The best yet, but perhaps not for every day
When I was young a rather better resourced friend owned an original XR2 Ford Fiesta and, very kindly, let me skid about in it. Thirty-five years later I find myself skidding about in this new Ford Focus RS and feeling the same warm feelings rise up within me.
To me it is genuinely extraordinary and admirable to see how Ford has kept the faith all these years. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about what was even then a budget hot hatch produced half a lifetime ago, or a state-of-the-art supercar-slayer like this new Focus, the philosophy is the same: keep them raw, keep them real and keep them coming. It’s all about fun and if that means the interior is a bit of a mess and the ride a bit crude, then so be it – it’s a price well worth paying. Of course Ford has occasionally lost its way on this journey, but not for a long period of time.
Ford’s latest is the third Focus to receive the RS treatment, but the first to be fitted with four-wheel drive. With 345bhp from its 2.3-litre turbo four, there was just too much work for the front wheels on their own. It comes also with a stiffened shell, adaptive dampers, big brakes and an active rear diff charged with apportioning the up to 70 per cent of the engine’s torque that can be shuttled in its direction.
On fast, quiet A- and B-roads it is one of the quickest point-to-point cars I’ve driven, its compact dimensions alone meaning no million-pound hypercar would have a prayer of staying with it. It has it all: grip, poise, balance and enough torque to make the chassis really work. It has a ‘drift’ mode I didn’t try on the public road, but even in conventional settings it was easy to cancel the car’s inherent desire to understeer with a quick lift and reapplication of power. Effective and engaging, it doesn’t quite have the power to weight ratio of its closest rivals on paper, the Audi RS3 or Mercedes-AMG A45, so you’ll just have to take it from me that it’s far more fun to drive than either and, in the real world, probably faster.
And here’s the thing: while Audi and Mercedes charge more than £40,000 for their all-wheel-drive steroidal hatchbacks, Ford would be delighted to sell you one of theirs for £31,000.
But there’s a problem. A few, in fact. The interior of the Focus is a mess, its ride poor, its refinement merely average and its fuel consumption – when driven the way it wants to drive – rarely less than ferocious. Unlike the Mercedes or Audi, this is not an easy car to live with and therefore for most not an everyday proposition. It is a recreation. When for similar money you can buy a VW Golf R that is only a little slower, almost as enjoyable and as competent a daily driver as any other Golf, the limits of the Focus’s appeal are clear.
This, then, is the most entertaining fast hatch of the current generation. But the Golf remains the best.
Price – £31,000
Engine – 2.3 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged
Power – [email protected]
Torque – 346lb [email protected]
Transmission – six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Weight – 1547kg
Power to Weight – 223bhp per tonne
0-62mph – 4.7sec
Top speed – 165mph
Economy – 36.7mpg
CO2 – 175g/km