Currently reading: Used car buying guide: Ford Focus RS (Mk3)
You’ll not want to slow down in this exhilarating hot hatch

Picture the scene. You’re driving in the UK and you find yourself on an unfamiliar B-road.

It’s raining heavily. There’s a hairpin bend coming up fast. The road is greasy, cars are coming in the opposite direction and the children are playing I-spy. You arrive at the bend. You smoothly turn the wheel, wishing that your knowledge of the skidpan was as adept as your taste in cars. Do you make it through? Of course you do. You’re driving a Mk3 Ford Focus RS, that’s why.

In a purely front- or rear-driven car of similar performance, this could have been an issue. In the Focus RS, though, things aren’t so demanding. Ford’s performance division has form at turning ordinary road cars into some of the most masterful machines money can buy, and this scorching-hot hatchback is no exception. 

At first glance, it looks overly garish. The sort of machine that, if it were a person, would wear a tracksuit to a wedding and drink straight from the bottle. However, if you look at the details (the rear spoiler, cooling ducts deeper than the New York subway and the outrageous bucket seats), you realise this car is intent on one thing: going as fast as it can whenever it can. 

This might sound dangerous, but with the added traction of a universally praised four-wheel drive system, it’s a very safe bet. No wonder 4000 Britons signed on the dotted line. 

Out on the open road, the Focus RS becomes a a 345bhp, 2.3-litre turbocharged tour de force. Drive to those four wheels is through a slick six-speed manual gearbox only. No fancy dual-clutch options here. Despite weighing in excess of 1.5 tonnes, it can sprint from 0-62mph in under 5sec, and run on to 165mph if you have the roads to do it on. If you’re midway through a corner and fancy blow to the headrest, its drivetrain erupts and deposits you on the straight with all the enthusiasm and obedience of a sheepdog.

Ford focus rs mk3 rear quarter cornering

At this point, you will probably be wondering how much all this costs. Well, the good news is the Focus RS can now be yours for just £22,000 used – and that’s nearly £7000 less than the equivalent used Audi RS3.

Advertisement

Read our review

Car review

Is Ford’s AWD mega-hatch as special as we first thought? And can the Focus RS beat stiff competition from the Volkswagen Golf R and Mercedes-AMG A45?

Back to top

Unfortunately, when you’re tackling town traffic, the Focus RS can feel a little lumpy. The cloven hoof is apparent at slower speeds, where the engine lacks character and the ride becomes extremely choppy. The steering lock is limited, too, and the driving position is a little compromised.

However, beneath the vivacious styling and vicious drivetrain, this is still a Focus. So it has enough storage space for clutter and the standard five-door bodystyle means it’s very practical. Mind you, the infotainment system with its rather small 8.0in touchscreen and buttoncrazed dashboard can be tricky to use on the move, while material quality is mixed, with some scratchy plastics located, disappointingly, in just those areas that you’re likely to touch.

So, the Focus RS is far from the last word in interior quality, nor is it the most sensible-looking car or the nicest to drive around town. But for the sheer joy of driving, it’s a truly excellent car and a great used buy. 

What we said then

4 May 2016: “The RS isn’t an easy car to live with: it’s too thirsty, its seats are too high and the opportunities to exploit its handling are not ever-present. But if the modern interpretation of RS has finally established itself as anything, it’s occasional, high-end pleasure. To find something that corners with the same ability, breathtaking confidence and mind-bending mechanical trickery, you have to look at a car like the Nissan GT-R.”

An expert's view

Stephen Vincent, performance car sales specialist, Hendy Performance: “The Focus RS is a brilliant car. It can be antisocial if you put it into Sport mode, with pops and bangs from the exhaust, but it’s a fantastic all-rounder, too. It’s a standard family vehicle – you can drive to work and have heated seats – that on the right road transforms into a completely different car. It puts a smile on your face and makes you feel like a child. Just be aware that cars from 2016 and some from early 2017 had a recall for an issue that would make the head gasket blow up.”

Buyer beware

Ford focus rs mk3 engine bay

Engine: Some owners have reported issues relating to a plume of white exhaust smoke on ignition. This is likely to do with the head gasket, which should be replaced. On start-up, listen for rattling noises from the engine bay. This could be a sign that the timing chain’s casing is damaged or loose. Pre-2017 cars were recalled owing to that head gasket issue. Check for the reference number FSA17832 on the paperwork to ensure it has been done.

Back to top

Bodywork: Look under the car, particularly at the front, for excessive stone chips and scuffs, likewise at the windscreen and alloy wheels. This could be a sign that the car has been taken off road. If it has, proceed with caution. 

Transmission: Before buying, check the movement and feel of the clutch to ensure that it’s smooth, doesn’t squeak and has an easily findable biting point. A car with such power and launch control works its clutch hard, and a replacement could cost up to £1000.

Steering, brakes and suspension: Some owners have reported issues with steering sensors and bearings failing. Check that the steering self-centres after a corner and that the car feels stable at higher speeds. 

Also worth knowing

Ford focus rs mk3 boot

The price of four-wheel drive is the deletion of the Focus’s underfloor boot storage and a trimmed load volume. We wouldn’t complain.

Ford’s Sync 2 infotainment system was included on the RS, so it got an 8.0in touchscreen, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and voice control as standard. If you want sat-nav, however, you will have to hope the original owner ticked the £465 option box for the premium system, adding a 10-speaker Sony system (including a subwoofer) and a rear-view camera.

The trio of ‘worry dials’ on the top of the dashboard are a fast-Ford signifier and will be familiar to any ST owner. The background hue of blue is exclusive to the Focus RS, though.

The standard rims were double 10-spoke 19in alloys; some cars have black forged 19s, which were a £595 option. Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres were standard but were often swapped for sticky Sport Cup 2s.

The headlights are the same bixenon adaptive units you get on an upper-spec Focus ST. Cornering and auto-dip functions were included.

How much to spend

£23,000-£24,999: Leggier examples, with 45,000 to 60,000 miles. All are pre-2017, so check the recall work has been done.

Back to top

£25,000-£26,999: Mid-mileage cars in okay conditions, some with full Ford service history. Some heavily tuned examples.

£27,000-£28,999: The sweet spot. Mid-specified cars with mileages dipping below 30,000. Most with a full service history, some with some remaining warranty and franchise-approved. 

£29,000-£31,999: High specifications, some with rare additional extras and low mileages below 20,000. Includes cars of all ages, ranging from 2016 to 2018. 

£32,000 and above: Cars with very high specifications and rare options. Mileages as low as 800. Watch for overpriced and carelessly modified examples.  

One we found

Ford focus rs mk3 onewefound

Ford Focus RS 2.3 Ecoboost M375, 2017, 33,000 miles, £28,499: With nearly 10,000 miles below average, this superb example left the factory with a Mountune upgrade package that boosted it to 370bhp.

Jonathan Bryce

Jonathan Bryce

Jonathan Bryce
Title: Editorial Apprentice

Jonathan is an editorial apprentice working with Autocar. He has held this position since September 2022, having graduated from the University of Glasgow with a degree in Geography and Business & Management before moving to London to pursue a career in motoring journalism. 

His role at work involves writing news stories, updating and uploading articles for the Autocar website and making sure they are optimised for search engines, helping with social media and building his experience overall.

Join the debate

Comments
1
Add a comment…
Jaydee27 20 September 2022
Grip and traction are not the same thing! When did they become interchangeable in motoring journalism?