Barack Obama laid down the law, along with vast sums of tax-payer money, recently. The days of the big-engined gas-guzzler are numbered, and America must downsize. That sounds like a death knell for fun if ever there was one, but all we need is for the Big 3 to bring their European stars across the Atlantic—starting with the all-new Ford Focus RS, the best of the bunch.
We only have the cooking Focus model over here on U.S. soil, but in Europe the RS models have blazed a trail through the hot hatch ranks. This is the 22nd Ford model to wear the RS badge and it’s the quickest road-going Ford of all time—on the right road, at least. Anyone scoffing at the claim and thinking maybe the Ford GT has slipped the mind might be shocked to know the front-wheel-drive RS ran rings round the big, lummoxing supercar on Ford’s Lommel test center in Belgium. And that is just plain scary.
As is the car itself, especially in the daring shade of Ultimate Green that greeted our arrival to the launch. The fastest Fords have never been subtle; they are working-class heroes rather than elitist snobs, and the body work is a not-so-careful blend of World Rally Championship and night club bouncer. That deep vent and front splitter look like missing teeth from a good distance, and then there’s the flared arches to cope with the 40mm wider stance over the standard car, vented bonnet, fake carbon interior, green trimmed Recaro seats and savage spoilers. It’s about as subtle as a tequila IV, but then it has just as much kick.
This hyper hatch, which Ford seems to have trademarked as a new genre, has 300 bhp and an epic 324 ft-lbs of torque—all of it heading through the front wheels. Not so long ago, the men with beards said that more than 200 bhp through the front wheels was a recipe for torque steering disaster.
But planting the throttle on the Focus reveals an altogether different response—it takes off down the road like a stabbed rat. Yes, there’s a squirm from the front, but only a playful tug at the fingers as the RS tears off down the road. That’s partially due to the 8.5x19-inch alloys clad in ContiSportContact3 tires, though, which are normally the preserve of much more exotic fare and give those front wheels enough purchase to send the RS hurtling down the road as if drawn by elastic as a dangerous grin spreads across my face.
The lime-green nightmare slams through 60 mph in just 5.9 seconds with that torque-rich approach dragging from low down in the range. And it will keep storming through the gears all the way to 163 mph. Of course, the 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-five cylinder can be kept off boost, around 2500 rpm, relying on the wave of torque. Then it’s simply quick and even refined, although the firm independent McPherson strut and multilink rear suspension complemented by antiroll bars, which is reportedly as stiff as the company WRC car, rattles over big bumps in the road. This was never going to be a magic carpet ride after all, especially when combined with the 19-inch wheels. But when there are 3500 rpm and a whole world of fun awaiting, you just won’t remain in the realms of sanity—the temptation is simply too much.
That needle hammering toward the redline brings the kind of gurgling roar that reduced grown, elderly and even reasonably rounded men into young hooligans on the launch. Grab the next gear on the fingertip-light 6-speed gearbox and the chuffing of angry wastegates precedes the next lurch at the distant horizon.
It’s an angry car, which was all part of an apparent design ideal as Ford attempted to create a shark, compared to the dolphin that is the warm Focus ST. There’s even the rally-style “pop” of unburnt fuel in the exhaust with a serious lift of the throttle, and it’s hard to believe this engine came from the epitome of calm—sister company Volvo. Ford engineers went to work on the internals, though, and took inspiration from the WRC car when it came to tuning the exhaust and attitude. With the help of a bigger turbo, reprofiled camshafts, new pistons, inlet and exhaust system, they have created a diamond from something that was arguably as dull as raw carbon. It really has the pace to mix it with the sporting elite that cost much, much more, and then it hits a bend and things get really interesting.