On this occasion, the balance has been struck with a 345bhp 2.3-litre Ecoboost petrol engine and a four-wheel drive system that between them deliver sub-five-second 0-62mph sprinting. That's allied to a cracking hardcore suspension set-up that brings first-order grip and agility and a £29,995 asking price that undercuts every one of the car’s serious rivals – and some by a wide margin.
On top of which the new Focus RS adds something that even its £40,000 rivals from Audi and Mercedes-AMG fail to provide: throttle-adjustable handling freakishly similar to that of a proper rear-driven sports car, courtesy of one of the most advanced asymmetrical ‘active’ four-wheel drive systems available on the market at any price.
What's it like?
It's a perfect fit for those who want the last word in huge pace, all-weather usability and driver thrill from their fast five-door – and who’ll tolerate a firm but not uncomfortable ride into the bargain.
More stiffly sprung and damped than the lesser Focus ST, the RS rides with a certain antipathy for your well-being – but not with harshness or malign intent. Its Tenneco dual-rate shocks can be switched independently of the driving modes, but even in the softer setting it's less forgiving over bumps than, say, a Volkswagen Golf R, but a touch more pliant than a Honda Civic Type R – and at a reasonable remove from anything you’d describe as savage or uncouth. The only aspect that might get tiresome for anyone doing big miles in an RS is the tightly sprung, short-travel vertical body movement, which even in the softer setting can make the car bob about a lot over rippled road surfaces. In reality, even this is pretty easy to ignore, and is never so bad as to corrupt the handling.
The car’s bucket seats force you into a slightly perched driving position that wants notably for downward adjustment, but the same has been true of every fast Focus we can remember. Just like in the ST, you get additional boost and temperature gauges set high on the roll-top fascia and RS-branded seats, while the instruments, leather steering wheel, gearlever gaiter and manual handbrake are all either stitched or highlighted in characteristic Ford RS blue, which looks great. The additional function buttons to note are the drive mode selector adjacent to the gear lever and the damper setting toggle button that replaces the lane-keeping assist button on the left-hand column stalk. Expect to be fiddling with both a lot.
The Mustang-sourced 2.3-litre turbo engine sounds angrier and more raspy than the Focus ST’s tuneful 2.0-litre. It's not quite as characterful, perhaps, as Audi’s five-cylinder RS3, but better than Mercedes-AMG’s A45. It responds to the accelerator pedal keenly in spite of the high specific output at which it’s operating and revs forcefully but progressively though the middle of the rev range, before climbing beyond 6000rpm quite freely.