First Drive

2016 Ford Focus RS review

The Ford Focus RS is the most keenly anticipated hot hatch of the year, and we’ve had the pleasure of driving it for the first time on UK roads

Words ByJohn Howell

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It’s a great time if you’re about to head out and buy an exciting hot hatch. There are already several great models to choose from, but now perhaps the most hotly awaited of them all has arrived: the new Ford Focus RS.

It’s a car that’s got enthusiasts salivating because Ford has a pedigree of deliverance when it comes to fast road cars – just look at the current Fiesta ST and Focus ST as recent examples. However, having RS in the name means it’s even more special still.

On the technical side you get a 2.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine sourced from the latest Ford Mustang, coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox that will satisfy the purists who prefer changing their own gears. If it’s an automatic hot hatch you want, then you’ll need to look at the rival Volkswagen Golf R, which gives you that choice.

As with the Golf R, the Focus RS's drive is sent to all four wheels. However, the Ford's clever four-wheel drive system sends a bit more shove to the rear wheels when you toggle the driving modes, generating livelier handling while still offering traction out of corners that two-wheel-drive rivals such as the Honda Civic Type R can’t match.

On the style front there are wider cooling ducts at the front and a large spoiler and diffuser at the rear, so it looks the part. That makes the RS easier to spot than the subdued Golf R, but for those that want to be noticed, the Civic Type R visually shouts the loudest.

What’s the 2016 Ford Focus RS like to drive?

It’s genuinely enthusing in a way that only thoughtfully engineered cars are. On start-up there’s a muted burble from the engine, but if you push the drive mode selector to Sport, flaps in the exhaust open to make it pop and splutter like a racing car when you lift off the accelerator.

There’s fabulous performance, too. The engine starts pulling from around 2000rpm and builds through the mid-range. However, if the road allows and you keep the accelerator buried in the carpet, the last 1500rpm before the engine’s 6800rpm limiter delivers an added flurry, accompanied by a satisfying raspy howl from the exhaust.

If you’ve driven the standard Focus, maybe you’ve noticed that it’s a fun car to hustle along twisty roads. Straight away, you can feel the RS is another step up. The steering – perhaps not the best feature of the standard Focus, which has too much self-centering action – feels weightier, giving better feedback. It’s also quicker without any nervousness, so you can place the Focus RS exactly where you want. It’s more like the Civic Type R in this respect, with both feeling a touch sharper than that of the Golf R.

Turn into a corner and the body quickly settles, with only a hint of roll and plenty of grip. Leave the variable dampers in their Normal setting and there’s enough compliance to absorb mid-corner bumps without them upsetting your line. The stiffer Track mode, however, as the name suggests, is too firm for the road and best left for circuit use.

As you exit a turn, that four-wheel-drive traction means you can get back on the power early and not risk the front washing wide like it might in the front-wheel-drive Civic Type R. It keeps the RS surefooted, even in slippery conditions.

Being a sporty hatch the RS does have a firm ride. That said, it’s so well set up it doesn’t thud over bumps or potholes; instead, like the Honda, it tends to fidget over small surface undulations. If you prefer something more cosseting, then the Golf R is more forgiving.

What’s the 2016 Ford Focus RS like inside?

Much like a standard Focus, so for an in-depth report on its space and practicality, have a read of our full Focus review here. Suffice to say there’s reasonable space for a car of this size, but the Golf's cabin offers more rear-seat and boot space, and it’s better finished.

The RS comes with sporty part-leather Recaro seats that hug you tight in corners and feel supportive on long trips. They force you to sit relatively high, which won’t please everyone, but otherwise the Focus RS has a great driving position.

It’s a well-equipped car, too. As standard you get 19in wheels, dual-zone climate control, an 8.0in-screened infotainment system with Bluetooth and a DAB radio. The options list is unusually small, but does include sat-nav, keyless entry, city braking and various styling upgrades to enhance the already sporty outside look.

Should I buy one?

For those that fancy something sporty, comfortable and practical, the Golf R is the model that stands out, but it is the most expensive of the three mentioned here. Neither the Civic Type R nor the Focus RS can match the Golf’s day-to-day usability, but instead offer the real enthusiast more driver involvement and a bigger slice of fun as a result.

If this is you, then we’d say go for the Focus. It might cost you an extra Β£1000 to buy than Ford originally promised, but potentially stronger resale values should mitigate that, and to drive, it’s utterly fantastic. In fact, it might just be the best hot hatch on sale today.


What Car? says...

5/5


Rivals

BMW M135i 5dr

Volkswagen Golf R


Ford Focus RS Engine size 2.3-litre petrol Price from Β£31,000 Power 345bhp Torque 347lb ft 0-62mph 4.7seconds Top speed 165mph Fuel economy 36.7mpg CO2 175g/km