The sensible choice. Well, sort of…
All 345bhp of it. As hot hatches go, the latest Focus RS is a surprisingly practical proposition. By Ben Pulman
THE LOGICAL ANSWER wasn’t in doubt. What else but a Golf? We needed a new car, something enjoyable to drive, both small and subtle enough for life on the streets of London, and still practical for whatever our impending married life might hold. It’s what a group test would conclude, after all, and would save us visiting a series of industrial estates when we should be fretting over favours and how much money to put behind the bar.
As things turned out, organising a wedding was a doddle compared to shopping for a car. My wife wanted to come too, as she didn’t trust me not to come home with a secondhand Cayman. So off we went, visiting the local showrooms, seven days before the big day. We crossed off BMW, Merc was discounted too, and while we wavered over an A3, our answer was inevitable: we should get a Golf.
Then it was a case of figuring out which Golf. Or in my eyes, whether it was to be a GTI or an R. An R Estate, I thought, perhaps on one of those absurdly cheap leases that occasionally pop up. I even got a text from a mate while we were away on honeymoon, tipping me in the direction of just such a deal. Only the new Mrs Pulman didn’t want it in white, and then I wavered, and 24 hours later the offer was gone. Drat!
I’d been moments away from committing to a Golf R Estate for three years – but now CAR’s new long-term-test Ford Focus RS is making me question whether I was doing the right thing.
I never really considered the RS; these days it’s not Fords and Vauxhalls that are the default choice. But a 2.3-litre engine, shared with the Mustang but upgraded with a 10 per cent power hike to 345bhp, says I should have at least looked this way. And it’s not like a Focus isn’t a practical car. Plus it’s got four-wheel drive (despite Ford telling us for two generations of Focus RS that all-whel drive added cost and weight at the cost of fun), big 350mm Brembo front brakes, Recaro seats, and four driving modes including a Drift Mode that the hype will have you believe transforms even the most inept driver into Ken Block. All this, for just £28,940. Sorry, £29,995. No, wait, £31…. Oh, actually, er… it’s £32,265. Between the Focus RS being unveiled and actually going on sale in the UK there was a price rise, and then a public vote last summer and its subsequent economic impact devalued the pound to the extent that this fast Ford is now over 10 per cent more expensive.
You’ll have spotted that it’s not blue. Apparently more than 60 per cent of RS buyers opt for Nitrous Blue (and I’ve never seen a Mk3 RS on the road in any other colour) while
only about 10 per cent choose the Shadow Black hue we had our car painted in. It’s a lot less lairy in the dark colour, both subtle (like we wanted) and rather sinister. That, and it helps disguise just how much of the nose is in fact a gaping air intake.
The optional gloss-black forged wheels (£975, and taken up by nearly every buyer) suit it well and are nicely understated when compared with the standard silver alloys, while the blue brake calipers are another almost-default option (at £25 per corner) and about the only hint of colour on the outside.
And here’s the point where we’d usually make a joke about the dark, drab and dreary interiors of Fords. Except it’s great. The latest Sync3 infotainment system is good, ditto the Recaro seats (we don’t have the £1145 Recaro buckets, which look fantastic, except this isn’t a two-day group test thrash in Wales – it’s six months of real life) and you’d be hard-pressed to spot any inferior plastics or sub-par areas of fit and finish.
To the standard list of equipment (including bi-xenon lights, dual-zone climate control, 10-speaker Sony stereo and a reversing camera) we’ve added parking sensors, cruise control, privacy glass, engine stop/start, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, which adds £1525 to the list price, for a total price of £35,390.
The days of the £19,995 Mk1 Focus are long gone, but while a Mk5 Golf GTI cost the same back then, spec a new Mk7.5 Golf R to the equivalent level of our RS and it’s more than £37k.
Silly money. Unless you get a cheap lease deal. Which is exactly what the Focus RS has to convince me not to do six months from now…
Blue paint turns out not to be compulsory on the RS. We paid extra for those calipers