At last! After months of studio shoots and passenger ride teases, CAR has finally driven the all-new Focus RS Mk2 – Ford’s 301bhp, front-wheel drive mega hatch – on some of the best mountain roads southern France has to offer.
You’ll see how the new second-gen Focus RS stands up against the best hot hatches of all time (Renault Clio Williams, Peugeot 306 GTi-6, original and current VW Golf GTi, Lancia Integrale and more) in the new April 2009 issue of CAR Magazine out 25 February, but let’s get down to business here: is the Ford Focus RS (2009) any good? It’s a corker, but the new RS does have its flaws…
Go on then, the Ford Focus RS’s bad bits first…
Well, despite all the hype that surrounds RevoKnuckle – a system that allows MacPherson strut suspension to behave with the purity of a multi-link set-up – we can conclusively report that this car does torque steer. It’s not chaotic like the Mk1 Focus RS could be, but the steering wheel will firm up noticeably under hard acceleration and the wheels scrabble for grip in the lower gears – the ESP system allowing the driver to dictate when power should be cut in most situations, rather than cutting in early and spoiling the fun.
A disappointment, perhaps, but then what did we expect with 301bhp going through the front wheels? It also adds that boisterous edge that we’ve come to expect from RS products.
Whinge over, is it?
Not quite. I’d say the second-gen Focus RS bodywork is just a little too OTT, especially the proliferation of fake vents. The interior is also nearly identical to the lesser ST’s (racier Recaros notwithstanding), while the single-pot brakes are generally good but lack the ultimate stopping (and staying) power of the best multi-piston stoppers.
Okay, and the good bits…
Where do we start? The Focus RS is an absolute blast to drive – it’s ludicrously quick point-to-point. Front-wheel drive was definitely the way to go; there’s so much front-end grip that you just don’t need driven rear wheels and we’ll gladly take the consequences of that lively front end for the extra agility that the lighter two-wheel drive set-up affords. And, to be honest, the RS is already a tad lardy at 1467kg – an all-paw drivetrain would take that kerb weight to around 1600kg.
The steering is absolutely great. At around 2.2 turns lock-to-lock, it’s noticeably quicker than the ST’s and, while every small input has an effect, it’s not nervous and there’s a beautiful, elastic resistance that builds in proportion to your efforts.
The suspension is a little rigid for the daily commute (the Focus ST will better serve 9-5ers with an occasional trackday itch to scratch), but it’s not crashy, and its composure over quick B-roads is impressive, offering enough compliance and suspension travel to soak up tricky roads at high speed where crashier set-ups would start to bounce.
How about the engine?
You’ll probably know that the 2.5-litre five-cylinder is shared with the Focus ST (and numerous Volvos), but it’s got almost 80bhp extra here and is thoroughly re-worked: new pistons, cams, turbo, intercooler, engine management and more.
The RS is astonishingly fast, but it’s flexibly refined from very low down (it pulls strongly and smoothly from 1500rpm in sixth) while also stretching to a redline that – to be quite honest – we couldn’t find on our twisty second and third gear mountain roads – you’ll always reach for another gear before you hit the limiter.
The soundtrack, too, is great, intensifying the Focus ST’s throaty five-cylinder warble and adding in an extra serving of dump valve. There’s more whooshing than at a Thomas the Tank Engine steam train convention. You may turn your nose up at wastegate whistles but, believe me, you will like it. Much like the rest of the car.
We’re deeply impressed with the new 2009 Ford Focus RS. Yes, it battles to put power down more than we were led to believe and its styling is a little overwrought, but we’ll forgive that – an RS should be lairy, after all.
Overall, the RS is an amazing package. It’s easy to live with day to day (if a little firm for some), while delivering an incredibly intense adrenaline hit when you’re in the right mood. If you’re after thrills, the new Focus RS hot hatch makes the MkV VW Golf GTI (our previous benchmark, don’t forget) seem positively pedestrian.
The RS, then, is a great hot hatch. But is it the best? Read the full review in the April 2009 issue of CAR Magazine – out 25 February 2009 – where we pit it against the dozen best pocket rockets of all time.
>> Ford Focus RS: a landmark hot hatch? Or a tarted-up boggo hatch? Click ‘Add your comment’ and let us know