Ford Focus RS review – is Ford's hyperactive hatchback a cut price Audi RS3?

Will Beaumont
20 Aug 2018

The Focus RS impresses with strong performance and great handling

Evo Rating: 
Incredible pace while being fun and adjustable
Interior lacks sophistication and quality of German rivals

evo’s most loved hot hatches tend to major on engineering simplicity and the purity of the driving experience. Our favourites are usually lightweight and agile machines with seemingly unburstable engines and a no-frills attitude – the sort of approach typified by Renaultsport, which almost always delivers uncompromising but thoroughly engaging sporting hatchbacks. 

Ford has taken an entirely different approach with the Focus RS spec, employing seriously high-tech systems to manage a vast power output, and to create a four-wheel drive chassis that responds to the demands of its driver with all the agility of a lighter, smaller and simpler machine. In other words, more is more, with the Focus RS Drift Mode just one of a raft of features that have cemented the model into fast Ford folklore. 

> Click here for our review of Audi RS3

But while the Focus RS might not quite fit the standard evo mould for a pure unadulterated hot hatch, there’s absolutely no doubt that it’s vastly effective and thoroughly engaging in its own special way. The high-tech, all the bells and whistles approach is arguably closer to the concept of the Nissan GT-R, but we can’t deny the Focus RS philosophy is immensely impressive and a whole lot of fun.

Ford Focus RS: in detail

Performance and 0-60 time > With a 0-62mph time of 4.7sec and a 165mph top speed, the RS delivers performance worthy of the badge. Despite all-wheel drive, the RS is remarkably easy to launch thanks to its launch control system. Read about the Focus RS's performance here

Engine and gearbox > The Focus RS has a 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine also shared with the EcoBoost Mustang. Thanks to extensive changes though, the RS eclipses the Mustangs power and torque figures with 345bhp and 325lb ft of torque. Read about the Focus RS's engine and transmission here

Ride and handling > The Focus RS is pretty stiff for UK roads, with the harsh figety ride not settling until you reach higher speeds. Once there, small bumps as well as larger compressions, which catch out some rivals, are delt with in supreme confidence never leaving you in doubt of the RS's ability to maintain total composure. Read about the Focus RS's ride and handling here

MPG and running costs > Thanks to engine's high state of tune and enormous turbo, the running costs are not really the RS's forte. Ford quote an official figure of 36.7mpg, but if you drive it as Ford intended you won't be likely to see over 30mpg.  Read about the Focus RS's mpg and running costs

Interior and tech > The Focus RS may be a backroad superstar, but the RS is unfortunately saddled with the same dated and slightly akward interior as the standard car. The biggest problem are the annoyingly high front seats.  Read about the Focus RS's interior and tech here

Design > Due to the current generation Focus being a five door only, the RS lacks the bespoke wide body and more extreme styling of its forebearers. That said the wild front apron and rear wing could ensure the RS is obvious over the more subtle ST sibling. Read about the Focus RS's design here

> For an in-depth review of the , check out our sister site 

Prices, specs and rivals 

The Focus RS starts from £32,265, topping the Focus range by a narrow margin over the Focus Electric (but who cares about that?). Considering the performance on offer, that's a total bargain, and is about as much performance as you can get for your money in the hot hatch sector.

The RS doesn't have an extensive options list, with just a few choice additions finding a place on Ford's configurator. There's only one 'free' colour, the discreet 'Stealth' grey, part of a pretty monochrome palette. Your other choices are £250 'Frozen White', £525 'Magnetic' or 'Shadow Black' or the bold, bright and £745 'Nitrous Blue'. We know what we'd be choosing - after all, the Focus RS is not a discreet car to begin with. Nitrous Blue it is.

Recaro front seats come as standard, but you can upgrade to shell-backed units for £1145 if you want the extra support. Meanwhile, forged black alloy wheels cost £975, Active City Stop is £200, while the 'Luxury Pack' costs £1000. It includes power folding mirrors, rear parking sensors, keyless go, cruise control and privacy glass in the rear, and seems well worth the outlay. Door protectors aren't the raciest of accessories, but at £85 they're ideal for preventing car park dings.

>Read our A45 AMG review

With a few necessary extras, the Focus RS becomes just a bit more expensive than VW’s Golf R. However, the Golf is completely outgunned by the Focus; it's down 48bhp and 67lb ft of torque, and it doesn’t offer the same fun or anywhere near as much adjustability.

Audi’s RS3 is more in line with the Focus in terms of performance. The RS3’s 362bhp means it has a better power-to-weight ratio than the Focus’s 230bhp/ton with 242bhp/ton. But, the Audi is about £10,000 more expensive and still isn’t as fun as the Focus.

Despite being just front wheel drive, VW’s Golf GTI Clubsport S and Honda’s Civic Type R are more than capable of keeping the Focus RS honest. Both produce 306bhp and hit 62mph from a standstill in less than 6sec.

> Read our review of the Honda Civic Type R

The Honda is incredibly agile, has sharp steering and a wonderful balance, but its firm suspension hinders it on rough roads and that limits its appeal. The more robust Focus is more capable, more of the time.

The Clubsport S, however, exudes a quality from the steering and damping that simply isn’t matched by any car that’s less than twice the cost of the Golf’s asking price of £33,995. Both the Focus RS and the Golf GTI Clubsport S made it into our 2016 Car of the Year test, the VW finished second overall beating the Ford by eight places.

> Read our review of the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

Sadly though, production of the Clubsport S has been limited and each and everyone of them has already been sold. If you aren’t one of the lucky buyers, and you’re desperate for a 300bhp+ hot hatch, the Focus RS is a remarkably good alternative.

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