Fast Focus

AWD and the most powerful Ecoboost turbofour in production should give the Focus RS n everything it needs to beat the world’s best

Its inspiring soundtrack will feature distinctive burbles, pops and crackles

OCUS RS is go! This feral Focus is Ford’s fastest-ever RS model – the 30th in a line that stretches back to 1968 and the German-built Taunus 15M RS.

Yet, thanks to a brand new all-wheel-drive system, Focus RS version 3.0 will feel like it has been to deportment school.

It certainly doesn’t look like it, though.

Wearing one of the maddest and baddest body kits in the business, the Focus RS looks like it’s straight off a movie set. Almost concept-car-like front and rear bumpers and a massive RS-stamped tailgate spoiler are claimed to deliver zero lift for supreme high-speed stability, which is a huge call.

Backing up the new RS’s Blade Runner look is a fully pumped version of Ford’s all-aluminium, directinjection, turbocharged 2.3-litre ‘EcoBoost’ four. Closely related to the 2.3 turbo in the new Mustang, the Focus version has been uprated to “well in excess of 320PS (235kW)” thanks to a long list of modifications.

Starting with a new low-inertia, yet larger, twin-scroll turbocharger claimed to deliver “significantly greater air flow”, Focus RS also gets a much bigger intercooler, a less-restrictive air intake, and a large-diameter exhaust system with an electronically controlled valve in the tailpipe to optimise the balance of back pressure and noise output.

Significantly, the Focus RS’s engine mods aren’t just about extracting more grunt – they’re about withstanding sustained circuit use.

The cylinder head is made of an upgraded alloy material suitable for high engine temps, and a new head gasket offers improved thermal capacity. Even the RS’s radiator has been beefed-up, Hulk style.

Additional space had to be created at the front of the engine bay to ensure it can “provide the level of cooling demanded for hard circuit use”.

But it’s the calibration that will make or break the 2.3 EcoBoost’s reputation as a high-performance weapon. Ford claims it has been “meticulous” in tuning the engine to deliver not only low-end response and mid-range thrust, but a free-revving top end worthy of a machine such as this, right to the maximum rev limit of 6800rpm. And, unlike the synthetic note of the Mustang’s 2.3 turbo, Ford says the Focus RS will boast an inspiring soundtrack “with the distinctive burbles, pops and crackles that are an RS signature”.

But will the Focus RS be man enough to out-muscle Mercedes-Benz’s category-busting 265kW/450Nm A45 AMG? Ford isn’t saying until official outputs are released at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in June, but it will surely go close.

Unlike the A45, though, the Focus RS will be available only as a six-speed manual, which is great news for driving enthusiasts.

If Ford’s claims are to be believed, Focus RS’s “ground-breaking” all-wheel-drive system should also be cause for celebration. Well aware of the downsides of all-wheel drive at the handling limit – understeer and lack of adjustability being the chief issues – Ford says its new-generation RS raises agility to a new level.

Twin electronically controlled clutch packs on each side of the Rear Drive Unit (RDU) manage the front/rear torque split, as well as side-to-side torque distribution on the rear axle. Monitoring multiple vehicle sensors up to 100 times per second, the RDU continuously varies the split fore-aft as well as leftright, up to a maximum of 70 percent to the rear axle.

But 100 percent of this torque split can be sent to either rear wheel as the RDU pre-emptively diverts torque to the outer tyre, based on wheel angle, lateral acceleration, yaw and vehicle speed.

The Drift mode sounds like bliss on a stick

In parallel with Focus RS’s torque-vectoring AWD system, there’s also a brake-based Torque Vectoring Control that works in conjunction with the ESC to optimise handling and stability, as well as a bunch of drive modes packaged together in Normal, Sport, Track and Drift settings. Yes, you read that correctly – Drift.

In an all-wheel-drive hatchback.

Activated by a switch located next to the gear lever, each drive mode gets specific settings for the AWD system, two-setting dampers, stability control, steering weighting, engine response and exhaust sound.

The Drift mode modifies the AWD’s torque split to help the driver achieve “controlled oversteer drifts under circuit conditions”, which sounds like bliss on a great big stick.

There’s also Launch Control, where the driver simply engages first gear, nails the throttle with the clutch depressed, then dumps the clutch. A shift light alerts the driver at the optimum shift point of 5900rpm, and flashes if the engine hits the limiter at 6800.

Filling this hottest of hatchbacks’ wheelarches is a set of 20-spoke, charcoal-finished 19-inch alloys wearing 235/35R19 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. For the first time on an RS model, Ford is offering Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 semi-slicks in the same size as an option. Combined with its new all-wheel-drive system, Focus RS should offer neck-straining levels of grip.

But Ford reckons this car is about more than just numbers – it’s all about involvement.

As the director of Global Ford Performance, David Pericak, points out: “We have ripped up the rulebook which says that AWD hatchbacks cannot be fun to drive and have created a car which will surprise and reward in equal measure”.

First quarter of 2016 is the ETA for the Focus RS’s arrival Down Under, but if it’s as fun to drive as Ford reckons it is, the wait will definitely be worth it.

Family fast

ORIGINATING from such a long line of high-performance heroes, it’s unlikely that Ford’s new Focus RS will cede anything in the horsepower stakes to Audi’s forthcoming 270kW/465Nm RS3, let alone Benz’s A45 AMG. The 1520kg Audi launched in Europe in January, boasting 0-100km/h in a claimed 4.3sec thanks to its combination of all-wheel drive and a seven-speed dual-clutch ’box. The manual-only Focus RS will inevitably give away several tenths in acceleration times, but you can expect Ford to counter its slightly greater weight with a massive wedge of muscle.

That’s a great RS

15M RS (1968)

German-engineered 15M sported a hot 1.7-litre V4. Fogs, black-outs and stripes that said ‘Rallye Sport’

Escort RS Cosworth (1992)

Last all-paw RS was this lairy 90s Escort, complete with blistered guards, big wing and mega boost

Escort RS2000 (1976)

Only 25 Cologne-built two-door RS2000s came here in ’76, with a tuned ‘Pinto’ 2.0-litre. We built our own later