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Ford Focus RS

Click to view picture galleryFords eagerly-awaited Focus RS
  has been a while coming, but now
here its every bit as quick and sharp-
  handling as any RS fan could have
  hoped for

IT'S STILL WEEKS AWAY FROM THE HANDS OF THE FIRST EAGER OWNERS — it reaches showrooms at the end of March — but the new generation Ford Focus RS, priced at 24,995, is destined to be a classic and highly sought-after used car in the future (previous generation RS models, which cost 20,000 seven years ago, are still fetching prices of 14,000). But this new one could be the last RS series ever made due to market forces and political correctness.

Conceived three years ago, the new three-door RS is the natural successor to the previous Focus RS and a range-topping performance car above the current Focus ST.

The politically incorrect 300bhp engine under the bulging bodywork of this 163mph slingshot is the most powerful production unit made by Ford of Europe and it is aimed directly at a niche segment that demands extraordinary performance from an 'everyday' car.

The Jekyll-and-Hyde character of the car was always popular but in today's market — where money matters a lot — it is also remarkable value. Which explains why Ford has already taken 1,100 orders in the UK for the Focus RS, with a further 1,000 expressions of interest. Ford expects to sell 4,000 over the next two years.

The twenty-second model to carry the RS badge since 1970, and the second Focus in the series since 2001, the new RS is a development of the Focus ST. But, in order to generate 300bhp and 325lb ft of torque from the 2.5-litre engine, there are very significant modifications — to the electronics, the engine, transmission, steering, brakes and the suspension.

While it's no 'supercar slayer', it is quick enough: the RS hits 62mph from standstill in 5.9 seconds and the top speed is 163mph. For the record, a four-wheel drive Subaru Impreza 2.5 WRX STi takes care of the 0-62mph sprint in 5.2 seconds and tops out at 155mph. It also boasts similar power: 296bhp and 300lb ft of torque.

The Focus RS is the first to utilise the Quaife Automatic Torque Biasing limited slip differential in conjunction with a RevoKnuckle front suspension link at the bottom of the strut, which effectively gives it a lower wishbone arrangement. And this is the key to the newcomer's truly sensational responsiveness and handling, as I found out on mountain roads in the south of France this week.

“Performance, sharp
handling and amazing
grip —
the RS can
be used and enjoyed
every day...”
Without going to the complexity, weight and expense of four-wheel-drive, the latest Focus RS shows exceptional stability over any surface and it's matched by a finely-tuned electric-hydraulic power-steering sysyem, some of the biggest brakes on any production car and surprisingly compliant springs and dampers aided by uprated anti-roll bars. The set-up is biased towards firm — but not jarringly hard — and only really allows low speed bumps to be felt. But once on the move, the RS's composure is absolute.

Inside there are unique slim, all-enveloping colour-coded Recaro seats and aluminium and carbon-fibre effect detailing. Externally, the RS boasts a unique body with different front, rear and side panels designed to accommodate the wider wheels and tyres on the stretched (by 40mm) track. The body styling is topped off with the signature RS 'double wing' over the back window.

With a bigger footprint on the ground, the front-wheel drive Focus RS has greater poise. It has not lost its agility either and feels even sharper than the popular ST with a higher ratio rack. What really sets it apart, however, is the additional low-speed grunt and through-the-gears acceleration.

The RS's five-cylinder 2.5-litre engine sports a larger turbo, more efficient intercooler, new camshafts and strengthened engine block and pistons with a modified cylinder head along with a revised six-speed close-ratio gearbox. The result: 325lb ft of torque from 2,250-4,500rpm and 300bhp at 6,000rpm.

Even driving it badly, floor the throttle and it immediately sends out a deep exhaust roar and you hang on while it grips the tarmac before lunging forward. The reworked steering is sharper without suffering any vibration, and the brakes only need modest effort to call up huge stopping ability with complete control.

If you want to drive in a more relaxed manner, the Focus RS will do that as well — on a long motorway journey you can happily sit back and let the car gobble up the miles.

The Ford Focus RS will be sold in its halo colour of Ultimate Green (the alternatives are Frozen White or Performance Blue) and it comes with option packs for dual-zone air conditioning, auto lights and wipers, parking sensors, tyre deflation warning and keyless ignition, as well as touchscreen navigation, hands-free phone and leather trim.

Buyers of these super-quick Focus RS models aren't likely to worry about the three-door-only bodystyle (or the 385 litres of boot space), the high emissions or the fact that, even painted in Ultimate Green, the RS will be like a red rag to a bull for eco-warriors. What they will be focusing on is the performance, the sharp handling and the amazing grip. And for them, like all traditional RS buyers, their Focus RS will be used and enjoyed every day... and then enjoyed even more at weekends! — Robin Roberts

Ford Focus RS
| 24,995
Maximum speed: 163mph | 0-62mph: 5.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 30.1mpg | Power: 300bhp | Torque: 325lb ft
CO2 225g/km