Before we get a little light-headed, it’s worth stating what the RS isn’t. In the field of usable, fast, indulgent hot hatchbacks, headed by the Volkswagen Golf R, it is an also-ran.
The weighty, camber-addled steering is a little too arduous at low speeds for the casual user, and its stiffened ride, while respectably compliant given the level of intent, is nevertheless too firm and percussive to be thought of as genuinely comfortable.
It is also not, perhaps more surprisingly, an entirely natural or appealing track tool, its substantial weight, power and (very clever) stability control all contributing to what we’d assume is a reasonably voracious appetite for brake components and tyres.
The space it slots into somewhere in between, however, is terrific. Road-focused, immersive, ostensibly barmy and tremendously engaging, the Focus delivers a chassis dynamic cut from the same rear-drive-biased cloth as the Nissan GT-R and Audi R8, yet it manages to be arguably more accessible and entertaining than either.
High praise indeed, but the RS earns it repeatedly, sauntering into every constant-radius turn with the transparent aim of moving progressively from being dependably front-driven to bullishly neutral to gratifyingly tail-happy.
The throttle-induced exploits of its back end are not the limit of the RS’s talent, but they are what sets it dramatically apart from the current crop of stability-biased rivals.
Ford’s objective (both in marketing and chassis tuning) is clearly to convey the sensation of driving a Group B rally car – or at least how one imagines it might feel, having watched endless videos on YouTube. Using the leeway offered by tailored driving modes and a bubble of ESP-related safety, the RS comes brilliantly close to achieving this aim.
Its secret is less in the all-wheel drive system than it is in the assertiveness of the rear axle’s torque split. The pre-emptive build-up of drive on the outside wheel propels the car into corners and then briefly beyond the limit of traction when you encourage it to do so.
In Sport and Track modes, this happens about as intuitively as it’s possible to imagine, with the stability control working neatly enough in tandem with efforts to correct the slide at the steering wheel.
The already infamous Drift mode has its place, too, although given the bung required to get it started and the ESP’s reluctance to develop a suitably prodigious slip angle, the name is slightly misleading.