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The greatest hot hatch in the land: Ford’s Focus RS

04.07.2016

There is no denying the fact that Ford has stepped up its game of late. The American manufacturer has adopted a new vehicle producing strategy, making most of its models ‘world cars’ meaning that each is developed and tested to work in most global markets. This has seen the marque produce some very desirable performance cars. Take the Fiesta ST, a car that embodies fun from a small, agile performance hatchback. Then look at the Mustang, for all of its foibles the iconic pony-car is still very much a desirable steed. Now though, South Africa has been introduced to the Focus RS, a car which as I discovered, is a lunatic mildly disguised as cosmetically enhanced Focus.

Driving the hooligan machine

You would have very likely read the specifications and heard all of the nitty gritty surrounding this car so I’ll get down to business. At the media event we had a chance to drive the Ford Performance range (Fiesta ST, Focus ST, Mustang and Focus RS) around a track created from a driving school’s testing area. After sampling the rest of the range before the RS my first impression was that the RS takes the feel, performance and fun factor to the next level. The front-end turn-in response is exceptionally sharp, making it fun and then there’s the crisp power delivery coupled with a ripsnorting soundtrack.

On track

It made for some serious fun around the track. We were lucky to get some telemetry from our lap, the RS managed to quite consistently pull 1.0 G of cornering force on a dusty track at relatively low speeds. The grip is there as is the manoeuvrability because of a rather clever all-wheel drive system which features torque vectoring and will send power to individual wheels to maximise traction when you need it and break traction if the mood strikes. The fact that it has a slick six-speed manual gearbox also adds to the track appeal, as you feel more involved in the action. You can tell that the RS was made by people who love driving, for people who love being hooligans from time to time.

 

Drifting a four-wheel drive car

Speaking of breaking traction we did get a chance to test the car’s drift mode. It is one of the most childish and brilliant features ever fitted to a car. I was in my element as we got a chance to see how the car behaves on a slippery surface in the various modes which range from ‘Sport’, to ‘Track’ to ‘Drift’. Placing the car in Drift mode means that it sends a large percentage of power to the rear wheels and prepares the rear differentials for big slides. The car is exceptionally easy to slide in this mode, allowing drivers to pull massive angles without ever feeling as if the car is going to bite. Even with the most over-ambitious throttle inputs and steering wheel flicks the RS seems unwilling to swap ends. You have Mr Ken Block to thank for helping develop this, it’s marvellous.

Does it sound like a hot hatch?

Ford placed a large emphasis on making the car sound different from a conventional boosted four-pot. The 257kW/440Nm 2.3 litre motor pops and snarls and generally sounds pretty angry about life most of the time. The car can be quite though in ‘Normal’ mode, where the exhaust quietens down and everything feels quite tame.

Boy racer performance

But Normal mode is really not what the car is about, so put it in sport, activate the launch control function and listen to it bounce off of the limiter before dropping the clutch. I have to say, the car gets off of the line exceptionally quickly, and that initial burst will see it out-launch all of its competitors before their dual-clutch gearboxes and additional power pull past the fast Ford before the 100 km/h mark, which the RS reaches in a claimed 4.7 seconds.

Verdict

The new Focus RS is very likely the best hot hatch on the planet at the moment. It takes the fun and adjustability associated with a front-wheel drive hatch and combines it with the rear-wheel drive antics that we all love while giving the driver the sure-footed assurance of all-wheel drive. It will very likely not be the fastest around a track, nor in a straight line but it is certainly the most fun, and that’s the point of a performance hatchback, to leave a massive grin on your face.

Pricing

The car comes in at R699 900 and can be specified with around R10 000 in options which include shell-style Recaro seats as opposed to the standard sport Recaro items while options such a blue brake calipers and gunmetal grey wheels are free, should you want them. It’s not cheap for a Ford, especially considering the fact that you get a service plan instead of a maintenance plan like its German rivals however, with the standard kit offered and the base price considered, it does undercut key rivals by quite a margin in terms of price. Only 300 of these have been earmarked for local shores, so get cracking with those orders.

Article written by Sean Nurse
04.07.2016
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