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Ford Focus RS (2016) first ride review

Published:30 October 2015

The 2016 Ford Focus RS: we grab a passenger ride
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By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

► New Ford Focus RS launches in January 2016
► We get up close and personal at Lommel proving ground
► …and enjoy a 345bhp passenger ride. Hold tight

The new, third-generation Ford Focus RS is a real wild child – less showy than its predecessor, but packed with technology and promising remarkable performance. And we’ve come to Ford’s legendary Lommel test facility in Belgium to find out all about it.

This isn’t a drive story – that opportunity will come early next year. But it is a chance to poke about underneath to see how Ford has crammed in all the upgrades, and experience their impact from the passenger seat. Here’s what you need to know.

1) The 2016 Ford Focus RS is already a hit, especially in the UK

The Mk3 Ford Focus RS launches in January 2016, to a public so expectant Ford has received 1800 orders in Europe already. That’s before anyone has even driven the new car. 1600 of those orders – which is to say all but 200 of them – have come from UK customers. Confirming that we still really love a fast Ford. Amen.

2) The 2016 Ford Focus RS has a four-wheel drive system unlike any other

New for the Mk3 Focus RS is four-wheel drive – something it needs to keep its 345bhp under some kind of restraint. But it’s a very different system to the Haldex type used by rivals like the Audi RS3, Mercedes-AMG A45 and VW Golf R. The Ford’s pair of electronically controlled clutch packs on the rear axle are capable not only of handling up to 70% of the car’s nominal 324lb ft of torque (347lb ft on overboost), they constantly vary distribution between the rear wheels, and can send 100% of what’s available to just one of them. Enabling some remarkable gymnastics.

3) The 2016 Ford Focus RS really will go very sideways

By now you’ve probably heard about the new ‘Drift Mode’. Our Lommel meet and greet with the Focus RS included a passenger ride. And right there on the centre console is a driving mode button that allows you to select Normal, Sport, Track and Drift. Even with the electronic stability control still on (and you can switch it all the way off), our driver was easily able to provoke the back of the car into stepping out of line – very neat, very controlled, just a tweak to show this Focus is willing to make you look like a hero on the exit of corners. On a skid pad it’ll make you feel like Ken Block.

4) The 2016 Ford Focus RS has ‘dual mode’ damping

Instead of a continuously variable adjustable damper system, the Focus RS has two distinct damping modes – Normal and Sport. You can activate Sport at any time via a dedicated button on the end of the indicator stalk. But you’re going to want to think twice about doing so on the road, because it really is designed for use on smoothly surfaced racing circuits, instantly trading away every pretence of comfort in favour of iron-fisted control. 

5) The 2016 Ford Focus RS includes a touch of Cosworth

The 2.3-litre four-cylinder Ecoboost turbo engine used by the Focus RS is related to that fitted in the new Ford Mustang – the block, the cylinders and the crankshaft being essentially the same. However, the cylinder liners, the revised turbocharger, the intake system, the cooling and the cylinder head are bespoke to the RS, enabling it to handle the additional pressures of increasing power from 306bhp to 345bhp. A certain Northampton-based company helped Ford with development of that cylinder head. Yep, there’s a little bit of Cosworth in this fast Ford, too.

6) The 2016 Ford Focus RS is designed for the track and the school run

The Focus RS has been engineered to withstand 30 minutes of continuous track use. This explains things like the ‘zero lift’ aerodynamic bodykit, including front spoiler, rear wing and diffuser, and the ducts and ‘jet tunnels’ that direct cooling air at the monster 350mm Brembo front brakes. But Ford knows the RS is still likely to be many owners’ only car – with everything set to Normal it should be civilised enough for granny to take on the school run.

7) The exhaust noise from the 2016 Ford Focus RS is awesome

One look at the exhaust system, and you’ll immediately wonder what’s happened to the silencers – the big-bore pipe runs almost straight, right through to twin tailpipe back box. Great for performance, but you’d imagine hell to ratify against drive-by noise regulations. Not so. The RS is fully legal, and almost urbane in the Normal driving mode, thanks to a sound suppressing valve. In Sport and above, this valve opens and a special ‘injection strategy’ ensures it pops and bangs like Chinese New Year.

8) The Ford Focus RS: vital statistics

The new Focus RS produces 345bhp at 6000rpm and 324lb ft of torque 2000-4500rpm. Assisted by launch control, that’s enough for 0-62mph in 4.7sec, while top speed is 165mph. 50-100km/h (31-62mph) takes just 5.0sec in fourth gear – 0.4sec faster than the Mk2 Focus RS. What’s more, specific body-strengthening measures for the RS make it 23% stiffer overall compared to a standard Mk3 Focus, and up to 200% stiffer in some areas. And then there’s the £28,940 asking price. Amazing value for all this and a pair of Recaro front seats.

Specs

Price when new: £28,940
On sale in the UK: 2016
Engine: 2261cc 4-cyl turbocharged, 345bhp @ 6000rpm, 324lb ft @ 2000-4500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Performance: 4.7sec 0-62mph, 165mph, 36.7mpg, 175g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1599kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):

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  • As of October 2015, Ford has already taken 1800 orders, 1600 of them from the UK
  • Torque-juggling 4wd system at the heart of the new RS's agility
  • Two damper modes: Normal and Sport. Latter most at home on smooth circuits
  • 2.3-litre Ecoboost engine squeezes 345bhp from four cylinders
  • Front brakes measure an enormous 350mm
  • In Normal mode, the exhausts are surprisingly quiet. Not so in Sport
  • £28,940 price tag seems something of a bargain, frankly

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

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