It feels like the current LZ version of Ford’s Focus RS has only been around for five minutes, and already it’s got one foot out the door.
Actually, after much anticipation, it arrived in July last year, and this final batch of 500 limited edition models marks the end of its run in Australia.
It’s more expensive than the ‘standard’ RS it replaces, but Ford will look you straight in the eye and tell you that thanks to a bunch of extra tech and standard features it represents better value-for-money.
The RS LE is underpinned by hardware upgrades designed to appeal to track day devotees, so it’s no surprise Sydney Motorsport Park was the venue for our local launch drive.
It’s more expensive than the ‘standard’ RS it replaces, but Ford will tell you that it represents better value-for-money.
For this LE version, you can have any colour you like as long as it’s ‘Nitrous Blue’.
And the harbour city turned on more than enough rain to make the circuit greasy, and turn the skid pan into a sand pit for grown-ups. Perfect.
Think hot hatch, and your mind might wander to the more radical end of the design spectrum where Honda’s Kabuki warrior on wheels, the Civic Type R lives. But the Focus RS is an altogether more mature proposition.
The nose is dominated by a single, wide-mouth grille aperture, which frames an opening to the radiator, the central section of the bumper, and the top of the intercooler below it.
The big 19-inch alloys are now black, with beefy four-piston Brembo brakes lurking behind them up front.
Big side gills feed cooling air through to the front brakes, while the slim, raked headlights and hard-edged bonnet give the car a suitably ‘focused’ and purposeful presence.
Strategically placed channels and bulges along the rocker panel, door sills, and shoulder line add a further touch of aero function, the wheelarches are subtly pumped up, while a pronounced roof spoiler and full-width diffuser at the rear complete the track-attack look.
For this LE version, you can have any colour you like as long as it’s ‘Nitrous Blue’, the rear spoiler end plates, mirror shells and roof are black, and privacy glass is standard. The big 19-inch alloys are now black, with beefy four-piston Brembo brakes lurking behind them up front.
The nose is dominated by a single, wide-mouth grille aperture, which frames an opening to the radiator and intercooler.
A pronounced roof spoiler and full-width diffuser at the rear complete the track-attack look.
Inside, the fascia and console layout is familiar Focus, with an additional trio of gauges (oil temp, turbo boost pressure, and oil pressure) perched on the top of the dash, while the racy Recaro shell seats are trimmed with Nitrous Blue leather highlights.
Despite its performance potential, this RS is almost as practical as a regular, garden-variety Focus.
The front Recaros look like oversize baseball gloves, ready to lock you in place while the Focus does its best to challenge the laws of physics.
But the price you pay for all that location is some extra struggle to slip into, and extricate yourself from, their grippy goodness. Not a huge issue, and one that goes with the territory in this kind of car.
The Recaro shell seats are trimmed in Nitrous Blue leather.
There are two cupholders up front, zero in the back, and bottle holders in all doors. There’s also a 12-volt socket, a USB outlet, as well as a decent glove box, and a lidded bin between the front seats to keep your stuff under control at maximum g-load.
Despite extra intrusion from the front seatbacks, rear legroom is surprisingly good, and headroom in the back is okay for this 183cm tester.
The rear seats flip forward, and the backrests split-fold 60/40 to increase load flexibility. Volume is a relatively modest 260 litres (VDA) with the rear seats upright (laden to the parcel shelf), growing to 1045 litres (laden to the roof) with them folded. There are also two ISOFIX child seat mounts.
Don’t bother looking for a spare tyre; a flat means rolling the dice with the repair kit that takes its place.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
At $50,990, the ‘standard’ Focus RS already features a respectable standard equipment list, including dual-zone climate control air, Ford’s latest SYNC3multimedia system running through an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen (including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support), adaptive headlights, ambient interior lighting, alloy faced sports pedals, 19-inch alloy rims, cruise control, keyless entry and start, LED DRLs, front fog lights, auto headlights, nine-speaker audio, a leather-trimmed sports steering wheel and gear knob, rain-sensing wipers, satellite navigation, and the sports seats.
At $56,990, the RS Limited Edition adds a worthwhile basket of extra spec and tech to justify the $6k price premium over the model it replaces.
A price tag approaching $60,000 is no small number, but it’s sharp for this kind of performance hatch.
Headline items are the swap from Michelin Pilot Super Sport to Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber (an option Ford was already listing at $3500), and installation of a tricky Quaife limited-slip differential (LSD).
The Recaro shell seats are trimmed in Nitrous Blue leather, the black 19-inch rims are forged alloy, the standard prestige paint is normally a $450 option, and importantly, Auto Emergency Braking has been added to the standard features list.
