It’s in better nick than Ford’s press car, and if you’d been told that it had come off the line three months ago, only the dashboard plastic and aged graphic displays would give the game away.
That, and the five-cylinder buzz that thrums through you when it fires up. It’s a big-chested kind of heartbeat; not evocative at idle, but interior-filling in a way that the Fiesta’s four-pot could never be.
That noise, and its latent brawniness, encapsulates much of the objective distance between the two Fords. The RS, famously, is powered by a heavily tweaked 2.5-litre Volvo engine. It is thirsty and now, just four years out, rather unforgivably dirty, emitting
225g/km of CO2. Yet it produces 301bhp and 324lb ft – 121bhp and 110lb ft more than its younger cousin.
On the road, that difference feels even greater than the second between them to 62mph suggests. In the Fiesta, in the best tradition of souped-up superminis, the 1.6-litre EcoBoost unit wants to be revved to death at every opportunity, papering over a faint suspicion of weediness at low crank speeds with a devil-may-care clout of its red line.
The RS, all burble and glowering heft, requires less theatrics. Well away from full throttle, it feels obligingly meaty and longer geared. Unlike the Fiesta, the Focus’ Borg Warner turbocharger isn’t quite as seamlessly integrated into the action.
Read the full Ford Focus RS review
It comes on stream a mite later and much more obviously – an affirmation of its age and size, but also making its spasming boost gauge a much grander part in the show. The gusty wallop makes the car brisk when you aren’t trying, but when you are, it feels fast in a different league from the Fiesta.
Of course, as diverting as the in-line five is, it’s the process by which Ford has the RS transmit its power to the ground that confirms its reputation.
When the latest generation of STs appeared, we were among the first to hail the firm’s cunning incorporation of cheaper, electronic solutions to the familiar problems of pumping big power through the front axle. But it only takes around a nanosecond in the Focus to revel in its oily, coolly controlled and emphatically more expensive way of doing things.
It isn’t necessary to understand how the RS’s RevoKnuckle counteracts torque to appreciate the sureness and uncontaminated steering that results, nor do you
need to know that the limited-slip differential beavering away at every turn-in and power-on exit is supplied by Quaife.
The simple fact is that each component here works in impeccable union, resulting in one of the last hot hatches to feel fast not simply because an unseen microchip permits it but because it was designed, engineered and finely tuned for the job.
In turn, the Fiesta suddenly feels messy and a wee bit rudimentary. Launch with gusto and you’ll need to weave away a bit to keep it straight.
There’s significantly more pitch and dive, and when you come to a corner, a good deal more roll to moderate. The grip, through dinkier tyres and obviously slimmer track, is made to feel unfairly insufficient. Everything about the comparison, in fact, feels unfair on the little Ford.
Until, that is, you concede set and match to the Focus, stop trying so hard and – inevitably – start mucking about. Then, at speeds that the RS would solemnly dismiss as utterly inconsequential to its hold on the road, the ST begins to remind you what all the fuss is about.