One of the fastest, most capable front-drive cars ever produced

What is it?

A last hurrah for the Ford Focus RS. Production ends this September – by which time 8000 will have been made, half of which will have been sold in the UK.

Some 500 of the last batch will be these – RS500 models, toting 345bhp instead of the regular 300, and 339lb ft instead of 325.

The increase is allowed by a new, larger capacity fuel pump, and a new downpipe on the exhaust. There’s new engine mapping too of course, but it isn’t a case of turning up the boost pressure. The RS already runs a bigger turbo than the ST and isn’t worked overly hard to deliver its 300bhp. Freeing up the fuelling and exhaust is enough to liberate the power and drop the 0-62mph time from 5.9 to 5.6sec.

The chassis remains unchanged, as do the brakes (albeit with red calipers) and there are minor interior detail changes – red stitching and a plaque on the dash. You might notice the matt black finish too – it’s a film applied by 3M over standard gloss black paint.

What’s it like?

Pretty flipping fast, unsurprisingly. But unlike, say, the Mitsubishi Evo FQ400, the RS500 hasn’t become perpetually manic. The engine mapping means that it retains the regular car’s low-speed character and civility.

When the RS500 does blow, though, by crikey it blows hard. You feel it most through the mid-range. There’s no discernable increase in the time it takes to spool up; the RS500 gets going like the regular RS, but gets going harder, and faster, for longer.

The regular RS already has astonishing ground-covering pace. The RS500 usefully shortens the time it takes to fling itself from one bend to the next.

Because torque has only been increased by four per cent, torque steer is prevalent only as it was before. Which means it’s there, but is manageable. The steering’s terrifically precise and accurate otherwise too.

On fresh tyres the RS500 is, just like the RS, wonderfully exploitable. It grips hard at the front to the extent that it’ll lift a rear wheel if you’re steady on the throttle. Alternatively, in faster corners, the rear can be coaxed into helping adjust the cornering line if you trail the brakes towards a corner with the ESP switched out.

From experience of Autocar’s former long-term RS, I know that on worn tyres the dynamics become more dominated by the available grip at the front as the rubber gradually loses its resistance to power. But if the RS is on new tyres, the Renaultsport Clio is the only other current production hot hatch that has the same level of exploitability and adjustability. And no other hatch shoves like an RS500.

Should I buy one?

Spot of bad news on that front. The RS500 sold out pretty much as soon as it was announced, even at £35,750, which sounds like quite a lot given the limited extent of the mechanical changes.

Still, there’s no shortage of demand – as I write speculators have put them up for auction at over £40,000. One thing’s for sure: at any price, the RS500 is one of the fastest, most capable front-drive cars ever produced.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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simonali 19 June 2010

Re: Ford Focus RS500

icsunonove wrote:

Vicki tests something very similar, the Mountune MP350.

Did I hear:
"It is one of the best handling cars I've ever driven"

She should try the Megane 250 then, perhaps? 4 seconds quicker round the South West circuit at Bedford with 100 less horsepower. You might ask who was holding the stopwatch... it was Autocar!

Howey 21 May 2010

Re: Ford Focus RS500

Henry Bentley wrote:
I felt he needed to be educated

i would have said you were trying to belittle him rather than 'educate' him. not on this forum please

icsunonove 21 May 2010

Re: Ford Focus RS500

Vicki tests something very similar, the Mountune MP350.

Did I hear:
"It is one of the best handling cars I've ever driven"