Superb driving dynamics
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Emergency tyre repair kit supplied as standard.
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.