The previous Ford Focus RS looked like it had crawled out of the woods surrounding Chernobyl. Well at least the one I had on test did. It wore a poisonous shade of green: the kind nature usually reserves for deadly Amazonian tree frogs. Like some castaway mutant its bonnet had grown a pair of nostrils while its face had been stretched into this malevolent snarl thanks to the fitting of a swollen bumper designed to consume more oxygen. I remember parking it in Greenside and watched at how people flocked around it in curious awe: this pressed-steel assemblage of bravado and raw bellicosity.
I did the same with its long-awaited successor two weeks ago and nobody seemed to notice. Perhaps the plain white paint was to blame but through the eyes of the masses on a midday street the new RS appeared to be just another Focus on a junk-food run. Which suits me just fine. Back in 2010 I was all for flat-caps and Monster T-shirts and loud DC sneakers emblazoned with Ken Block’s skull and crossbones logo. In those dark days I liked big boot spoilers and ostentatious body kits. In 2016 I do not. Nowadays I find them mildly embarrassing.
Which is why I could never feel 100% comfortable behind the wheel of the new Honda Civic Type-R. I did not experience this discomfort in the new Focus RS. When stopped at the traffic lights I didn’t feel the need to shield my face with my hand as people in Corolla Quests mumbled disparaging remarks about the size of my manhood. There’s a sense of sporting purpose etched into the architecture of the new Focus RS, granted, but it’s not overtop. Especially when compared to its predecessor.
The same can be said about the engine. In 2010 the Focus RS came fitted with a five-cylinder motor. Like an industrial vacuum cleaner trapped inside a lion it whooshed and roared and spat with a violence I haven’t experienced since. Now Ford has bolted in a smaller four-cylinder engine (a modified version of the one doing duty in the Mustang) that uses an artificial sound symposer to help bring the noise. Here’s the thing though – it’s more powerful.
Yep, the new RS may sound less dramatic but being 33-kilowatts richer it is a lot faster. And who doesn’t like more speed, more acceleration? Squash the throttle and you’ll find that this hatch builds momentum at a frightening rate. It also makes you feel more part of the experience thanks to that excellent manual gearbox. Seriously, I can’t tell you how great it is to drive a proper performance car in this day and age with ‘six-on-the-floor.’ Yes I know a computer will shift faster. Big freaking deal. I still want my manual, thank you very much.
Then there’s the way this Focus handles. Previously all the power was fed exclusively through the front wheels – something that could make it a bit of a handful. This time around Ford did the sensible thing and went with an all-wheel-drive system. Good move that because it has now turned the RS into one of the most devastatingly fast cars, point-to-point, that I’ve driven in ages. You step, you steer and it goes – simple as that. And with an unshakeable poise and level of grip that is simply astounding.
Put a good driver in this thing and he will, across roads of a curved disposition, be able to adhere himself to the tailpipes of any thoroughbred sports car. GT3? SVR? AMG GT? No problem, sir, for Ford has built a pearler. The steering is excellent. The chassis is sublime. The Brembo brakes let you take liberties to the next level. The suspension can be switched between firm and hard.
Yet the star of the new RS show is still that aforementioned all-wheel-drive system. Driven within the grounds of reason it provides idiot-proof traction. But when you’re feeling naughty you’ll find that it can easily be provoked to send most of the torque to the back axle for tail-out hooliganism. There were occasions in which this Focus felt like a drift-thirsty rear-wheel-drive car – more so than any other all-wheeler hatch in the history of mankind.
So it would seem that the visual drama of the original has been redirected into the two things that matter most on an enthusiasts car: driving experience and performance delivery. We now have a machine that goes faster than it looks and I like that. A lot. Yes, the new Focus RS is eye-wateringly expensive. Yes, it has a superhuman thirst for fuel. Yes, a Golf R is R100k cheaper. Yes, the interior feels comically chintzy in comparison to the Golf’s. But, you know what, I’ve driven the Golf R. I’ve also driven the more expensive Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A45 (another vehicle that sits high on the Embarrassment-O-Meter). And for me the Ford is the one to beat.
Fast Facts: Ford Focus RS
Engine: 2261cc four-cylinder turbo
Power: 257kW at 6000rpm
Torque: 440Nm from 1600 to 5000rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual
0-100km/h: 4.7-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 266km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 16.0l/100km (achieved)
CO2: 175g/km (claimed)
Price: From R699 900