What goes around, eh? In 1992, to satisfy the homologation rules of the World Rally Championship, Ford dropped a turbocharged Cosworth YB motor into the humble Escort and fitted a four-wheel drivetrain that sent two-thirds of its power to the rear axle.
The car, much like the earlier Audi Ur-Quattro, Peugeot 205 T16 and Renault 5 Turbo, was supposed to herald a world rally title (it didn’t), but because the Frank Stephenson-penned rear spoiler was so big and the performance so improbable – 217bhp was just the beginning of the engine’s potential – the car caught the imagination like an Atlantic swell hitting Nazare in November.
In the same year, Volkswagen took the squashed-up V of its new six-cylinder VR engine and wedged it into the otherwise unremarkable Mk3 Golf, creating the forerunner to the current Golf R. A year later, the gone-but-not-forgotten Max Power began publication – destined to eventually become the biggest male-orientated magazine in the UK. The combination – cost-effectiveness, profitability, cultural interest – contributed to the creation, development and proliferation of the genre now known (somewhat wonkily) as the mega-hatch.
The new all-wheel-drive 345bhp Ford Focus RS, then, is at the end of a long-established line. But although there are a number of current equivalents, it is assuredly the breed’s new talisman. That’s because Ford, tickled pink by its association with Ken Block and the viral-quality coverage therein, has awakened first to the marketing possibilities afforded by a dynamic mode titled Drift. Previously, sustained oversteer in hot hatches has been limited to the lift-off sort. Subtle efforts made by Audi and Mercedes-AMG to make the four-wheel-drive RS3 and A45 more rearminded have not ultimately delivered. The Focus RS pledge, though, is cast iron and certified by its GKN Twinster drivetrain. Sideways silliness at the touch of a button. Gymkhana on the driveway.
Forget comparisons with other hatchbacks, then. Half a dozen good ones there may very well be, but the moment our Matt Prior graded the Focus’s handling ability superior to the sublime Golf R’s, all bets were off. Now we’re talking best affordable, throttle-adjustable real-world driver’s car, period. Step proudly forward, then, challenger number one, BMW, and its own perfectly wonderful way of doing things. Munich doesn’t need lessons from the internet or its marketing department about the value of opposite lock.