It's been said that there's no such thing as a "perfect" car. For enthusiasts like me, such a vehicle would have two seats, hit 60 mph from rest in under 5 seconds, be able to swallow a flat-pack wardrobe from IKEA, cost very little and turn more heads than a Ferrari. A unicorn, in other words.
As such, the cars that get closest to "perfect" for me are the hot hatches. The really quick versions of cars British mothers drive their children to school in. They're a little angrier to look at, have more power than a small car really should and still have cavernous trunks for all the stuff a modern child requires. Now, Ford's daily hot hatches are the ST cars. The Fiesta ST being one of the best out there, the Focus ST being not quite as sharp, but still pretty good. However, Ford has just introduced another level of fast: RS.
The latest car to join the RS family is the Focus, though to be clear, the standard car and this mad dog share little other than interior dimensions and part of their name.
Line up the two side by side, and you'll wonder where the rallycross car has come from. There are wings, vents, logos and angles all over the place on the RS. It's aggressive, but not overly so. It's been designed with a finesse that's rarely seen today -- angry enough to make "car people" dribble, but subtle enough that your beau won't scoff at the idea of a ride home. Inside is pretty much standard Ford Focus. It's not the most exciting cabin in the world and the plastics aren't the greatest. That said, for around $36,000 you can't hope for an Audi-level interior and this much performance.
Its slightly dull insides are doubly forgivable, then, because of the power you get. The RS packs a 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbo four that provides a generous 345 brake horsepower and 324 pound-feet of torque (347 on overboost). Ford says 0-62mph happens in 4.7 seconds and that the RS will top out at 165 mph. The car manages that by delivering its power to all four wheels via a fantastic all-wheel-drive setup.
Rather than go the Haldex route, Ford's system eschews a differential at the back and has a pair of clutch packs to shuffle its torque around. It's a good way of doing things, because 70 percent of the engine's torque can be sent to either rear wheel, allowing the car to do all manner of entertaining things with its drive modes.
Normal mode is mighty fine for town, Sport makes the car a touch more angry, Track gives more control to the driver (and is the best mode to set lap times in, says Ford), and Drift mode...well, that allows the driver to pull off incredible slideways action with minimal instruction.
Acceleration is fierce, especially for a car the size of the Focus. You're punched back in your seat and wonder just how a shopping car is capable of bending the world quite like this. You also ponder just how it got so bumpy, because the RS isn't the smoothest of rides out there. It lacks the ride quality of, say, Volkswagen's Golf R or Audi's RS 3, but neither of those cars feels anywhere near as rewarding to hoon.
Go into a corner too fast, and the RS will fire off a warning shot of understeer, but get it just right, and you'll be rewarded with all the grip you could possibly want in the world. Ever. And that's just in normal mode. Get to a circuit and bang the RS into Track mode and you've got yourself a serious weapon. Between the steering and the throttle, you can play with the car midbend, feel its every movement and adjust it to your heart's content. Few cars are as communicative, let alone AWD hatches. That harsh ride is a pain on the road, but an advantage on track.
The RS comes with direct, quick steering that gives complete confidence in what the car's doing on the road. Add in a fantastic six-speed manual gearbox and you're laughing. The two work wonderfully with the harder suspension set up when you're driving spiritedly and make the car feel alive -- way more so than any other AWD car you can buy on the sensible side of $50,000.
The RS' Drift mode is a definite highlight -- it uses its smart AWD setup to essentially power the car in to oversteer, then moves the torque around to keep a giant skid going. If you've ever intentionally drifted a rear-wheel-drive car, it'll feel very alien to you, but it's still fun. It's easy, too. So easy that I'll wager my mother could get away with it (something I intend to prove soon -- keep your eyes on Carfection later this year).
It's fast, it's cheap considering what it can do, and it feels better to drive than more expensive cars in the same category. You can also fit your life in it - there's plenty of room up front and in the back for adults, while the trunk can fit more than you'll need on the day-to-day. With the seats folded down, it'll get fair bit of flat-pack furniture on board as well.
To be blunt, a short time with the Focus RS has shown just how much Ford can do. It's the car to beat in the hyperhatch category dynamically, and at the moment, it's as close to the perfect unicorn car as you can get.
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