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Ford Focus RS 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
8
Tim Robson road tests and reviews the Ford Focus RS with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch.

Tim Robson road tests and reviews the Ford Focus RS with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch.

The hype is real. Since its launch in Valencia earlier this year, the talk around Ford's new Focus RS has been nothing but positive. Glowing, even.

Its design objective is function over flash.

Driving it in the rosy glow of a launch event in a far-off exotic clime is one thing; punting it over typical Aussie back roads and city streets is usually a far sterner test of a car's ability to live up to its own press.

This car also needs to live up to a long-held tradition of smoking hot small Ford RS (Rallye Sport) models that stretches back over 40 years and 30 cars.

On paper, the Focus RS presents a compelling case; a revolutionary new all-wheel-drive system, a potent turbo engine and a chassis tune to match. Time, then, to see if the RS truly is as good as it purports to be.

Ford Focus 2016: RS
Safety rating
Engine Type2.3L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency8.1L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$33,965

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

The RS is not dissimilar to the other warmed-over Focus in Ford's local line up, the ST, but the devil is in the RS's details.

Its design objective is function over flash; it's a distinct move away from the wild and lairy RS from 2010.

The head of the RS build, Tyrone Johnson – a 31-year Ford veteran with stints in both the company's WRC and F1 programs – explained that the object of the bodywork package was to produce zero aerodynamic lift front and rear.

The opening on the front bumper, for example, is physically as large as it can possibly be to both minimise drag and maximise cooling. Even the fine mesh used to protect the radiators is there for a purpose, not just for race car cool looks.

The front brake ducts actually function as intended, too, and contribute to the car's aero tune.

A flat undertray under the front bumper, a large diffuser under the rear bar and a low profile hatch-mounted wing all chip in to smooth airflow, too.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

The nice thing about most hot hatchbacks is that, well, they're still hatchbacks. The five-door Focus RS changes very little from its more pedestrian siblings when it comes to performing life's more mundane tasks, though there are a couple of compromises to be negotiated.

A new rear suspension configuration means that the cargo space has been reduced from 316 litres to 260 litres, despite the RS scoring a bespoke saddlebag fuel tank to gain back real estate.

It also loses its space saver spare wheel.

The RS-branded Recaro sports seats are very comfortable, but lack any form of height adjustment in the base. In typical Focus style, they are also mounted quite high, which may trouble shorter drivers.

It misses out on most electronic safety systems.

The rear seats have been faced with the same leather and suede treatment as the fronts.

There's space for bottles in both the front and back doors, and there's a pair of adjustable cup holders in the centre console. Storage for phones and the like is a little compromised, though.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   9/10

There's just one six-speed manual RS variant available, and it costs $50,990 before on-road costs. Only one option is offered; a set of lighter 19-inch forged black alloys fitted with track-oriented 235/35/ R19 Michelin Pilot Cup 2s is $2500.

The spec level of the RS largely mimics that of the ST, which means satellite navigation via an 8.0-inch colour screen, reverse camera, Bluetooth, keyless entry, alarm, bi-Xenon lights, Ford's programmable MyKey system and SYNC2 system with emergency assistance.

It also means it misses out on most electronic safety systems like city emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.

The RS wears 19-inch rims all round with Michelin PilotSport 235/35 R19 tyres, and comes in four hues. White is the no-cost base colour, with the other three (including Nitrous blue, Magnetic grey and Shadow black) incurring a $450 uptick.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

The RS makes use of the 2.3-litre turbo four-potter from the Ford Mustang EcoBoost, albeit in a much higher state of tune.

A Cosworth alloy head sits atop a block with iron-lined cylinder bores, while the turbocharger itself is a totally revised version of the one fitted to the previous RS.

A semi-open air filter pod and a large diameter exhaust that is routed as straight as possible to a pair of oversized tips also underline the RS's intentions.

Power rises to 257kW from the 233kW in the Mustang, while torque rises slightly to 440Nm from 432. While Ford doesn't offer performance numbers, we recorded a 5.4sec 0-100km/h time during testing.

The only gearbox option comes with a third pedal; Johnson told CarsGuide.com.au that a double-clutch gearbox was considered, but didn't pass muster when it came to fulfilling the performance parameters he had set for the RS.

The job is left to a six-speed manual unit with a single-plate clutch.

The Focus's all-wheel-drive system is new, and it's based around a system poached from Ranger Rover's baby Evoque.

Known as the Twinster, the rear set-up is entirely new. Instead of a rear limited slip diff, a pair of clutch packs on the back axle control each rear wheel in a much more precise way.

