Ford Focus RS Ambleside
Ford Focus RS
There's a space in our car park that will never be the same again – and quite how we’re going to fill it, I don’t know. Our beloved Focus RS has gone, and while its stay at Auto Express has been brief, I can’t think of many cars that have proven as popular. Tears, and there have been many, were shed when the delivery driver arrived to pick it up.
It’s wasn’t always that way, though. Back in May, the RS arrived with plenty to prove. Despite being the most powerful production hot hatch ever, the 301bhp machine had narrowly lost out to the MINI Cooper John Cooper Works in its first group test (Issue 1,052).
Although the new RevoKnuckle suspension and trick differential worked well on the smooth French roads of our test, there were doubts that it could deal with the bumps and ruts of a UK B-road. Quite simply, many people thought it was too powerful for its own good.
For me, those concerns evaporated during the first weekend I had it. One of my favourite roads is a section of the A507, which cuts across the Hertfordshire countryside from Baldock to Buntingford.
The A-road tag is something of a misnomer – it’s really an undulating B-road with a host of tight turns, straights and a wide mix of surfaces.
It’s fun, but also a stern test of a hot hatch. On that road, the RS passed with flying colours, diving into corners, holding its line perfectly and firing me down straights on a surge of turbocharged torque.
I soon learned that the combination of RevoKnuckle and a clever differential isn’t foolproof – you can’t be a hooligan with the throttle, or the RS will torque steer. But gently feed in the accelerator through a bend and the RS goes round in remarkable fashion.
The engine is simply superb, too. There’s no hole in the power delivery, just deep-chested urge from low revs and enormous punch at high revs, all backed up by a fabulous warbly soundtrack.
And because of the modifications over a regular ST, the five-cylinder unit is more efficient than ever, so it doesn’t use any more fuel. In fact, we averaged 24.5mpg, which is no worse than the lesser Focus ST I used to run. In fact, I even managed to top 30mpg on a long run to Stoke and another to the Cotswolds.
During its time with us, the RS met up with its spiritual predecessor, the Escort RS Cosworth, plus took part in its fair share of group tests, beating Subaru’s Impreza STi and Mitsubishi’s Evo X (Issue 1,072). It even finished higher than BMW’s Z4 and the Corvette ZR-1 in our Performance Car of the Year shoot-out (Issue 1,078).
But as well as the pace, soundtrack, looks and handling, it’s the all-round ability that seals the deal. Photographer Matt Vosper drove the RS all the way back from the PCOTY event in Anglesey to our London offices, handed me the keys and simply said: “I love your car!” It’s had that effect on most of the people who have driven it.
But there have been some problems, though. You have to be careful when accelerating hard in the wet and it’s heavy for a hot hatch, which takes the edge off its agility and steering sharpness.
Combined with the huge power on tap, tyre wear is alarming. We replaced the front ones after only 5,500 miles, at a cost of nearly £500. Then there’s the driver’s seat. Although the Recaro chair is brilliantly comfortable, it’s set too high – mind you, it did help when we had it lowered at a Ford dealer (Issue 1,075). Then there’s the image.
This is no subtle VW Golf GTI – I can’t remember driving a car that has caused as much attention. Everywhere I went – supermarket car parks, petrol stations, even outside my house – other drivers wanted to chat about it.
On the road, it turned nearly as many heads as a Lamborghini Gallardo, even painted a relatively subtle Performance Blue. To be honest it all got a bit too much at times. But it’s gone now and despite its faults, the RS is unquestionably the best long-termer I’ve ever had. It’s true to Ford’s Rallye Sport heritage and brilliant fun. It will be sorely missed.