When Ford enlisted Ken Block – occasional WRC driver and driving talent behind the massive Gymkana YouTube series – to help develop the new Focus RS’ handling, it knew the results would be spectacular. With 345bhp from its 2.3-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost engine and four-wheel drive it has all the ingredients to handle like a rally car, but only now – having been driven in it by Block himself up the Goodwood Hill – can we confirm it’s every bit as exciting as we’d hoped.
We were one of just a handful of journalists invited to experience the RS and speak to Block about his first experience of developing a road car. “I live in the mountains and the RS lets me drive curvy roads as well as in the snow,” Block said. He describes the RS’ handling as “peppy and direct” and points out the power, sound and easy-shifting gearbox as his particular highlights. Adaptive dampers means its also much more comfortable than its predecessor one minute, but just as firm and focused when you need it to be.
Where Block’s input was really put to good use, though, was the new Ford Performance All-Wheel Drive with Dynamic Torque Vectoring system. To you and I, it’s a trick four-wheel drive system that can send up to 70 per cent of the power to the rear axle and split it between the rear tyres as required. There’s also a drift mode – a bit like Ferrari’s Side Slip Control system in the 488 GTB – that helps you pull, and hold, drifts but will bring you back into line if you run out of talent. Of course, Ken Block doesn’t need electronic assistance, but for the average RS owner it a great way to let them safely explore the car’s limits.
For the purpose of our run, Block engaged Drift Mode and after ripping away from the line with perfect traction, and leaving a rasping, spitting soundtrack in our wake, he tipped it into the first right-hander brushed the brakes just before the apex and executed a neat drift, much to the delight of the crowd. There was more of the same in the next corner, and the one after that, but what was significant about Block’s tyre-shredding run up Lord March’s 1.16-mile driveway was that he wasn’t pushing the car to its limits, just enjoying himself at manageable speeds.
Chatting before the run Block told us that he wouldn’t be pushing particularly hard on the hill, and we can’t really blame him. The track is seriously narrow - dip a wheel on the grass and you’re likely to end up in the barrier, as Andy Green discovered in a modified Jaguar XJR earlier in the day. But it’s a testament to the new Focus RS that it still felt, and sounded, so alive even so far within its comfort zone.
The interior of the pre-production prototype we were sat in wasn’t representative of the finished product, so we’ll have to reserve judgement on that for a later date, plus we’ll leave you to decide whether the more conservative five-door shape, minus the comically flared wheel arches of its predecessor, is a step in the right direction. One thing’s for certain though – whereas rivals like the Honda Civic Type R are concerned purely with getting from A to B in the shortest time possible, the Focus RS is about enjoying yourself on the way there.