The RS is the hottest version of Ford’s seemingly always popular Focus range. It has the looks of a street racer - and almost the speed and handling to match. It offers rally car performance for not much more cost than your standard mainstream family car.
The Ford Focus RS was launched in 2002 as the ultimate performance version of the range. Since then, there have been 3 versions.
The first was a 3-door hatch with a hardcore body kit in bright blue. Mark II arrived in 2009 with a bigger engine and even more aggressive looks. It was also a 3-door and came in bright green, blue or white.
The third version in 2016 was a 5-door model with sporty looks. Though of all, it has perhaps the least ‘Fast-and-Furious’ image. It also came with a wider colour choice.
Whichever version you are looking at, expect big alloy wheels shod with low-profile tyres, a serious rear spoiler, sporty front end – and discreet RS badging.
The Ford Focus RS was launched in 2002 as the ultimate performance version of the range.
What’s it like to drive?
The focus here is clearly on performance. The RS has speedy acceleration and the most exciting throaty sounds. The handling is extremely sporty, too.
Whichever version you drive, Focus RS steering is always quick and responsive. You’ll feel every bump because the suspension is so sensitive. In return the uber-hot hatchback has great cornering agility.
The different generations have slight differences. You’ll find Mark III cars from 2016 were given 4-wheel-drive and a controversial ‘drift mode’ system. Purists consider it a boy-racer gimmick, others love it.
The all-wheel-system gives more grip in other forms of driving, though earlier versions were normal front-wheel drive like all Focuses. The Mark III came as a full 5-door hatchback. This emphasised that the RS is still a Focus at heart – making it easy to use for everyday shopping and commuting.
The handling is extremely sporty, too.
While the RS is still a member of the family-friendly Focus range, Ford gifted it a distinctive interior to match the driving potential.
The front occupants enjoy specialist figure-hugging sports seats. Most have leather upholstery and a high level of equipment. Look out for cars fitted with optional racing seats that are firmer but less well suited to normal driving around town.
There’s a premium ambience in the cabin. This is a high-priced Focus after all. You’ll find soft-touch materials in the important places and a nice little chunky steering wheel that implies there are thrills ahead.
The Mark III model came with an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with voice control, DAB and Bluetooth in the centre of the dashboard, plus a series of extra gauges and instruments. A drive mode button next to the gear lever allows drivers to select their preferred driving style for that moment.
There are great sounds on offer too – with a 9-speaker Sony head unit. Later models came with phone connectivity. Handy buttons on the steering wheel allow the driver to adjust phone, stereo and climate settings without taking their eyes off the road. Sat-nav however was an optional extra.
The RS is not as practical as a standard Focus, of course. The boot is small, back-seat legroom is reduced and everything is geared towards sporty driving. When compared to cars offering similar performance, the Focus RS is easy to live with.
Earlier models have 3 doors, making rear seat access slightly more awkward. The Mark III from 2016 however, is a solid 5-door hatchback. Much of the cabin is shared with other Focus models.
It feels like a useable car from the mainstream manufacturer with the most dealerships in the UK. Standard practical details include adjustable seats and steering column, useful door bins and a big glovebox. And there’s a handy USB socket in the front console.
Running costs and reliability
Official figures will show the Focus RS appearing to be surprisingly thrifty with petrol. The Mark III version has a commendable official fuel economy of 37mpg.
Don’t forget that the very enthusiastic driving the RS badge inspires will reduce that figure considerably, maybe by half. Insurance will be high too. Maintenance bills will be above average but lower than most high performance rivals.
What cinch loves
With the Focus RS, Ford has created an extreme hot hatch with a cult following. It has rally-bred high performance potential and all the sporty trimmings, inside and out. Specialist motoring journalists rate it highly as a driving machine – yet for non-enthusiast moments there’s still plenty of Focus practicality on offer, especially in the 5-door Mark II version.
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Town and country drivers
The Ford Focus RS offers a practical and rather good-value way to own a high-performance car. It’s fast, agile and fun. The RS looks the part inside and out. It’s also a member of the UK’s most popular family hatchback range.
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