CAR has been lucky enough to bag the first passenger ride in the new 2009 Ford Focus RS with Jost Capito, the man responsible for Ford Europe’s fastest-ever production car. We experienced the car at high speeds in an ideal mix of typically British conditions – dry, damp, even icy – to analyse how a front-wheel drive car with 301bhp and 325lb ft torque copes on tricky B-roads and smoother A-roads.
We’re all ears. How does the new 2009 Ford Focus RS feel on the road?
Fast. The RS uses the same 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo engine as the regular Focus ST – making it the first ever Escort or Focus RS to use anything other than a four-pot – but it’s reworked with a larger turbo and intercooler, new pistons, cams and a revised ECU. What’s most impressive is the tractability of the new RS's engine, despite the larger – and what could prove to be a slower spooling and laggier – turbo. The RS pulls robustly from 1200rpm in sixth, and actually starts to feel rapid from 2000rpm. Not scary fast, but you’re very aware that the RS is very quick even at these modest rpms.
It’s a linear, progressive unit too, that’s starkly in contrast to the nothing-boost-nothing characteristics of a Mitsubishi Evo X. The hot Focus's power simply flows from almost idle speed to the 7000rpm redline – the same limit as the more modest ST, though the RS does allow an extra 200rpm for very brief periods of time.
Aurally, the new Focus RS also provides a very different experience to the ST. The cheaper ST has a very pronounced, Ur Quattro-esque warble from its Volvo-sourced five-pot. And while that’s still audible in the RS (particularly from 3000-4000rpm), the soundtrack this time is dominated by the louder exhaust and a surprisingly loud dump valve tisssssh. Not to everyone’s taste, but Capito’s logic with the RS is robust. ‘This is not a better ST,’ he says with a smile. ‘This is the RS. It’s a completely different car. Customers who like the ST may not like the RS, and vice versa.’
>> Click 'Next' below to read more about CAR's first ride in the Ford Focus RS
All very interesting, but the answer to the big question is…
The words you’re grasping for, presumably, are: 'Does it torque steer like a bastard?’ It doesn’t seem to, no, despite all that power and the same kind of Quaife torque-biasing diff that was fitted to the notoriously twitchy Mk1 Focus RS. Obviously there’s only so much we can glean from the passenger seat, but we took the RS and Capito to poorly surfaced, steeply cambered B-roads of our choosing and also watched him wind up the boost with a set amount of lock dialled in on a roundabout.
‘The RevoKnuckle [Ford’s suspension system that allows the front wheel to turn independently of the front strut] doesn’t eliminate it entirely,’ explains Capito, ‘but it’s a massive reduction. The RS torque steers less than the ST.’ If you’ve ever driven an ST, you’ll know that it doesn’t torque steer that much at all.
Indeed, the new Focus RS (2009) seemed very consistent in its responses, Capito’s level of steering correction remaining far lower than it would in the Mk1 RS. There was a lot of wheelspin, however, and the new RS would frequently grip in second only to light its tyres higher up the rev range as the full force of all that torque came in. But the hottest Focus stuck to its course.
Also impressive was the high threshold of intervention dialled into the RS's ESP system. It means the driver modulates the throttle rather than having the electronic chips stodgily cut power, while the stability programme still watches over you should a big lift off the gas get the back end swinging.
And that’s not so unlikely. A stiffer rear anti-roll bar means an interactive rear end should be on offer, but during our time in the car the impression was one of confidence-inspiring high-speed stability – something emphasised by the high degree of lateral support offered by the reclining Recaro seats.
>> Click 'Next' below to read our verdict on our first ride in the Ford Focus RS
How does it ride?
The new Focus RS has lost the cotton wool suppleness of the ST, so there’s far less body roll, but a harsher ride too. It doesn’t feel as edgy as a Civic Type R and it’s rarely crashy, but you’re certainly aware of every secondary imperfection on the road surface.
The rest of the driving experience we’ll need to experience for ourselves. The steering is 10% quicker than the ST's but we can’t report on what that adds to the driving experience, and the brakes certainly seemed impressive from the passenger seat, Capito claiming they are very progressive. He also told us that the clutch was almost as user-friendly as the ST's, the stronger unit providing only a slightly edgier biting point. But then he’d hardly provide us with a long list of faults, would he? Roll on the February 2009 launch...
The new Ford Focus RS appears to be everything we hoped for. Sure, we only sat in the passenger seat, but we spent a full day being driven hard over challenging British roads in tricky conditions by an extremely competent driver.
This Focus seems to have retained the lairy edge we expect from the Blue Oval's RS products, while curbing the psychotic characteristics of its predecessor. We’ll have a full report of this passenger ride in the March 2009 issue of CAR Magazine, plus an in-depth interview with its brainchild Jost Capito. Why no dual-clutch gearbox? Why does he hate four-wheel drive? Did Capito consider adaptive damping? And what will he be doing when he leaves the UK to work for Ford in America this March? You’ll read it all in the magazine, out 28 January 2009.
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