When it comes to hot hatches, it’s a big Blue Oval love-in. Odd, when you consider the inordinate amount of time and encouragement apparently required to gain Dearborn’s consent for building one.
But when Ford finally pushes the button, something memorable does tend to appear 18 months later.
Increasingly nut-bar versions of the outgoing Renault Mégane aside, the Ford Fiesta ST has enjoyed our preferential treatment almost exclusively since it was launched in 2012.
We’ve practically dared people to buy one and, thanks to its pleasingly modest price, many have obliged. Against practically every other similarly spiced opponent – new or used – we consider that advice to be rock solid. Until, that is, you drive a Mk2 Ford Focus RS.
Then the sticky question of what to buy becomes a veritable peat bog, certain to suck you down to your kneecaps in aspect-weighing rumination.
The reason for that – so self-evident as to hardly be worth mentioning – is that the last RS, in all its black-spoiler-bottomed glory, is a special car and its depreciation to the sunny side of £20k makes it a compelling option, even with the usual secondhand hurdles to overcome.
Unlike the ST, there aren’t many of them around – and, clearly, there aren’t going to be any more. Low volume and a stellar reputation have kept the residuals predictably firm, and their exclusivity tends to mean that they are taken care of. The car gathered here, via the owners’ club forum, is a case in point.
Belonging to Peter Galbraith, the 2009-plater pictured above is mint. It has done about 38k miles, but you wouldn’t know it given its concentrated gleam and plastic seat covers redolent of heartfelt care.
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.
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.