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Second-generation Ford Focus RS shreds the front-drive rule book

It’s hard to know where to start when describing the all-new 163mph, 301bhp Ford Focus RS. In simple terms this is the second generation of a car which cost Ford an awful lot of money at the beginning of this century, but that also did lots to restore the public’s faith in the RS brand.

What’s more, the new Ford Focus RS will turn a profit for the Blue Oval this time round – assuming Ford can find homes for the 8000 examples it intends to build over the next two years. How so? Because at last Ford has worked out a way of making the Focus RS on a regular Focus production line, a rather more economically sound method of production compared with the “I’ll build this bit, you build that bit, and maybe we’ll get someone else to fit that part before we paint it” construction technique of first-generation model.

The most controversial aspect of the car is its drivetrain, which remains front, not four-wheel drive. Ford’s engineers have developed and patented a system called the RevoKnuckle which, they claim, eradicates torque steer by keeping the kingpin offset angle very consistent, even under heavy load. And when you have 301bhp and a whopping 324lb ft on tap courtesy of a heavily modified version of the 2.5-litre turbo motor found in the Focus ST, this is crucial.

The chassis has been stiffened by approximately 30 per cent and there are bigger driveshafts, a much wider track, lower ride height and a faster steering rack.

Ford focus rs panning

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In the raw the RS looks like a proper thug-mobile. From its gaping grille to its 19in wheels and tyres and enormous wing, the RS leaves you in no doubt about its intentions.

The big question, of course, is whether Ford really has managed to develop a front suspension system that enables the RS to deploy its 301bhp and 324lb ft without feeling like an unguided Exocet missile. And we’re glad to report that the answer is a resounding, faintly befuddled “you bet”.

What happens when you select second gear and give it full beans in the RS frankly feels like some form of miracle, because even on a rough or wet surface the car takes off without drama, feeling for all the world as if it is four, not two-wheel drive. Considering how much raw thrust there is – Ford claims 0-60mph in 5.9sec, 0-100mph in 14sec dead and a top speed of 163mph – it’s quite weird to begin with. You even wonder whether they’re fibbing about how many wheels are being driven.

In the event this is just one of many tricks which the extraordinary new Focus RS has up its sleeve. What we are talking about is a car that really does shred the rule book on front-wheel-drive dynamics, but one that’s also civilised and well mannered enough to live with every day.

And when you do go for it, do not expect to be disappointed. Even with as little as 1800rpm showing it goes, and goes hard, in all of the first five gears. In sixth you need to wait until just over 2000rpm before the whirlwind of torque begins to blow you, and then throw you, towards the horizon.

If anything the Focus RS feels faster than the raw numbers suggest, partly because of the huge wallop of torque so low down, but also because of the noise. It really is a key part in the transformation from relatively humble ST to altogether more meaningful RS. The same can’t quite be said about the gearchange, unfortunately, which is shorter and sharper than the ST’s but not short or sharp enough to do the rest of the drivetrain justice.

On the other hand, the chassis more than makes up for this most minor of issues. With the previous RS Ford may have dropped a whoopsy on the finance front, but it also made one of the sharpest handling front-wheel-drive cars there has ever been. It has gone at least one, if not two steps better this time round.

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The way the RS puts its grunt down is truly incredible, but beyond that it’s also a lovely car to hussle along a good road. The steering is just delicious in the way it telegraphs so clearly what’s happening beneath the fat Continental front tyres. Yet it’s what happens at the other end of the car that provides you with the biggest confidence booster. The way in which the car neither under nor oversteers, but just hangs on is, well, breathtaking.

Ford focus rs rear corner

So, if you're a hot hatchback fan in general or a fast Ford afficionado in particular, you'll want to act fast. Remortgage the house, rob a bank, sell yourself, sell your own grandmother, just do whatever it takes to put an RS on your drive. Because it really is one of those cars.

Ford Focus RS 2009-2010 First drives