The Ford Focus RS offers serious performance, all-wheel drive and hatchback practicality in a suitably outlandish package, but is that enough to make it king?
Can you think of bigger car launch than the Ford Focus RS in recent years? Probably not. But then it is the latest version of a hot-hatch rocket that happens to be affordable so it was always going to have most petrol heads dribbling.
The thing is, the sheer level of hype always jarred with me because my first impressions were mixed. I felt a bit like I had driven a different car to some of the early reviewers. Everyone had promised the best hot-hatchback ever and, quite honestly, I just didn’t get it.
So I bit my tongue until I had lived with the car on UK roads. Ford put a huge amount of effort into it, so to write it off (figuratively) so quickly seemed unfair. Sometimes cars wow you off the bat, others take time to figure out – maybe the Focus RS was in the latter camp, I thought.
Turns out I was right to reserve judgment, not because I think the Focus RS is the car of the year as some others do (it isn’t, although from a value perspective you could make one hell of a case arguing so), but because it really started to grind down my lack of enthusiasm.
Slowly but surely I started to appreciate just how capable it is in the corners, with every trip into the countryside convincing me it gives the VW Golf R and Honda Civic Type R a run for their money. Its all-wheel drive system – a nostalgic nod back to the Escort Cosworth RS – really does make it go round corners with impressive pace.
Admittedly, the 2.3-litre EcoBoost needs a lot of effort to really sing, but when it does blasts you towards the horizon with serious pace and it sounds good enough to make you want to bury the accelerator. Even though doing so means the fuel economy goes into minus figures.
The terrible interior and clunky infotainment system do knock points off the overall score. Plus there is a lack of badge appeal because, regardless of how capable it is, a Ford Focus is still a Focus. No matter how big the spoiler.
But then the key strength of the Focus RS is that it can upset cars at twice the price, which is no doubt why Ford is struggling to keep up with demand. It may be a bit rough around the edges, but those who want an aggressive, no-frills performance car are looking at one of the best around.