Ford Focus RS - First Drive


PUSH a button in the new 165mph Focus RS and you'll enjoy the sort of pops and bangs from two huge exhaust pipes that turn a tame drive to work into the first corner at Silverstone.

If it all sounds barely road legal, you'd be right. It took three visits from the Euro compliance people to Ford's prototype plant in Germany before they had to agree the car was quiet enough for the public road - just.

Push the same button again and the car will easily drift in a wide circle with all four tyres shrieking and scrabbling for grip - impressive in a Top Gear sort of way but best kept to a test track with a Michelin supply truck on call.

This 'drift' mode in the car's set up is a tell tale to the way the Ford development team approached this third Focus to wear the RS ultimate performance badge - make it fun to own, in spades.

It takes no more than a few yards to appreciate that it's mission accomplished for the Cologne-based RS crew and not many more to conclude this is the bargain performance car of the year.

At £29,995 on-the-road it's no surprise that order books are bulging with more than 3,000 UK buyers wanting their own Focus RS as soon as possible - and happily adding another £3,500 worth of options to their cars.

Even then it's still cheap for the sort of performance on offer - a 165mph top speed and dash to 62mph in 4.7 seconds are heroic figures, made possible from a 2.3 litre turbocharged engine that pumps out 350 horsepower all day long.

That's the obvious part of the new RS's attraction; have one in nitrous blue (a £745 option chosen by more than half the buyers to date) and the car looks the part of barely tamed Tarmac tiger too.

At the front you'll find a huge radiator grille, covered with special mesh that lets the most air possible through to the biggest intercooler the RS team could squeeze into the car (it keeps the air entering the engine as dense as possible, which is good for power.)

At the rear there's a modest roof spoiler and F1-style diffuser beneath the bumper, both helping to cut rear end lift at speed to zero. That's rare on a road car and an indication of the depth of development that has produced the latest RS.

And between the two extremes you'll find a permanent all-wheel drive system that helps keep the car safe, yet drive like something that enjoys power through its rear wheels. And it does, scampering along UK byways with the tenacity of a terrier at play.

The wonder is that the car then rides rougher roads with settled aplomb, always sportingly firm but soaking up the bumps beautifully. That's a hard trick to pull off, but here is a car that could double up as family transport without batting an eyelid - why, it even has four doors and a decent boot.

A little less user friendly is an official fuel consumption of 36.7mpg, but easily dropped to the low-twenties. Exhaust emissions of 175/gms will hurt the pocket too, with £295 road tax in year one and £205 thereafter.

Chunky 19-inch alloy wheels cover big uprated brakes that come as part of the RS package, while the sport theme continues inside with a trio of extra instruments on the dash top and Recaro seats - uprated in the test car with a pair of extra deep semi-race style Recaros (£1,145) that weren't too hard to climb out of and added a dollop of track appeal.

Back to the practicalities; it might be not a lot of money for the driving pleasure on offer but the new RS is not light on non-sporting fixtures and fittings.

Standard kit includes bi-xenon headlights, heated windscreen, dual zone air conditioning, touchscreen DAB audio system, electric and heated door mirrors, electric windows all round, auto dimming rear view mirror and - for UK cars - a special alarm system.

That ought to make the RS hard to steal. Not difficult to appreciate why some tea leaf might want to, though.

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