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Ford Focus RS (LV) in depth

The Ford Focus RS is proof positive that even in this economic rationalist world, the crazy and madcap can not only come to fruition, but challenge established notions.

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Derek Fung
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1 of 45 Derek Fung/CNET Australia

Nowhere to hide

The Ford Focus RS is proof positive that even in this economic rationalist world, the crazy and madcap can not only come to fruition, but challenge established notions.

There's no hiding the RS's performance focus (pardon the pun), especially in our car's lime green war paint.

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Three doors down

The RS is only available as a three-door hatchback. In fact, in Australia, it's the only way you can enjoy the LV Focus with just three doors.

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Winging it

The large black rear wing is standard. It doesn't inhibit rearward vision, but its effect on the car's dynamics can only be felt if you take the RS to a track.

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History

The RS badge has a proud history of being used on high performance European Fords, including various Sierras, Escorts and Fiestas, as well as the company's rally cars.

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Henry's believe it or not

The 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder petrol engine is originally a Volvo unit. It's also used in the sporty XR5, although none of the other applications have 224kW of power and 440Nm of torque on hand.

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Cool it

A large radiator hides behind the honeycomb lower grille.

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Mechanical music

These upturned exhaust pipes emit a wonderful rumbling, crackling soundtrack. And if you lift off the gas abruptly there's even the hint of backfiring.

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Vents

The turbocharged engine needs quite a bit of cooling.

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Steer it away

Despite the fact that its natural competitors, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru Impreza WRX STI, have four-wheel drive systems, the RS sends all its (not inconsiderable) power and torque to the front wheels. This would normally be a recipe for disaster, with large servings of torque steer and wasteful wheel spin.

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Front on

To counteract its natural tendencies, Ford fitted a Quaife automatic torque sensing limited slip differential that smoothly and progressively shifts power and torque to the wheel with the most grip. They also fitted a RevoKnuckle to the MacPherson strut front suspension. All up, torque steer is reduced to a light tug under severe circumstances.

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Leyland brothers' world

The RS's front-wheel drive trickery means that it also works well on unsealed roads. Though, ultimately, not as well as its four-wheel competition.

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Go, go, stop

The clutch isn't terribly communicative, the pick-up point is quite high and there's no foot rest. The positioning of the brake and gas pedals doesn't lend the RS to casual heel-toe work.

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Six speeds forward

Proper performance cars should be had with a manual transmission. Indeed, the RS doesn't even give you the option of an automatic transmission. The six-speed gearbox is precise, but the throws between gears could be shorter.

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Not just any Focus

Nowadays, no high performance car is complete with tonnes of extra badging.

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Too slow

Despite an asking price a meal away from AU$60K, all 315 RS models imported into Australia are spoken for.

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Look ma, no cap

The fuel filler is cap-less, so just insert the petrol nozzle and away you go! Just make sure you fill the car with a minimum of 95RON unleaded.

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Low rider

The RS rides on 15-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels.

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Open sesame!

There's no bonnet latch anywhere inside the cabin. Instead, there's this cumbersome set-up that involves removing the physical key from the car's plipper.

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Emotional

The black eyeliner underneath the xenon headlights serves no functional purpose. The xenon headlights, however, are brilliant at night.

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Light up the darkness

Fog lights (front and rear) and dusk-sensing headlights are standard.

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Venty

These gilles are entirely ceremonial.

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Flattery

The interior does its best to mimic the class-leading Volkswagen Golf, but comes up short.

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Dopler shift

Blue stitching is the order of the day for the interior's leather pieces. Makes a rather nice change from the red that's common to most sports cars.

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Boosterism

Let's say that it's impossible to safely drive pedal-to-the-metal and check out the boost gauge at the same time.

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The need for speed (markings)

Most cars bear speedometer markings that its engine and tyres could never honestly use. The RS, as one might expect, is different. Ford rates the pocket rocket's top speed at 262km/h.

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Heat me up, buttercup

The front windscreen features built-in defrosting elements. As we've experienced in the Jaguar XJ, these aren't completely invisible to the driver. This is especially true at night, where every light source is shrouded in a fuzzy halo.

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The lightness of being

Carbon fibre inlays try their hardest to liven up the cabin.

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Power!

No, this button doesn't give you any more power. Not even a dollop of extra torque. Rather, it's the car's start button. Depress the clutch, press it and you're just about set for good times.

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Air time

A two-zone climate control air-conditioning system is standard.

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Analog radio only

Despite supporting digital radio, the Sony head unit isn't compatible with the standard used in Australia, DAB+.

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Wired for sound

The eight-speaker audio system struggles to drown out the engine and tyre noise. And, frankly, the engine sounds so nice, we're almost happy to go without.

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More music

Auxiliary and USB ports are standard, and the centre console bin even features a handy iPod/iPhone holder. Keep in mind that you'll need a special combined auxiliary/USB cable to directly access an Apple-branded device.

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Long block of non-stop rock

In lieu of steering wheel audio controls, there's this rather ungainly and complicated control wand. For us, using the audio head unit's controls proved to be easier.

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Trippy

The trip computer screen in between the tacho and speedo can display the external temperature, trip info (naturally) and the time. It's accessed via controls on the indicator wand and can also be used to configure various car settings, including the amount of steering wheel power assistance.

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Black light

The RS's wing mirrors are equipped with black casings, indicators, puddle lights and an electric folding mechanism.

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Peace of mind

Stability control provides an extra layer of safety, but even with it off, this front-wheel drive monster isn't prone to torque steer, even on wet or poor quality roads.

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What's that you say?

Ford voice recognition system sorely needs a display showing available commands. It also isn't very good at figuring out what you just said, that's partially down to the software, but also the amount of tyre and engine noise that permeates the cabin.

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False alarm

Should you desire it, the alarm's interior sensors can be turned off.

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Recaro sports buckets

The racing-style bucket seats grip as tightly as a leech to your skin. They're also surprisingly comfortable on long journeys.

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Baby, one more time

The Recaro seats are great for this type of car, but do be careful when you sit in them. The bolstering is naturally high and very, very solid. If you're not careful you may not have the option of having kids.

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Toughen up

The Recaro sports buckets feature hard plastic backs. Ingress and egress to/from the rear is naturally compromised by the three-door hatchback body style.

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Going down

The rear seats mightn't be as deeply dished as the front's, but their heavy sculpting means that this is as flat as they lie. Homemakers beware.

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Out back

The view rearwards isn't too bad. Seating in the back is limited to two people, with leg and head room compromised also.

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Just boot it

Boot space is decent, if you're curious.

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Pump up the jam

As there's no spare wheel, the included tyre sealant, pump and car jack will be your only friends if you encounter a flat.

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