It produces 257kW (350hp) at 6000rpm, with 440Nm of torque (470Nm for up to 15sec on ‘transient overboost’) from 2000-4500rpm.
It’s matched with a six-speed manual gearbox (only), driving all four wheels.
It’s matched with a six-speed (MMT6) manual gearbox (only), driving all four wheels, with the Quaife LSD managing torque distribution across the front axle. The Quaife uses gears rather than clutches, as in a Haldex-type LSD, for smoother operation and to avoid harsh locking.
Up to 70 per cent of drive can be sent to the rear wheels, and once it’s arrived back there, a dedicated control system can vector up to 100 per cent of that torque to the left or right rear wheel.
Ford laid on its full line-up of performance-orientedFocuses for the launch drive, from the (132kW/240Nm) front-wheel drive S, through the (184kW/354Nm) FWD ST, to the out-going Focus RS, and the hero blue meanie RS Limited Edition.
Intermittent heavy showers were welcome for once, because the wet track highlighted the difference between the variants so graphically, and helped put the RS LE in clear context.
The first surprise was how capable the humble Focus S felt around SMSP’s challenging North Circuit. And the ST stepped things up with more grunt and fatter rubber. But they only served to prove the RS is in another league of dynamic ability.
Fat mid-range torque, linear throttle response, and six ratios means there’s always plenty of acceleration available
The RS is fast, as in 0-100km/h in 4.7sec fast (thanks in part to standard launch control), with a maximum velocity of 266km/h available (that’s some track day!).
Fat mid-range torque, linear throttle response, and six ratios means there’s always plenty of acceleration available, and with one of four drive modes the press of a console button away there’s much fun to be had.
The settings modify steering, ESC, dampers, engine and exhaust across ‘Normal’, ‘Sport’, ‘Track’ and ‘Drift’ modes (more on that last one in a minute).
No surprise the jump from front- to all-wheel drive is a big one, but in the wet conditions peddling through SMSP’s enigmatic Turn 2, the RS took way more steering and throttle input than it had any right to.
Strong mid-range punch slingshots the car forward, accompanied by an entertaining symphony of raspy engine note.
Just keep turning the wheel and squeezing the right-hand pedal, to the point where the car’s balance would surely crack, and it simply says, ‘Is that the best you can do?’
Swap into the RS Limited Edition, and the Quaife diff ratchets things up another couple of notches. In Track mode, in the same turn, the LE is ridiculously planted. You can feel the rear slamming the power down and driving the car out of the corner, with the front just sticking wherever you point it.
Strong mid-range punch slingshots the car forward, accompanied by an entertaining symphony of raspy engine note and raucous crackles and pops from the exhaust.
Push hard enough of course and the RS LE will start to slide, but through the fast, sweeping Turn 1 it took the form of a genuine four-wheel drift. That’s how balanced and composed this car is under pressure.
Feel from the electrically-assisted steering is good, and although the stickier Cup 2 Michelins are the same size (235/35) as the Super Sports, thanks to a stiffer sidewall, their footprint is seven per cent wider. And searching for off-line grip around wet corners was a smile-inducing pleasure.
You remain firmly secured in your Recaro cacoon, with the clutch and short-throw shift working beautifully together.
Then there’s the brakes. Even trying to stand the 1.6- tonne RS LE on its nose, while splashing through puddles of standing water, the RS LE washed off speed rapidly without a hint of misbehaviour. Turn in and maintain some trail braking? No problem. The RS’s set-up is properly sorted.
All the while, you remain firmly secured in your Recaro cacoon, with the clutch and short-throw shift working beautifully together.
We also engaged Drift mode for a full-on hoon on the SMSP skidpan. Keep your eye on where you want to go, turn the wheel, pin the throttle and the rear end duly steps out into a classic drift angle. Keep the revs up, tweak the wheel as required, and around you go like a ‘dab of oppo’ legend.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
3 years / 100,000 km warranty
Ford offers a standard three years/100,000km warranty, which isn’t exactly spectacular these days, but with standard servicing at ‘Participating Auto Club Authorised Ford Dealers’, retail and ‘Blue Business Fleet’ customers receive state auto club roadside assistance and membership for up to seven years/105,000km.
The recommended service interval for the Focus RS is 12 months/15,000km, with costs for the first five years lining up as follows - $365, $395, $365, $585, and $365. In fact, Ford’s online service calculator runs out to the 33 year/495,000km service (which, for the record, is $365).
Worth noting brake fluid (every two years), coolant (every 10 years), and timing/drive belts (every 10 years/195,000km) are extra.
Even with a 10 per cent price premium the Ford Focus RS Limited Edition is the hot hatch bargain of the decade. It’s properly fast, dynamically outstanding, and sounds the business. Our advice? Get in quick and grab one of this last batch. You won’t regret it.
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