Ford Focus RS: The big boy’s racer

With the same engine as a Ford Mustang, and Drift and Launch modes, the Ford Focus RS is the baddest, most affordable daily drive you can buy. Tony Sarno reports.

OK, let’s leave automotive political correctness in the garage. Who doesn’t dream of driving a high-performance car daily? You know, something that gives you peace of mind when trying to overtake a semi on a single-lane country road, or which lets you beat a WRX or BMW M Class to that parking spot up the road?

But the problem is threefold. Firstly, the most “affordable” performance cars, such as Subaru WRXs and Holden HSVs, have a reputation as hoon cars. Second, classier entry-level BMWs and Mercedes of comparable performance will send you well over the $100k mark. Thirdly, and most importantly, you’ll never get the idea of a performance car past your sensible partner who’s looking to spend that money on a new bedroom and kitchen extension. Or past your parents!

This is where the Ford Focus RS (Rallye Sport) becomes a real option. Despite the intimidating predator headlights, wider mouth and crazy fender flares, it remotely looks like the Ford Focus it’s based on, which is a sensible, affordable car that Ford is actually pitching at millennials. And its price of $55k is insane value for its performance!

We tested the Ford Focus RS on some Victorian country roads and can safely say it’s one of the most fun cars we’ve ever driven.

If you settle on the RS, you can explain to your partner this way: “Honey, I think we should buy a Ford Focus. It’s a special model that’s a little bit more expensive, but it comes with some world-first advanced driver aids not found in any other car. And you know, these electronic driver controls make driving so much safer these days.”

Just don’t tell your partner what the driver aids are actually for. One is, ahem, Drift Mode. A drift is a kind of controlled slide in which the rear wheels break traction as you oversteer and the car goes sideways round a curve or bend. Although it looks easy in The Fast And The Furious, it’s really hard to do and unless you’re an expert (or you’re trying it on a well-watered skid pan, as we were), you’ll generally plant the side of the car into a tree or wipe the underside against the curb.

The nitrous blue colour scheme is a perfect match for this car. Everyone sees you approaching in their rear view mirror.

With Drift Mode, Ford uses the car’s electronics to help by turning down stability control and delivering more torque to the outer back wheel to help initiate the slide.

Then there’s Launch Control, designed to launch the car like a catapult. Select Launch Control in settings, disengage the clutch, floor the accelerator, release the clutch. Boom! Launch Control sets the dampers for extreme grip and distributes power according to which tyres have the most grip.

The end result? Sub 5 second 0-100km/h accelerations (4.7 is the official figure, which puts the RS in BMW M3 class).

Where does all this power come from? The same engine on which the Mustang 2.3L turbocharged unit is based, except this one is more powerful.

The reality is that to really enjoy the Focus RS, you need to take it out to a closed track (and yes, there’s an actual Track Mode) in which you can experience all its exhilarating high-speed modes, extreme handling and burbling, crackling exhaust note.

So when you’re on public roads you can drive it around just like an ordinary Ford Focus. It just looks and sounds better and your partner will be none the wiser.

So what’s the downside? There isn’t one if you like outright performance. At $55k
you’re getting unbelievable value, but you don’t get all the trimmings. If you expect a plush cabin and a comfy ride you’ll be disappointed. And you don’t get the brand cachet, it’s a Ford Focus after all. But that’s the whole point. The RS is the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing.