It's finally here: after a long, long wait, we've driven the all-new 345bhp four-wheel-drive Ford Focus RS on UK soil; it is a masterclass

What is it?

One of the great things about being a kid is that level of hyper-excitement about pretty much anything. Everything’s new, amazing and fantastical. Then you get older, jaded, and full of seen-it-all-before complacence, and if you’re not a little bit mindful of the fact, life starts to seem a bit boring.

It isn’t of course. There’s wonderment all around, particularly at this time of the year: newborn lambs a jumping, lemon-yellow daffodils a blooming, and a new Ford Focus RS with the potential to spank the bejesus out of every hot hatch on sale today. I’ve been itching for this moment like a two-year old taking his first foray on the top deck of a bus, which creates a problem: expectation. “Oh crumbs, what if the reality doesn’t match the dream?”

On paper it’s absolutely dreamy. Grounded on the already fine Focus chassis and worked on by Ford Performance, it’s got the Ford Mustang’s 2.3-litre motor that’ll rev to 6800rpm and spit out 345bhp to all four wheels.

If four-wheel drive makes you yawn and think of dreary understeer, don’t panic; the Focus RS has that covered. Two electronically controlled clutches at the back can switch up to 70% of the torque rearwards and up to 100% from side to side in as little as 0.06sec. And there’s a Drift Mode that locks it into a permanently playful oversteery setup.

You also get launch control, Brembo brakes, a shift light and the option of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. Oh, and I almost forgot, a proper six-speed manual gearbox with three pedals. 

What's it like?

Does it flatter to deceive? Not a bit. Enough journalistic impartiality remains to recognise the overly lofty driving position, but beyond that the optional buckets fitted to our test car felt spot on. The interior doesn’t feel hugely special otherwise, but then it retains the usability of any other Focus.

Start the engine and it produces a subdued burble, and there are other telltales that confirm the RS has been fundamentally changed, as opposed to being an ST with an extra notch of boost.

The clutch feels heavier and sharper, while the gear lever has a meatier, more satisfying shift. This continues to the steering, too, which is beautifully sorted. It’s weightier than standard even in its Normal setting, but not overbearingly so, and it’s lost that annoying self-centering action that rather spoils the lesser versions.

It feels pointier as well, goading you into upping the pace to see what feel and fluency it'll generate. Plenty as it happens, producing a front end that demands a search for S-bends to marvel at the RS’s ability to change direction. That's also helped by the rear axle squirting the power to the outside rear wheel, helping to rotate the car, before delivering superb all-wheel traction as you fire it off the apex.

There's some roll, but not enough to mar its litheness on switchbacks. The RS has that wonderful firmness of a properly sorted car, and any on-road jitteriness is something you’ll happily accept for the payback of unflappable damping in the face of mid-corner undulations. That's in the suspension's Normal setting, but in Track mode it's too stiff for the road, so that's best left for smooth circuits.

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Its brakes are also mighty. Ford reckons they’ll shrug off 30 minutes of circuit driving and up to 13 stops from 135mph before they fade. All I know is they managed several laps of Silvertone’s Stowe circuit with ease, and lack nothing in pedal feel when leant on.

So what about the heart of the Focus RS, the engine? It’s perhaps not blessed with the very last word in character, and the free-flow exhaust produces a slightly contrived sound, but we’re told it is all combustion pulses with no digital enhancement. It starts off as a warble, builds to a moody grumble in the mid-range, and ends up with a raspier rant as the engine climbs towards the limiter. In Sport mode you get some pops and splutters on the overrun, and when launch control’s engaged, sounds WRC-manic from outside.

It pulls well, too. It’s quick by hot-hatch standards, without feeling unusable for the road. The mid-range is potent, but it’s the final surge over the last 1500rpm that you’ll enjoy the most, before the shift light blinks to tell you it’s all change for another gear.

Should I buy one?

Oh heavens above, you must. It’s £31,000 (£1000 more than originally promised), which might be plenty but it’s peanuts next to an AMG A45, and even undercuts the Golf R. Or, if you put down £10,000, what about £180 a month on Ford’s Options finance deal? Give or take you could cover that by sending back your iPhone 6 and replacing your supermarket delicacies with some extra vegetables each month.

And you won’t regret a single moment of predictive texting on your old Nokia 3310 while crunching on another raw carrot. Why? Because an iPhone or Tesco’s Finest bangers and mash can’t tap into your central nervous system and switch on the endorphins the Focus RS can.

That’s why it’s wonderful, exciting, and lives up to its billing. Seriously, it’s everything you’ve dreamt it’ll be, and makes you feel like a ten-year old on Christmas morning again. Priceless.

Ford Focus RS

Location Oxford; On sale now; Price £31,000; Engine 4 cyls, 2261cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 345bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 325lb ft at 2000-4500rpm (347lb ft on overboost); Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1599kg; 0-62mph 4.7sec; Top speed 165mph; Economy 36.7mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 175g/km, 32%

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John Howell

John Howell
Title: Senior reviewer

John is a freelance automotive journalist with more than a decade of experience in the game. He’s written for most of the big car mags, not least as a road tester for Autocar and as deputy reviews editor for our sister brand, What Car?. He was also the features editor at PistonHeads and headed its YouTube channel.

Cars, driving and machines are in his blood. When he was barely a teenager he was creating race-bale racetracks on his family’s farm – to thrash an old Humber Sceptre around. It broke regularly, of course, which meant he got a taste (and love) for repairing cars. That’s why he eschewed university, choosing instead to do an apprenticeship with a Jaguar dealer. That’s where he built up his technical understanding.  

After that he moved into high-end car sales, selling Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Ferraris and Maseratis through the franchised network. But it was a love of writing and appraising cars that, eventually, led him to use his industry experience to prise open the door of motoring journalism. He loves cars that exceed their brief in some way. So he finds as much pleasure in testing a great, but humble, hatchback as he does sampling the latest Ferrari on track. Honest.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Edd 5 May 2016

Jiggly ride

I was fascinated (and relieved) to read your review of the Focus RS, describing the low-speed ride as 'Jiggly'; last week you described a vertical bob at meandering speeds.

I ordered in the first batch and received one of the very early models only a few weeks ago. Yesterday, I put it up for sale. The reason? The low-speed ride quality, even in the most normal of normal drive modes.

I described it on an owners' forum as 'like driving a trampoline' and was roundly criticised. No one else thought the same. I was un-experienced in the ways of firm suspension (I'm not) and not an enthusiast (I am).

So while I am gutted - really gutted - to have waited seven months for a car so hotly tipped, only to have to sell it after a fortnight, I feel at least reassured that I'm not making it all up.

Thanks, Autocar.


bowsersheepdog 7 April 2016

Repulsive Styling

This car is ugly, inside and out. The dashboard looks like one of those cheap 90s midi-systems one used to see lined up on the shelves in Comet. A hideous mish-mash thrown together without purpose or taste. My experience of owning a Ford was that it was the most troublesome, unreliable and untrustworthy car I have ever had. Add in an unhelpful and unsympathetic dealer to make the complete motoring nightmare. But at least it looked okay and the interior, while not exactly classy, was pleasant enough to sit in. Now they are adding ever increasing doses of ugliness into the cauldron of disasters. The zero appeal their products had to me has gone well into negative values.
winniethewoo 7 April 2016

Also, what do chav's wear

Also, what do chav's wear these days? Is it still Burberry's?