Road Test of the Year 2016: Ford Focus RS Review

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The setting sun is casting a beautiful golden glow across the Brecon Beacons as a light mist hovers in the air. I imagine this epic scene would make ramblers go weak at the knees, if it wasn't for the fact I'm shattering the peace with a highly-strung four-pot and a ludicrously over-engineered family hatchback.

The roads atop the moors dip and dive across the kind of terrain that would make an Ordnance Survey map look like a plate of spaghetti.

There are sweeping, well-sighted curves and tight switchbacks in equal measure, and this Ford Focus RS is in its element.

The light was already beginning to fade when I set off on an epic journey from the southern tip of Wales to Denbigh in the north. Approximately 180 miles with not so much as a dual carriageway to catch my breath.

I'm not complaining, though. This third- generation Focus RS might not be quite as bewinged as its predecessors, but it's still a proper rally car wannabe. The 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine makes 345bhp and one hell of a racket as gunshots ring from the exhaust on upshifts.

The Focus RS has traditionally used front-wheel drive, with some technical wizardry employed to try – and mostly fail – to tame unwanted torque steer under acceleration. But the new version gets the all-wheel drive system Fast Ford fans have been crying out for.

Ford Focus RS

Ford Focus RS


It's a mighty clever thing, too. With a rear- biased torque delivery in Sport mode, the Focus handles like a ludicrously grippy rear-wheel-drive car when you're pushing its limits.

With the low sun casting long shadows across the road and my only companions up here an endless supply of suicidal sheep, I decide to swallow a brave pill and see if I can discover where those limits lie.

I quickly discover they're well beyond what I could ever find on the road. Simply chuck the RS into a corner to shift the weight to the outer rear wheel, then plant your foot on the throttle and let the all-wheel drive system make you look like a hero. Then giggle incessantly before doing it all over again at the next bend.

The slightly heavy steering at low speeds suddenly makes sense once you start channelling your inner hooligan. The days of communicative steering are unfortunately behind us, but you still get a sense of how much grip the front end has.

I hadn't really gelled with the RS until now. You sit too high, the interior feels cheap and the Sync infotainment system is a lesson in bad design. Ignore the fact that the ride is so harsh that even in Normal mode you'll need your chiropractor on speed dial, and you quickly forget it's not your everyday, common-or-garden Focus. Leaving the moorlands in my rear-view mirror, I find myself on a mountain pass seemingly miles from civilisation. Out here, with empty roads and full beams straining to illuminate the horizon, the Focus RS is an absolute blast.

I can see why some won't like it. The fact that at anything below 100 per cent effort it can feel ordinary can be a turn-off, but when you start to reach the upper reaches of its performance, it's just mind-blowing. And with prices starting at just £31,250, is there a better performance car for the money? Answers on a postcard please.

THE KNOWLEDGE
Ford Focus RS

Price: £31,250
Engine: 2.3-litre, turbo petrol
Power: 345bhp, 470Nm
0-60mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 165mph
Economy: 36.7mpg combined
Emissions: 175g/km