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Ford Focus RS first drive review

RS gets resurrected as a 345bhp drift machine guaranteed to put a smile on your face

The speed junkie inside me has been waiting for a new fast Ford for what feels like forever, and now that moment has finally arrived.

The 2016 Focus RS is here, and it’s an absolute monster.

No mere hot hatch, the new RS turns heads on the road and lays down rubber on the track. With a colossal 345bhp and a high-tech four wheel drive system, it promises to be one of the most exciting cars of 2016.

Mean Machine

You can see that it started off as a Focus, but the RS has been tweaked and trimmed to look seriously mean. There’s no lime green colour this time around, but the new Nitrous Blue is absolutely stunning in person, and the black 19in alloys complete the race-ready look.

The aggressive front end, bulging wheel arches and towering tailgate spoiler give the RS a distinctive look that I absolutely love. Even if you don’t opt for the figure-hugging Recaro shell seats inside, the twin exit exhausts and rear splitter give a hint towards the car’s track potential.

It’s not all for show, either. The front splitter and rear wing work together to prevent any lift from the front or the rear, and the grille has vents that direct air over the brakes to keep them cool when driving on a circuit.

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Give me a boost

Underneath the bonnet you’ll find a 2.3l EcoBoost engine that started life as the block from the new Mustang (albeit the ‘eco-friendly’ version – you can still buy a 5.0l ‘tang). It was re-engineered specifically for the RS with even more power, better cooling, and a unique sound.

The result is a massive 345bhp, which is instantly available every time you feather the throttle.

Without the distinctive turbo whine that became a signature of the original Focus RS, it’s easy to forget the engine is turbocharged at all; power gets delivered smoothly across the whole rev range.

The exhaust comes alive in Sport mode, burbling and popping every time you change gear. The engine revs harder, the already stellar steering response gets even sharper and the suspension hunkers down for a much firmer ride. It’s glorious. The short throw gearstick makes each shift feel slick and precise, too.

Floor it using Launch Control and you’ll hit 62mph in a Porsche-baiting 4.7 seconds. Keep your foot down and you’ll hit an adrenalin-pumping 165 miles per hour.

Drifting away

The speed is definitely addictive, but so is the tyre-shredding drift mode. The clever four wheel drive system makes it feel like you’ve got never-ending drop on the road, but in Drift mode it makes throwing the back out as easy as burying the throttle.

Drift mode sends up to 70% of the engine’s torque to the rear axle, and can divert 100% of that power to one of the two rear wheels. It’s called torque vectoring, and there’s plenty of electronic cleverness behind it, but all you need to know is that it’s an absolute hoot.

I had no trouble getting the RS to oversteer like a hooligan – legally, of course – on Spain’s Circuit de Valencia racetrack. It doesn’t take a lot of correction to keep the slide going, but the car still steps in to save you from a complete spin.

Combining the traction of an all-wheel-drive car with the agility of a rear-wheel-drive one makes the RS the best of both worlds, and helps it stand out from other hot hatches.

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Living with it

Sport mode makes for an undeniably firm ride; I’d happily let my back take some punishment to hear the throaty pops and bangs that come with every gear change, but returning the drive mode to Normal softens the suspension by as much as 40%.

It made a big difference on swooping mountain roads, and didn’t impact the precise steering or lose any of that fantastic grip. Even so, I’ll have to wait to find out if that’s enough to cope with Blighty’s pothole-scarred tarmac.

Practicality is still important, even in a track-ready car like the this; it’s the reason you buy a hot hatch instead of a coupe or roadster.

The RS is only going to be available as a five door model, which boosts its potential as a family car, and there are even three proper seats in the back, which gives it the edge over Honda’s Civic Type R. The boot is admittedly a little on the small side, but the rear seats fold flat when you need the extra space.

Get in Sync

Sync 3, Ford’s latest infotainment system, has only just arrived in the US, and isn’t quite ready for a full European rollout. That means the RS sticks with the tried-and-tested Sync 2 system instead.

In the few days I spent with the RS, Sync 2 was decent enough, with a perfectly responsive 8in touchscreen, Bluetooth and USB audio playback, and voice controls.

A race track wasn’t the ideal place to test out the nine-speaker Sony stereo (the exhaust note was a much better soundtrack anyway), but DAB radio as standard is still very welcome.

The satnav (a £465 option) struggled a bit to pronounce Spanish road names, and Sync just isn’t as flexible as Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, but it does the basics well and lets you concentrate on the drive.

Ford Focus RS 2016 initial verdict

I was blown away by the new Focus RS. It’s no longer a boy racer’s hot hatch, but a track monster that’s equally at home on winding country roads. It’s still practical, too, with the five doors and slightly restrained styling merely teasing what lurks under the bonnet.

Yes, it’s more expensive than the old car, butting heads with the Honda Civic Type R and VW Golf R at £29,995, but it’s some £10,000 cheaper than the Mercedes A45 AMG or Audi RS3. A significant number of UK models have already been reserved, though, so getting your hands on one won’t be easy.

Would I buy one? Quite honestly, it’s a tempting proposition. I’ll wait until I’ve had the chance to try the right hand drive version on UK roads before delivering a final verdict, but for sheer driving fun, it’s going to be difficult to beat.

Tech specs

Engine 2.3l Ecoboost Turbo
Transmission 6-speed manual
Power 345ps @ 6800rpm
Torque 440Nm @ 2000rpm
0-62mph 4.7 sec
Top speed 165mph
Economy 36.7mpg (combined)
CO2 175g/km
Profile image of Tom Morgan-Freelander Tom Morgan-Freelander Deputy Editor


A tech addict from about the age of three (seriously, he's got the VHS tapes to prove it), Tom's been writing about gadgets, games and everything in between for the past decade, with a slight diversion into the world of automotive in between. As Deputy Editor, Tom keeps the website ticking along, jam-packed with the hottest gadget news and reviews.  When he's not on the road attending launch events, you can usually find him scouring the web for the latest news, to feed Stuff readers' insatiable appetite for tech.

Areas of expertise

Smartphones/tablets/computing, cameras, home cinema, automotive, virtual reality, gaming

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