The amount of history claimed by the letters R and S spans decades. When the blue oval tattoos those characters onto one of their cars you can bet your house that it is going to be something special. Whilst having provenance to your new product trades well with the fans, it also puts a lot of pressure on whatever succeeds the last great milestone. The 2016 Ford Focus RS has to be the most hotly anticipated car of this year. The recipe promises much, but the proof is in the pudding. After a year of waiting since we witnessed its unveiling in Germany, can this new Focus RS live up to the buzz it has generated?
Our test car in its signature Nitrous Blue has certainly dressed to impress. Fitted with contrasting black forged alloy wheels, this colour combination makes a statement. Whilst this third generation Ford Focus RS is arguably more subtle than its predecessor, remember that this car is being sold globally and so has to appeal to a broader audience, it still has its ASBO inspired traits. Large intakes, boot spoiler, huge rear diffuser, and cannon-like dual exhaust pipes conveys the aggression hidden beneath the surface. That said, everything you see here is functional and aids in bending airflow to this cars will.
The interior of this 2016 Ford Focus RS will be familiar to anyone who has driven a Focus before. This specific car is optioned with the Sync 2 infotainment system which offers easy access to everything from navigation to media. From 1st May Sync 3 will replace this interface. Body hugging Recaro seats, also trimmed with Nitrous Blue details, present themselves. This is still a Focus at the end of the day and so seating for three in the back and a respectable boot makes this a practical performance proposition.
Under the bonnet you will find the same 2.3 litre 4 cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engine found in the Mustang, but very heavily modified. It now produces 345 BHP and 324lb ft of torque. Under hard acceleration this engine has an overboost function that enables 347lb ft for up to 15 seconds. All of this grunt is channel to the tarmac via a 6 speed manual gearbox and intelligent all wheel drive.
Push the starter button and the next chapter of this legendary name erupts with a pop and crackle before settling down to a burbling idol. From the drivers seat the tight grip of the sports seats, bank of dashboard gauges, and blue stitched steering wheel have you under no illusion that this is a performance car. That said, with the 2016 Ford Focus RS in normal mode it demonstrates a dual personality. Yes, the ride is a tad firm, but then you know full well before jumping in that it isn’t a Rolls-Royce. It isn’t backbreaking enough to rule it out for everyday use. Select “Sport Mode” and the car takes on a new state of readiness. The steering becomes more weighted, the throttle more responsive, and a valve opens in the exhaust to allow more of that ravenous noise out into the open. Said noise sets the stage for exuberant driving that any enthusiast will find enthralling. Its immediate and intoxicating surge of acceleration is incredible. With a 0-62 MPH time of just 4.7 seconds, thank to all four wheels being able to utilise all of those ponies, the world around you quickly turns into a blur as you are fired down the road. The chassis has been tuned magnificently and the precise well weighted steering is involving. With AWD the RS always feels stable and takes even the most demanding requests in its stride. Even on tortured tyres and in wet conditions the way the car pitches itself into a corner can be neatly trimmed with throttle adjustment. Something else that impresses are the large 350mm Brembo brakes that not only afford good stopping power, but can take a beating too. Ever eager to dive towards an apex, this car is very approachable but at the same time rewarding when driven at a pace by keen petrol heads. Turning things up once more into “Track Mode” stiffens the dampers. From my experience “Track Mode” means just that. It is for the track. The ride becomes a lot stiffer to prevent as much body roll and boost agility. A wet Silverstone provided a challenging gauntlet for the 2016 Ford Focus RS, but it was a challenge it relished. Making use of this cars physics defying launch control, it bolted into action with a raspy WRC soundtrack. You can feel exactly what is going on beneath you become the organic part of this machine. Around tight corners you can feel the all wheel drive directing power to the outside wheels whilst other torque vectoring measures are applied. This triumph of computer science and engineering results in a car that feels alert and keen to turn in. Feed in the power at the corner exit emerges and the Focus just gets up and goes. The final, and most talked about, mode is “Drift Mode.” Developed with he help of Ken Block, it enables the car to kick its rear out and aid the driver in performing a gracious drift. Even the most ham fisted idiot could look like a hero in this car. Pitch in aggressively, stamp on the throttle, the back end comes loose, then all you have to do is modulate the throttle and apply a dab of opposite lock. It is great fun and a feature that is totally unique to this RS.
The 2016 Ford Focus RS is undeniably the best all-round hot hatchback on sale today and it puts many of its more costly competition to shame. Whilst some interior plastics could be complained about, remember that you can have this car for just £29,995 (£31,000 after 1st May with Sync 3) and clearly Ford has spent the money in the places that matter. Offering 36.7 MPG combined and seating for 5, this hot hatch king ticks the boxes for both practicality and performance very firmly.
Is this the performance bargain of the decade? We think so!
By Tyler Heatley