It effectively gives the RS torque vectoring across the back end; or, in other words, traction and stability control on steroids. Ford says 70 per cent of the car's traction can be fired at the rear wheel in less than a tenth of a second; Johnson says theoretically 90 per cent can be directed rearwards.

The other trick is that the rear axle actually turns slightly faster than the front axle. Known as 'overspeeding', the rear is just two per cent quicker than the front, and it helps to reduce understeer.

The Focus RS has taken the hot hatch playbook and thrown it clear over the fence.

Huge 350mm front rotors are clamped by four-pot Brembo calipers, with 302mm rotors out back.

Johnson also told us that the RS is designed to be able to be driven flat-out around a track for 30 minutes without any signs of deterioration in the brake or engine department.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Over 150km of vigorous testing, we recorded an indicated 12.4L/100km, against Ford's claim of 7.7L/100km.

What's it like to drive?   9/10

The press clippings from the launch drive this year were, it's fair to say, glowing in their effusive praise – but Australian roads take fewer prisoners with overly sporty chassis tunes.

In this case, though, the praise was warranted. The Focus RS has taken the hot hatch playbook and thrown it clear over the fence.

Thanks to a four-mode drive switch, the car has two distinct personalities – and both of them have attitude to spare.

In Normal mode, the 1524kg RS rides firmly, but the Tenneco dampers are very sophisticated in their tune and don't punish the occupants over broken terrain or city edges.

Push the mode button into Sport, and everything livens up - except those dampers. It's similar to Ferrari's Bumpy Road Mode that we discovered recently in the California, and it works just as well here.

It has truly prodigious pace both up to and in the middle of a corner, and its turn-in and corner grip is hard to describe, such is its instant response. It actually requires some driver recalibration to keep up with the car.

The engine is as strong as an ox and eminently tractable, though we found the gearbox ratios to be a little bit off. Because the RS can take so much more speed into and out of a bend, second gear wasn't tall enough... but third gear was a good few hundred rpm too tall.

Oh, and Drift Mode? It's actually kind of silly.

In fact, breaking the RS's relentless speed and flow with a clutch pedal and wiggly stick felt at odds with how much the car has pushed engine output and chassis grip. A cutting edge, lightning quick double-clutch gearbox seems like it would be a natural fit for the RS.

There's a Track mode that stiffens the dampers up by 40 per cent – and when Ford says 'track', it means it. It's way, way too stiff for everyday use, unless you drive on polished concrete.

There's a price to pay for the tricky suspension set-up; the turning circle is a ponderous 11.8m around.

Oh, and Drift Mode? It's actually kind of silly if we're honest. It has exactly zero usefulness in the real world, and we don't expect the people who can afford a $51 grand hot hatch tearing up $800-a-corner tyres on a track day using it.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / 100,000 km warranty

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   6/10

Ford's MyKey is a system that allows an owner to program a key to lock out access to functions like Drift and Track mode, and to lock on traction and stability control.

The RS comes with six airbags, rear view camera and connection to emergency services via the SYNC2 system, but misses out on access to the Technology Pack which features autonomous emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, driver impairment monitor and auto high beam headlamps.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

Service intervals for the Focus RS are 12 months or 15,000km, with a three year/100,000km warranty.

Ford also offers upfront scheduled service price information when you get a quote online, a free loan car and 12 months auto club membership with each scheduled service, for up to seven years.

Verdict

Supply of the RS is limited by capacity from Ford's Saarlouis plant in Germany, with "up to 500" cars coming to Australia in 2016, according to Ford Australia, and most of those spoken for before the first ship docked... so the queue is already long.

Trust us – it's worth the wait.

If you're looking for a true high-performance car with a staggering depth of engineering built into it for a bargain-basement price, the Focus RS is your car.

It just so happens to be a relatively compact hatchback, too, which adds to its practicality but doesn't detract from its performance car credentials.

The Focus RS is designed as a tool to rebuild the Ford Performance brand around the world, and we can't wait to see what else it has planned.

Does the Focus RS redefine what a hot hatch should be for you? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Ford Focus RS pricing and spec info.

Pricing Guides

$17,290
Based on 182 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$11,999
Highest Price
$48,000

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
RS 2.3L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $33,965 – 48,000 2016 Ford Focus 2016 RS Pricing and Specs
Sport 1.5L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $14,889 – 20,988 2016 Ford Focus 2016 Sport Pricing and Specs
ST2 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $26,490 – 31,999 2016 Ford Focus 2016 ST2 Pricing and Specs
Titanium 1.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $15,998 – 23,500 2016 Ford Focus 2016 Titanium Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Design8
Practicality8
Price and features9
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption7
Driving9
Safety6
Ownership8
Tim Robson
Contributing Journalist

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