I bit off far more than I could chew at the end of last year, too much work, too many events and way too many cars. I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for the chap whose job it is to review exhilarating sportscars week on week; I’m just apologising for letting my words on the Ford Focus RS slip, as it certainly wasn’t the fault of the ferocious hatch.
It took me a long time to get behind the wheel of the updated Focus RS, so long, in fact, I was invited to drive the new Focus RS Limited Edition at Sydney Motorsports Park just weeks after sampling the car Ford initially launched in 2016. Unfortunately, my intention to pen a gripping comparison of the two models shortly after the follow-up experience didn’t go to plan, as I migrated to the blistering McLaren 570GT and dove head first into our first Paper Plates Whisky Degustation.
It’s by no coincidence that I reference the only other car of 2017 to deliver shocking amounts of grip. Of course, the Focus RS is no McLaren, nor should it be with a price tag of roughly 15% of the British supercar, but at the price point, it delivers in spades. It’s as close to supercar performance as many will get, not in straight line speed but as a package. And like a supercar, you also get this sense of difficulty living with it, not to the point of having to raise the front of the car relentlessly as you tackle horrific Sydney streets, but driving it daily.
After a week of sitting in Sydney traffic, I’d had enough of the clutch, and so had my left knee. For short and spirited squirts it offers excellent control of the vehicle, but it’s far too heavy and springy to contend with every day. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I felt the engine note was a tad mild. I found myself working for the RS’s raucous cackle, continually taking second gear to the redline before shifting into third, searching endlessly for another hit and rarely finding it on the downshift. Granted, in Sports mode it sings, but you’ll need to endure a brittle ride to enjoy it.
Despite my niggles, I can’t deny it’s a bloody fun thing to drive. Whether you’re darting through cars in the city or giggling about its endless grip in the mountains, at pace, it’s absolutely fantastic, and the steering is sensational. The 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (seen in the Mustang Ecoboost) develops an impressive 257kW distributed to all four wheels, with the majority of the power hitting the rear, which makes the Focus RS especially enjoyable through the bends.
Climbing into the Focus RS Limited Edition, which commands a $6k price premium over the outgoing Focus RS, the cabins are virtually indistinguishable – neither overly impressive but acceptable for balls to the wall sports variants, with enough standard tech to warrant the price. Where the RS Limited Edition attempts to justify the cost is with the addition of a Quaife Limited-Slip Differential and an upgrade to Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber (previously a $3500 option) on forged alloy rims. The exterior also gets a lashing of black details.
What I loved about the afternoon at Sydney Motorsports Park was getting to test the ST, RS and RS Limited Edition back to back. Post my first experience with the ST, I’ve always found it a compelling purchase and am happy to report it’s still a hoot for asking price. Having spent such a good wack of time in the outgoing RS on the road, I was revelling in the opportunity to give it a flog on the track, tucking it late into sweeping turn one before getting hard on the Brembos into turn two. The RS is so composed throughout; it is quite astounding when you consider the price point.
Transferring to the RS Limited Edition (only available in the Blue), Ford have engineered the Focus RS to another level, refining a formula that is already very good. The Limited-Slip Diff delivers even more poise, and the new rubber, even more grip – so much so that it’s hard to imagine how you could lose control in it. You can just keep squeezing it and turning the wheel, rocketing out of one corner and into the next. Later in the session, we got to try the Focus RS ‘Drift Mode’ on the SMSP skid pan. It’s not something I’d suggest engaging on public roads, but on the wet skid pan, it was one of the most enjoyable driving experiences I’ve had to date. Turn the wheel, feather the throttle and smile – what a cracking piece of engineering.
The Focus RS and Focus RS Limited Edition, which is entirely worth the extra $6k in my opinion, are both thrilling offers that ask far less of your wallet than their German counterparts to buy, and undoubtedly to service. While I did oppose to driving it every day of my life, I can’t imagine what else for the price would bring me such enjoyment, or what else could fulfil such a unique role as a road and track day weapon.
For more info on the Focus RS Limited Edition head to Ford’s website.