Review

Ford Focus RS – Road Test

The new Focus RS delivers flexibility and prodigious performance. Graham Whyte puts it to the test.

"Anything you say may be written down...." If you drive the new Focus RS, it is inevitable that sooner or later you will yourself helping the police with their enquiries. The questions came thick and fast: "What's the horsepower? And the 0-62 time? When does it go on sale? How much is it?"

I was parked in a motorway service area, and had been approached by a couple of coppers - in fact, they were more like excited school kids - who had decanted themselves from an unmarked Scooby with Interceptor written all over it; except it wasn't, of course, being,er....unmarked.

Anyway these two petrolheads seemed to know more about the car than I did. "It's gotta Volvo engine, innit, " said the one from Essex. " And I believe it has a Borg Warner K16 turbo with a one-piece precision cast thin-wall iron housing, developing 1.4 bar,' added his companion. Bright lady.

Check out our video review of the 2009 Ford Focus RS here...

In a way, it is the technology that turns the humble Focus into a legend-in-the-making RS, and which should be admired as much as the seductive styling. The in-line, five-pot, Volvo-derived engine is much more than merely a 'chipped-up' Focus ST engine. Various mechanical modifications were made to accommodate the true source of the RS's impressive performance - the Borg Warner turbocharger, new pistons, large bearings, a new intake system, and a new exhaust manifold: these and other modifications result in a power hike - when compared to the ST - of some 35 per cent. 

Moreover the engine's response characteristics are quite different. Whilst replicating the low-end 'off-boost' flexibility of the ST engine, the RS engine's mapping eliminates the performance slump that can occur when an engine stops grunting at about the same time as it runs out of breath. But on the RS, a transient rev limit of 7050 rpm means that the driver can tease a few extra seconds of peak output from the engine, enabling cogs to be swapped well into the red-line zone. Torque and tease, then. But to be on the safe side, if no gear-change takes place within three seconds, a limiter knocks back the revs to a more sustainable 6500 rpm.

Converted to numbers, the RS engine delivers 305 PS, and a peak torque of 440 Nm, in the range 2300-4500 rpm. This combination is sufficient to deliver a 0-62 time of 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 163 mph. The flexibility of the engine may be judged from the 30-60 mph time in fourth gear - almost direct drive - of just 5.3 seconds, which would not disgrace a V6 diesel engine. Fifth and sixth gears are overdrive ratios, which together contribute to a surprisingly modest 40 mpg on the extra-urban cycle. A town consumption of 21 mpg inevitably drags down the combined figure, but, even so, 30.5 mpg is not unreasonable for such a potent car. Group 19 insurance will inevitably make your eyes water, and a CO2 rating of 225 g/km should put you into the running for the Nobel Prize for Global Warming.

Yet despite the prodigious performance, the Focus RS has an alter ego. It can be as Christian as a donkey if you treat it right. With a light throttle, the RS can be pottered around town with no more drama than a regular Focus. The low-down torque - even sub-blower - is sufficient to keep the wheels rolling at impossibly low engine speeds. A glance at the torque curve reveals an output of 225 Nm with as little as 1000 rpm on the clock. 

Believe it or not, fourth gear can take you from bicycle pace to almost twice the legal limit. In terms of pure, straight-line acceleration, 62 mph can be reached without stretching for anything higher than second gear; and thanks to the firm seats, most of your organs remain inside your body, although a g-suit would not go amiss.

A Quaife limited-slip diff preserves the expensive rubber, and improves traction in extreme conditions, or at extreme speeds, of the sort you are likely to experience on track days, which would be the only safe and legal way to fully exploit the RS's true potential. On public roads it's back to torque and tease: exploit Mr Newton's metres and from time-to-time tease yourself with a glimpse of the full potential awaiting a day at the races.

But even if you never venture beyond the restraints of the public highway, driving the RS comprises a treat at every turn of the wheel, and every twist of the road. Some so-called performance cars offer very little feedback, and the tactile message delivered from the road surface can be likened to a Braille reader trying to make sense of a Ryvita. But the 235/35 R19 Continentals fitted to the RS not so much grip as adhere, their feedback through the rack-and-pinion steering is entirely without ambiguity. What you feel is what you get, and the resultant synergy adds another layer of assurance to the confidence derived from the sure and agile handling. Expect some torque steer, this is after all a front-drive car with short shafts and more torque than a Land Rover, but that aside the RS can be finessed through the tightest bends at a pace that will impress even the most experienced performance driver.

Naturally the suspension is very firm, so ride quality is subservient to handling, but if you enjoy not having to lift or comfort brake, the squirt 'n' go RS will convince you that drive quality has more merit than mere comfort. With such a flexible engine, a one-gear-does-all drive along a twisting country road will have you grinning from ear to ear. Or from here to here if you were to follow my test route on a map.

And, of course, there is the sound signature: the chiff of the turbo and the deep-throat euphony of the large twin exhausts can be placed in the same sphere of aural sex as Concorde taking off (ask your father) or a Warship diesel loco easing out of Platform 1 at Paddington station (ask your grandfather). I can imagine the RS being revered by Mozart or Rossini, although possibly not by your neighbour at two o'clock in the morning.

You might also ask your grandfather to recall the Mark ll Cortina 1600 E, which everyone of a certain age will remember for the row of analogue instruments mounted on top of the fascia. It did nothing for the performance but made you feel really cool, even on a trip to David Greig's (in those days you could buy groceries from shops). The RS also has the ex-fascia novelties although rather too small to read at a glance. But should urgently need to check turbo-boost, barometric pressure, or your cholesterol level, for example, you will no doubt find an instrument for the purpose.

Less impressive is the Sony music system, which looks too shiny to be any good, and too tacky to play anything but Luther Vandross cover versions. This is the only black mark (or black and sivler, to be precise) in the otherwise highly sportical cabin (both sporting- and technical-looking), with its alloy pedals, special RS steering wheel, and, or course, the figure-hugging, organ-retaining, Recaros, which have firm side bolsters than can make your eyes water if you are negligent in properly aligning your bottom.

I drove the range-topping model, which is to say I drove the only model there is - priced at £25,745. The test car had only one 'extra', the so-called Lux Pack, which delivers rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, tyre deflation detectors, and key-free operation. Quite a reasonable package for £745. 

This is a Focus, so the boot is large - about 15 cubic feet - but all RS models are three-door only, so getting in and out of the rear seats is a struggle as Recaros don't leave much room for manoeuvre, and they are tall and not very transparent, so you can't see much.

But you can't fail to notice the large rear spoiler, which adds to the air of in-your-face aggression that confronts any following driver. In your-mirror aggression is delivered by a deep, exposed, radiator, a louvred bonnet and a squat air of menace. This is not a media rep's car. I guess the typical RS driver will have hair spiked up with dripping and be named after an Irish number plate - Baz. Jez, or something similar.

Yet despite the arresting appearance, the RS will never do as a police car. In this day and age, when police officers invariably act with courtesy and restraint, can you imagine the palaver of getting a suspect into the back seats. "Mind your head, Sir. Mind your leg, Sir. Don't trip on the seatbelt, Sir. Sorry the view's not very good, it's the Recra....the Recor....it's the big seats, Sir."

And the biggest and best is the one behind the wheel.