FAST FORD FANATICS HAVE PLENTY TO LOVE IN THE FOCUS RS
The new Focus RS has finally arrived. It’s the “thinking driver’s hot hatch”. Or maybe it’s just the best performance car the blue oval brand makes, Mustang included.
Just when you think the firepower presented in the Focus RS is perfectly adequate — possibly even something that may be classified as “excitable” — along comes news of an even more powerful special edition Focus from serial tuning boffin Hennessey Performance.
Remember Hennessey? It built the low-volume Venom GT that set a Bugatti Veyron-worrying 435km/h speed record a few years back. It clearly knows a thing or two about making fast goes go faster.
To that end its special edition FrankenFocus, called the HPE400, boasts a tuning kit that pushes out peak power to 298kW and peak torque to 576Nm.
It’s probably worth remembering that, despite its be-winged body kit and all-wheel-drive mechanicals, the Focus RS weighs only 1575kg to start with. So tweaking the ECU, installing a high-flow air filter and bolting on an uprated sports exhaust system is going to have a rather impressive effect.
But the stock Focus RS’s 2.3-litre EcoBoost turbo has already been specially tuned for the model and features a larger intercooler matched with a new low-inertia twin-scroll turbo with a larger compressor to deliver air more quickly. In other words Ford’s engineers have already done the hard yards here, you’d have thought.
And that’s the thing about the Focus RS; why bother with special edition versions when the car — a special edition itself, let’s not forget — is so blisteringly good straight out of the box?
Not only does it feature plenty of horsepower all on its own (257kW/440Nm), it also boasts a high-performance sports exhaust with an electronically controlled valve to optimise back pressure and shouty noise, a cylinder head machined from upgraded alloy forged inside a volcano (or something) and a large radiator specifically developed for extended track work.
It also has two insurance salesperson-worrying features called Drift Mode and Launch Control.
Inside the cabin there isn’t anywhere you can look and momentarily forget you’re sitting in a Focus RS; lots of lurid decals and blue stitching in here.
The sports seats are Recaro shells; they look forebodingly narrow but are incredibly supportive.
On the other side of the coin, this remains a Focus hatch. With five doors and a reasonably sized boot. It has all the Bluetooth-streamy, touchscreen-tastic, reversing camera-riffic, climate control-arama stuff you’d expect. It also has Ford’s SYNC 2 voice control system, which is still accurate, although these days feels a little more clunky than it used to.
The steering wheel is of the flat-bottomed sports variety, there are alloy pedals under your sneakers, separate gauges displaying boost pressure and oil temperature and — glory be — a six-speed manual gearbox shifter for your left hand. What an unparalleled joy it is to drive a proper manual. It’s like playing an LP instead of shuffling through a playlist. To take the vinyl analogy further, there isn’t much in the way of a vintage pop-and-crackle soundtrack from the Focus RS’s exhaust, which is a bit of a let-down. But the engine note is raspy enough to satisfy.
On road? Well, it’s sensational. Involving and grippy — thanks to the all-wheel drive set-up — and even though the “change up” indicator in the instrument binnacle is telling you to select the next gear, you don’t have to. The steering is weighty and positive; you can place the thing exactly where you need it to be.
And with so much power delivered to all four wheels in such a well-balanced car, where you need to be is the corner after this next one.
It all happens quickly, yet without much fuss.
I think I’d rather have one of these than a Volkswagen Golf R, but that may be the little Wolfsburg wonder’s semi-ubiquity playing on my mind.
A Ford Focus RS instead of a Subaru WRX STi? Hmm, that’s a tougher one. They’re both fully involved drivers’ cars that play their respective all-things-to-all-people card very well.
The Subey’s manual 'box would be fun... until I'm stuck in traffic.".
Recaro seats aside, the Focus RS’ cabin is a bit of a let-down. But then it’s wrapped in the sort of outrageous — and relatively rare — bodyshell that stops people in their tracks.
The last Focus RS distributed in this country literally sold out in a day. Let’s hope Ford New Zealand has managed to secure a few more for Fast Ford fanatics this time because this is one sensational car and it’s offered at a relatively sane price.
But it will still remain an enthusiast-only option. It’s a Ford Focus that will prove a more leftfield choice than that other FoMoCo performance product; the Mustang. I love that.