Two jobs turns out tnod be one job too many
It excels in one role. But the RS doesn’t even turn its alarm clock on for anything else.
FORGET ABOUT THE family 4x4 being a Swiss Army knife, it’s the hot hatch we demand most from. It’s got to be comfortable for the school run yet able to carve round the Nürburgring in under eight minutes.
It’s why so many manufactures go down the route of making a hardcore hot hatch. It’s why Honda and Renault chase ’Ring lap times, why Hyundai’s first hot hatch – indeed, its whole performance division – is named after that German track, as is Toyota’s Yaris GRMN, or at least the N.
Doing it this way, with a narrower remit, is easier. It’s why when Ford’s Performance team first got their hands on the Focus, they probably took one look at the cramped interior and crappy plastics, and knew they’d be on a hiding to nothing if they went chasing the VW Golf R. Better to stick to one end of the spectrum and make something rather riotous…
Which is exactly what they did. With clever four-wheel drive, 345bhp, and even more torque, the Focus RS is ferociously fast. Its party piece is the old hot hatch favourite turned up to 11: demolishing any given road with a speed that a low-slung, rear-drive sports car couldn’t ever hope to match. While a GT3 might be struggling for traction or scuffing its nose, the Focus RS just flies along.
There’s more to like too. It’s by far today’s best-looking hot hatch, and in black, with black wheels, it’s both subtle and sinister. I love that the intakes (of which the front end is predominantly made up) are all real too. And – and this is very geeky – when you pop the bonnet, even after 7000 miles, it’s clean. No water splashes, just a pristine piece of plastic covering the engine. That shows how well sealed it is.
Yet however much I enjoyed the Focus RS on the right road, I didn’t much enjoy it for most of the rest of the time. It doesn’t even start to do enough of the hatchback stuff well.
The big issues are: the awful interior quality (a Ford Focus fault, rather than an RS-specific failing); the woeful range and fuel consumption (250 miles at best, and never better than 30mpg); and the ride, which is terrible. It never hinders you flying down your favourite B-road, but day-to-day it’s dreadful. Plus the Recaro seats are set far too high, are far too tight, and are so thick they rob the rear passengers of any decent legroom. And at that point the Focus RS becomes a compromised second car, rather than a hot hatch with a little extra edge. For £30k, you’d be better off buying a mint E90 M3 saloon – the BMW will ride better, have just as much space, and while the fuel consumption won’t be any different, the flipside is M division’s chassis magic and a 4.0-litre naturally aspirated V8.
I’ve heard rumours that the next Focus RS will be a 400bhp hybrid. I hope not. I want them to shoehorn the existing powertrain and four-wheel-drive package into the classy, roomy new Focus, and spend the development money on the suspension.