Point and shoot

Fo­cus RS — the Ford hot hatch you can take to the shops

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN CAREY

TAK­ING the car for a spin gains a whole new mean­ing in Ford’s new Fo­cus RS.

Se­lect this pow­er­ful, five­door, all-wheel-drive hatch’s Drift Mode and it’s ready to whirl in slid­ing cir­cles with smoke pour­ing from all four tyres — just like in the slick, seen-by-mil­lions YouTube videos of Ken Block.

In fact, the 48-year-old Amer­i­can driver worked with Ford’s en­gi­neers on Drift Mode, test­ing it dur­ing the Fo­cus RS’s three-year de­vel­op­ment pro­gram and ad­vis­ing on how to im­prove it.

In a spa­cious car park be­hind the pit area of the Cir­cuit de Va­len­cia in Spain, site of the Fo­cus RS’s in­ter­na­tional in­tro­duc­tion to the me­dia, we’re about to find out if Drift Mode re­ally works. Belted into the Ford’s snug-fit driver’s seat, we se­lect first gear and en­ter the cir­cle of cones.

It’s easy. The snarling turbo en­gine of the Fo­cus RS is plenty pow­er­ful, and all it takes to get some Block-style ac­tion is floor­ing the throt­tle while turn­ing at only 20 or 30km/h. The Ford snaps into a side­ways slide and keeps slip­ping, cir­cling and smok­ing as long as the driver stays on the ac­cel­er­a­tor.

Block must rely solely on his skill be­hind the wheel but the Fo­cus RS driver has a safety net. The Ford might ap­pear al­most out of con­trol yet Drift Mode also can sense when the driver is los­ing it and re­duce power.

No other car maker has Drift Mode and Ford is proud of be­ing first to do it. This tech­nol­ogy, ob­vi­ously, is for use only on a race­track … or its empty car park. It’s spec­tac­u­lar but it’s the least use­ful of the Fo­cus RS’s tal­ents. You could even call it a gim­mick.

Drift Mode may justly be seen by some as noth­ing more than a nov­elty but it won’t pre­vent any­one ap­pre­ci­at­ing the all-round ex­cel­lence of the new Fo­cus RS.

The RS — for Rally Sport — badge has a his­tory stretch­ing back al­most 50 years. Over the decades it has adorned a pa­rade of Euro­pean-made Fords, all of them fast and none of them built in large num­bers. But the built-for-speed credo of­ten meant they were noisy, roughrid­ing and hard to live with.

The new one is dif­fer­ent. Ford will sell this Fo­cus RS all over the world — in­clud­ing, for the first time, the US. So a lot of ef­fort has been put smooth­ing edges that might once have been left rough-fin­ished.

Ford’s in­tense, three-year de­vel­op­ment pro­gram has cre­ated a car more pol­ished and

civilised than any RS be­fore, yet quick and fun to drive.

The be­yond-merely-hot hy­per-hatches from some of Ger­many’s most de­sir­able brands, high-priced cars such as the Benz A45 AMG and Audi RS3, are un­der threat. The Fo­cus RS has what it takes to chal­lenge them for out­right abil­ity.

The Ford is made to a very sim­i­lar recipe, as fol­lows: take a mass-pro­duc­tion hatch, in­stall a big-power turbo en­gine, then add all-wheel-drive, large brakes, sticky tyres, stiffer sus­pen­sion and body, swifter steer­ing and an ex­te­rior aero kit to glue it to the road at speed.

Equipped with more di­rect steer­ing than even the sporty Fo­cus ST, the RS needs only two turns of the wheel to go from lock to lock. As with other big­wheel ver­sions of the Fo­cus, the turn­ing cir­cle of the RS is huge.

There are up­graded brakes in­side the car’s 19-inch wheels and their grippy Miche­lin tyres. Hefty front discs are clamped by four-pis­ton Brembo calipers.

Power comes from a hot ver­sion of Ford’s Eco­Boost 2.3-litre turbo four, an en­gine used in the new Mus­tang. With a big­ger turbo and other mod­i­fi­ca­tions, in the RS it punches out 257kW, or 24kW more than in the Mus­tang.

The en­gine also has been tuned for crackle and pop when a valve in its free-flow­ing muf­fler opens — as it does in the four driver-se­lectable modes (but not in the de­faulton-start-up Nor­mal mode. A six-speed man­ual is the sole trans­mis­sion.

Ford Per­for­mance en­gi­neer­ing man­ager Ty­rone John­son, who over­saw the car’s de­vel­op­ment, says it was cho­sen be­cause it’s about 30kg lighter than any com­pa­ra­ble dou­ble-clutch auto. This im­proves the car’s weight dis­tri­bu­tion and han­dling.

As its cen­tre­piece, the RS’s all-wheel-drive has a very clever rear-drive setup be­tween its rear wheels. Via a pair of elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled clutches, this can chan­nel power swiftly and pre­cisely to each rear wheel.

John­son claims this gives the Fo­cus RS bet­ter trac­tion and ti­dier han­dling than de­liv­ered by the quite dif­fer­ent Haldex­type all-wheel-drive tech favoured by other mak­ers.

The hard­ware in­ven­tory reads well yet it is the con­certed way ev­ery­thing works that makes the Fo­cus RS an out­stand­ingly en­ter­tain­ing drive.

Straight-line ac­cel­er­a­tion, es­pe­cially from a stand­ing start, is very good. Ford’s 4.7 se­cond 0-100km/h claim feels eas­ily achiev­able.

Even more im­pres­sive is the han­dling. The Ford Per­for­mance en­gi­neers who de­vel­oped this car de­serve praise for its bril­liant bal­ance and in­cred­i­ble cor­ner­ing poise.

Steer­ing, sus­pen­sion and all­wheel-drive work to­gether to make it go ex­actly where it’s pointed, even when ac­cel­er­at­ing hard out of bends. It even rides de­cently on pub­lic roads, the sort of fi­nesse lack­ing in other high-pow­ered hatches.

It is ex­cel­lent over­all but not per­fect. The in­te­rior, apart from the fine Re­caro front sports seats and three ex­tra dash­top gauges, is much like any other Fo­cus but in con­trast with the ex­te­rior there’s a lack of vis­ual drama.

As well as the aw­ful turn­ing cir­cle al­ready men­tioned, the Fo­cus RS is sure to be a heavy drinker when driven hard. Cov­er­ing just 150km or so of wind­ing Span­ish roads con­sumed about half of the 51L fuel tank.

The road com­po­nent of the in­tro­duc­tory drive was on mostly quite smooth sur­faces and, not to pre­judge, the RS could turn out to be a bit of a kid­ney pul­veriser in Aus­tralia.

None of this will stop the Fo­cus RS be­ing snapped up by Aus­tralian buy­ers from the mo­ment it be­gins to roll into Ford show­rooms midyear.

The car’s al­ready an­nounced $51K price means it’s sure to be­come the high-per­for­mance bar­gain of 2016.

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