makes sense as it's a relatively expensive car for its type. It's likely that a high-profile car such as this one would be an attractive target for criminals, and the exaggerated spoiler and (optional) painted Brembo brake callipers could make it susceptible to vandalism. Privacy glass in the back makes the rear seats slightly safer, but the RS still stands out in the carpark.

Car safety

In addition to the brilliant safety rating of the Ford Focus, the RS comes with the largest brakes ever fitted to a hatchback. Active city stop is a good-value optional extra. The all-wheel-drive system and brilliant stability makes it an agile and planted car, and even the lairy 'drift' mode is predictable and easy to control.

Driver appeal

The Focus RS is a class leader for driving appeal. Both on the track and off it, it's the most technically impressive hot hatch - the all-wheel-drive system gives it the cornering tenacity of a much more expensive car. 'Sport' and 'track' mode make it easy to drive competitively and 'drift' mode is a silly but entertaining feature that enables to driver to slide the car sideways at speed. The throttle and steering are responsive in these enhanced modes and the 0-62mph time of 4.7 seconds makes it a joy to drive fast.

Family car appeal

The small boot space and less-comfortable interior are the main downsides when comparing the RS to the vanilla Focus or the milder ST version. The Focus already has a smaller boot than close rivals, and the GBP30,000 price tag of the RS could pay for some much more practical family cars. The RS is probably the best balance of practicality and performance currently available in the hot hatch category though.

First car appeal

It will be a tempting car for young drivers but with 345bhp and a sub-five-second 0-60mph time, the Focus RS isn't what parents or insurers will want to give a 17-year-old. Practically, it's about as easy to use for a novice driver as the standard Focus, and driver aids make it relatively difficult to completely lose control at road speeds. However, the RS is a performance car and requires some experience to operate safely.

Quality and image

The Focus is a good-looking car, and the exterior tweaks added to the RS give it a big road presence. It looks and feels like a well-built car in comparison to other similarly-priced performance hatchbacks that have more exterior plastic. The inside is dated but feels well-constructed and well-organised. The standard seats are uncomfortable and unsupportive, so opt for the shell seats. Despite immense performance, the RS is understated inside and out.

Accessibility

The standard seats in the RS are bulky and less comfortable than standard seats. This eats into rear legroom, so those wishing to transport more than one passenger should opt for the expensive shell seats. The RS isn't noticeably more difficult to get in and out of than the standard Focus but those with mobility issues might notice the slight drop in comfort in the RS model.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

The GBP465 "Premium Ford SYNC2 DAB Navigation System" works well but this is a performance-oriented car, and the interior features reflect this. The sat-nav is adequate, the sound quality is pleasant and the sound insulation means that you can keep the volume down and still hear the music. There are two 12v sockets and two USB points accessible in the front of the car.

Colours and trim

The launch colour and most popular paint option for the RS is 'Nitrous Blue', a light colour that suits the model's shape. Buyers wanting a more subtle paintjob could consider 'Magnetic Grey' which helps the car blend in. Optional painted brake callipers show that this is no vanilla Focus. Little distinguishes the interior from the standard car, however, and this is starting to show its age. The bucket seats are worth the extra money in terms of looks and comfort, and the forged alloy wheels enable selection of track-focused tyres.

Parking

The car feels as easy to park as a standard Focus, though optional wide tyres could have an impact on the turning circle. The optional reversing camera makes it easy to tuck away in even small British spaces and door protectors offer a bit of extra peace of mind in small spaces. Light controls at urban speeds and reasonable ground clearance means that this hot hatch is just as easy to drive in town as its less sporty counterparts.

Spare wheel

Emergency tyre repair kit supplied as standard.

Range information

Petrol engine options – 1.0-litre (99bhp, 123bhp); 1.5-litre (148bhp, 179bhp); 2.0-litre (247bhp). Diesel engine options – 1.5-litre (94bhp, 118bhp); 2.0-litre (148bhp)Â ; 2.3-litre (345bhp). Transmission options: five and six-speed manual gearbox depending on model, plus auto gearbox. Trim levels: Studio, Style, Zetec, Zetec S, Titanium, Titanium X, ST, ST-2, ST-3, RS.