With all the attention on the new, fourth-generation Ford Focus last week, it was easy to overlook something that happened a few days before. Friday 6th April saw production of the Mk3 Focus RS come to an end after little more than two years. Even in such a short time, the latest RS has made a real impact on the hot hatch world, so we take a look at what it leaves behind.
Why it matters
Enthusiasm for performance Fords has always been high, but interest in recent years has been stratospheric. Classic Sierra RS Cosworths have reached £100,000 at auction with ease, and even relatively unloved models like the Escort XR3i generate high bids when going under the hammer.
The Mk3 Focus RS instantly fed into the cult of fast Fords, with more than 2,300 deposits placed by UK buyers following its reveal at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show. An initial list price of £29,995 made the RS look competitive against rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf R, and substantially cheaper than the Audi RS3 or Mercedes-AMG A45.
In fact, that last comparison was significant. The previous two generations of the Focus RS had been front-wheel-drive only. While Ford had developed solutions like its Revoknuckle suspension for the Mk2 RS, and fitted the original with a Quaife limited-slip differential, these still had limitations when managing torque. With the third Focus RS model, Ford finally gave in to enthusiasts and journalists, who had both demanded four-wheel drive.
The Mk3 RS didn’t just get any old 4WD system, but a thoroughly modern one capable of clever torque vectoring to increase agility. That it could send up to 70% of thrust from the 2.3-litre Ecoboost engine to the rear axle also helped create controversy, thanks to the inclusion of ‘Drift Mode’ amongst the drive modes.
Despite its name, Drift Mode would not instantly turn those behind the wheel into Ken Block. Instead, it used the flexibility of the 4WD system to help start slides, and then make managing them easier with changes to the suspension dampening. It also helped the Focus RS grab headlines, with some even calling for Drift Mode to be banned for inciting risky driving.
What we said at the time
Tim Pitt was the man charged with the enviable job of testing the Focus RS on both road and track in January 2016. With expectation weighing heavily on the RS, it was all up to Tim to find out what the “ASBO Focus” offered for its third-generation.
However, we needn’t have been worried, as the initial impressions were positive when it came to how the Focus RS handled:
“Throw it into a corner and it simply grips, with layers of fine-tuned feedback fizzing through the steering wheel and awesome 4WD traction as it slingshots you away.”
Performance was also not in any doubt:
“And boy, is it fast. Use the Launch Control function – which holds the revs, then dumps the clutch for a full-bore getaway – and it literally thumps you in the back.”
It’s safe to say Tim came away suitably impressed, awarding it five stars, and cementing the Mk3 as fully deserving of the RS badge:
“Ford has kept us waiting a long time for this car, but it doesn’t disappoint. It’s something quite special, a genuinely five-star hot hatch that takes its place alongside the Fiesta ST, Escort Cosworth and other notable fast Fords in the pantheon of greats.”
- Unveiled at 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show, and 1,500 UK orders made within a month. First cars reach customers in Spring 2016, with prices starting at £29,995.
- August 2016: Official Ford Performance by Mountune upgrade announced. £899 dealer-fitted kit boosts power to 375hp, plus 376lb ft of torque.
- September 2017: RS Edition launched, priced at £35,795, featuring Nitrous Blue paintwork, matte black roof, and Recaro leather seats. A Quaife limited-slip differential is also standard.
- December 2017: 300 Race Red RS Edition models offered for sale. Mechanically similar to RS Edition, but prices now begin at £36,295.
- February 2018: Limited run of 50 Heritage Edition models to mark the end of Focus RS production. Painted in dramatic Deep Orange, with Mountune performance kit fitted as standard, along with Quaife differential. £39,895 for the ultimate Mk3 RS.
With a new regular Ford Focus just announced, a replacement for the RS will be deeper into the model cycle. RS versions have only appeared after the mid-life facelift for the past three generations of Focus models, although given the popularity of the outgoing car, Ford may well capitalise on demand sooner.
Less in doubt is that the Mk4 Focus RS will feature a hybrid powertrain, as Ford Performance has made a commitment to electrification. Expect a 48v mild-hybrid system in conjunction with the existing Ecoboost 2.0-litre petrol engine. A combined output of 400hp seems eminently possible.
After years of waiting and expectation, perhaps the greatest legacy of the Mk3 Focus RS was that it lived up to the hype. Magazines and websites had speculated on the specification and abilities of the Focus RS for so long that it seemed impossible for the car to actually deliver against the weight of conjecture. But it did.
It is also impossible to overlook how adding four-wheel-drive transformed the performance Focus. It made applying 350hp quicker and easier, offered up attention-grabbing options like Drift Mode, and gave the RS true all-weather ability. It also created a link to models like the Escort RS Cosworth, and to Ford’s WRC history.
The Mk3 RS was also important for being the first version to be sold globally in the same specification. For the first time, buyers in North America had access to the hottest Focus, and one sold with the same powertrain and performance as buyers in Europe and Australia. Not only did this make the Focus RS more sustainable thanks to a wider number of markets, it also helped spread the cult of fast Ford hatchbacks still further.
Specification: 2016 Ford Focus RS
- Price at launch: £29,995
- Engine: 2.3-litre petrol
- Gearbox: Six-speed manual
- Power: 350hp
- Torque: 347lb ft
- 0-62mph: 4.7 seconds
- Top speed: 165mph
- Fuel economy: 36.7mpg
- CO2 emissions: 175g/km