Flawed when Floored

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RS turbo — Fraught — Ford — Fast; a genuine 130 mph shopping trolley, but fraught. Those were our principle memories of the £11,950 latest edition in a 20 year cavalcade of Fords wearing the RS (Rallye Sport) badge.

For £1100 more than the current 108 bhp XR2i, the base upon which this RS version was developed, the RS turbo offers the searing acceleration which once defined a Sixties supercar.

The engine bay is filled by the T2 Garrett AiResearch turbocharger, Ford EEC-IV managed electronic fuel injection and cooling radiators that feature the intercooler tilted upright alongside the water unit. The CVH engine remains at 1596cc (80 x 79.5mm). The turbocharger unit is considerably smaller — consciously biased to mid-range power — than the T03 found in the 132 bhp Escort RS.

As on all Fords for public consumption the turbocharging installation is a conservative one, just 0.55 bar boost meeting an 8.2:1 static compression which can accept unleaded from 95 octane and 97 RON leaded. The company claim 25.9 Urban mpg and we returned 21.2 mpg in exceptionally hard use, 27.9 mpg for a brisk tankful, maintaining a running average of 24.5 mpg over 400 observed miles.

To be able to extract the considerable potential for speed from the running gear which has an extensively modified front strut geometry and replacement steering rack (now 3.75 turns lock-to-lock instead of the production 4.2), the driver also needs to know what the front-drive Ford lacks. This is a more urgent priority than acknowledging the obvious straightline prowess of 133 bhp at 5500 rpm and an almost flat torque curve, one which culminates in 132 lb ft at 2400 rpm. As you might expect of the flat torque curve plus an ample power within a kerb weight of 2028 lbs, overtaking ability is one of the Fiesta RS’s principle charms. The fourth gear acceleration between 50 and 70 mph is a brief 5.7 seconds while the car is happy to cruise at an indicated 90 mph and 3800 rpm without flustering its occupants or running gear.

Unhappily, the driver still has to master the technique of keeping the CVH engine between 2400 and 5500 rpm for unobtrusive progress, the 6500 rpm redline a formality that is rarely explored. Even more unfortunate, and potentially hazardous for suburban users, was the frequent stalling from an uneven 1000 rpm which all but matched the dreaded Peugeot GTI cut-outs for wretched persistence.

Ford do not provide the facility to charge from 0-60 mph in a claimed 7.7 seconds without some glaring omissions. The optional anti-lock braking (SCS) fails to provide the retardation that you expect to match such speed. Simple stops from higher speeds — beyond 60-70 mph — can be dramatic beyond belief. The pedal sinks into the anti-lock action, there is the usual trembling of the centre pedal, but speeds remain higher than expected and a wheel can lock during the elongated pulses of the electromechanical system.

In action the modified suspension has increased traction and cornering capabilities a class beyond the XR2i, but Peugeot and Renault GTI/GT turbo owners will still find that their Gallic suspension technique is superior. Despite Armstrong gas dampers, lowered rear suspension and the adoption of a 16mm rear anti-roll bar to complement a 20mm front unit, the Fiesta still had obvious limitations.

The move to an elevated rack and pinion ratio has left the steering unacceptably heavy at parking and high load cornering speeds and even a perceptive driver will find it particularly tough to gauge grip and road shape passing beneath the 185/55 Pirelli P600s which are specified on the unique three spoke 5.5 14 inch alloy wheels in Britain.

I have now driven four cars to RS turbo specification and only the production one did not feature the best of riding abilities over wicked bumps. Since exceptional ride quality is a feature of the elongated wheelbase Fiestas it would be a shame if this sports version had abandoned that quality, but the vertical movements passed on to the tightly contained torsos within the front Recaro seats were severe over tarmac which had been tended by anything other than a wildly overspending local council.

The seats themselves are worthy of a competition car in retentive abilities, attractively trimmed in a shade dubbed Benetton after the original Ford intention to badge the Fiesta as an echo of its Grand Prix team. Otherwise the interior will not win Ford any prizes for the quality of plastic mouldings employed, but the switchgear, ventilation and instrumentation (the 150 mph speedometer has arrived in the smallest Ford) are generally straightforward and near the top of the class for accessibility and legibility. An exception is the power rocker switches for the front side glass which are a low stretch away on the central fascia.

The company has not been slow to learn from the Japanese, so there are items like the facility to open the rear hatch from a fascia switch, central locking, electric windows and a tilting glass sunroof within the standard specification.

I thought the RS Fiesta a lot more fun than many contemporaries but confess to having had more opportunities to develop a driving technique which harnesses some of this exuberant newcomer’s alarming traits. Basically one gear higher than perfection kills the wheelspin and contains accessible torque supplies. A mental attitude of “you will follow the path I have chosen”, rather as in training a labrador, assists in maintaining control when it wants to follow its own base instincts.

At just under £12,000 for an RS Fiesta, the £12,195 Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9 has equal speed and cornering capabilities that are thoroughly exhilarating (but beware the lift-off tail slides). Meanwhile the Renault 5 GT turbo is a comparative bargain at £10,350. The RS Fiesta is a rather patchy attempt at bringing Ford owners the kind of compact car motoring that the French have brilliantly offered for more than five years. The best has been made of the hoarse Ford CVH motor and the turbo installation is excellent for space-efficient speed coupled to mid-range response. Elsewhere, notably in steering and overall stability, we could have expected more commitment and a better “sorted” product from Ford. Perhaps one setting fresh class standards, given that there has been so long to study rival virtues. JW

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