Three years of waiting finally came to an end last night, when I grabbed the keys to our newly arrived Ford Focus RS long-termer.
This sounds simple enough, but it’s not the work of a minute; I even had to (ahem) bump one of my colleagues off the car list to make sure that I got my bum in the seat. But I hoped it would be worthwhile; having run Autocar’s Focus ST for a year, I’ve been salivating in a fairly unpleasant manner at the thought of a more potent model.
And yet, at the same time, I’ve been one of the more sceptical voices in the office; my experience of the ST, brilliant though it was, led me to question whether a car with a heavy 2.5-litre five-pot lump could deliver the sort of agility required to really move the game on.
One night’s thrashing over deserted military ranges roads near Aldershot has been enough to ally my fears, just.
First, the bad points. You still sit far too high, the cabin is basically the same as the ST’s and, wait for it, there’s torque steer (yes, I know Steve Sutcliffe felt that the trick RevoKnuckles had eliminated it completely, but I can only argue that he was driving on smooth French roads, not bumpy British lanes, okay?).That’s pretty much it on the downside front, though. Because the new RS really is rather special. The engine has colossal torque (I look forward to seeing the in-gear acceleration figures from our road test desk), the front end doesn’t wait when asked to change direction rapidly and the ride, while firm, is still better than the crashy excesses of, say, a Civic Type R.
What really makes this car a work of genius, though, is its inherent chassis balance, which takes it way beyond what could be achieved in the softer ST. The RS’s set-up is so sublime that it allows you to drift the thing with a mixture of lift-off oversteer and throttle, a genuinely bewildering experience in a front-wheel-drive car. On a smooth French mountain pass, it would be an absolute hoot.
So I’m already fighting to get my name alongside the car for another evening (better still, a weekend, so I can find some empty, smoother roads). Ford’s engineers have indeed moved the game on with this car, but not quite in the direction that I’d expected. Clever buggers.