Almost everything about this third-generation Focus RS is extraordinary. Name another car that has a four-wheel-drive system with a dedicated Drift Mode? Ford has built one into a five-door family hatch, given it 257kW and stuck with a manual gearbox. If we’re currently in the midst of a mega-hatch war, this thing looks like a serious escalation.
Can it possibly be as good as the company claims? It’s been more than three years in the making, and has enjoyed support from right at the top since the start. To understand the scale of Ford’s challenge, you have to understand just how different the RS is to its ordinary brethren – and that process starts with the four-wheel-drive powertrain. 257kW didn’t emerge out of the fog of war, so to speak, as a frantic response to what Audi, Mercedes and Honda were up to; it’s been the figure from the beginning. But uprating the 2.3-litre Ecoboost four from the 228kW it produces in the Mustang involved changing the turbo, the cylinder liners, the intake system, the exhaust and the cylinder head – the latter assisted by none other than Cosworth. The intercooler is physically the biggest unit that will fit in a Focus, while the aggressive front bumper not only contributes to the ‘zero lift’ aerodynamics target, it features the largest possible cooling aperture and a grille with greater gaps in its mesh.
The full 257kW peaks at 6000rpm, encouraged along by 440Nm at 2000-4500rpm that overboosts to 470Nm for up to 18 seconds if you really nail it, and a valve in the exhaust combined with ‘an injection strategy’ that means it pops and bangs like a rally car in its racier settings. For the Mk3 to handle the way we want it to handle it had to have all-wheel drive, regardless of packaging, production and cost issues. Complexities include replacing the boot floor because the standard car’s spare wheel well was in the way, fitting an entirely new ‘saddle’ type fuel tank, and swapping the rear subframe.
There is more reinforcement within the bodyshell and on the front subframe, the RS is 23 per cent stiffer than a regular Focus overall, but 200 per cent stiffer in key areas. Other bespoke RS elements include lower balljoints and knuckles at the front, increasing camber to -1.5 degrees for extra grip, while the front power transfer unit and some of the bushes actually come from the Kuga. All of this has to be managed on a factory line already bursting to capacity. The software work was done by the same team responsible for the near-omniscient ‘torque vectoring by brake’ that allows the Fiesta ST to dance a jig around its front axle – we can’t think of better provenance, and the Focus RS has this as well – Ford retains a thoroughly hardware-driven approach.
We’re all eagerly awaiting the final product that promises to be one of the best Ford’s ever made. We’ll know once we’ve driven it in January.