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Ford's RS hooligan - driven

2009-05-14 07:56

JD van Zyl

So this is it then, one of the mostly hotly anticipated launches of this year. Meet Ford’s brutally powerful and wickedly quick 224-kW Focus RS beast. It might cost almost half that of a Porsche Cayman, but don’t expect Ford’s finest to let the Stuttgart stud inch ahead.

Despite its significantly smaller price tag, the RS matches the Porsche both for 0-100km/h dashes and maximum speed. And we've finally managed to get our hands on one, even if it had to be on British soil.

The latest from Ford’s Rallye Sport division is all pumped-up muscle. Widely flared wheel arches? Tick. Fake air vents? Tick. Wing to put a Scoobi STI to shame? Absolutely. And if you order it in the same BP-inspired “Kermit” green as our test car, you are guaranteed to stop traffic.

Judging by its exterior looks, the designers at Team RS were obviously inspired by Mikko Hirvonen’s World Rally Car when they pimped up the RS, it looks like it has just rolled in from a challenging Special Stage.

On the inside, the Recaro racing seats (colour-matched with the exterior) and splashes of aluminium add a slightly stylish sporty element, but don’t expect a uniquely designed interior. And it isn’t exactly classy. Much of the inside is shared with lesser Focus models including nasty grey plastic finishing. The fake carbon fibre dashboard (with turbo boost gauge taking prime position) has a distinct whiff of tacky to it.

Enough about how it looks, how does it drive?

Developed by the same stonking team that brought us the Focus ST, the RS brings a whole new bag of tricks to the table. Under its bonnet you will still find the same five cylinder 2.5-litre Volvo-derived mill that powers the ST, only the engineers have added a new intercooler, pistons, and cams and doubled the turbo boost. Did we mention this tuned-out mill now kicks out 58kW more than in the ST, totalling a meaty 224kW?

Tight purse strings meant the RS didn’t get all-wheel drive though (like the STI and Lancer Evolution X), so all that power is shoved directly to the front wheels. Madness? Frankly yes, but Ford has developed a trick diff and used some clever suspension technology to help the wheels cope with their immense task. It is called the RevoKnuckle and basically lets the RS’s MacPherson strut set-up perform more like a superior multi-link unit.

That doesn’t mean Ford has succeeded in completely ridding the RS of its torque steering tendencies. What did you expect with a fiery 224kW on the front wheels? Jump on the right pedal and although the latest RS won’t wrench the steering wheel out your hands like its predecessor did, there is a definite tugging under hard acceleration. On pockmarked roads it becomes increasingly hard to ignore.

Most RS fans will love this though, it’s part of the RS’s hyperactive personality. If you want a stately driving experience you can always get a Jaguar XF. For an undiluted and involving driving experience, you’ll be hard pressed to beat this Ford.
Steering is quick and precise and though the front-end is lively with all that power on the front wheels, the grip from its 19-inch Continentals is way more than you’d expect. Ford has also managed to strike a decent balance with the suspension set-up. It is firm enough that the RS slashes through challenging bends with perfect composure, but without rattling your teeth. On urban roads, and with a little less zeal from the right foot, it doesn’t feel all that different to its more docile siblings. I could easily imagine living with this hot hatch on a daily basis, mind.

And that beefy powerhouse? 

Acceleration is brutal, simply put. The RS rips from 0 to 100km/h in a blistering 5.9 seconds and on to a maximum top speed of 263km/h. Wind your window down and you will be treated to all the pops and whistles you can handle as the turbo and dump valves are put through their paces.

To make sure it leaves the ST behind in its dust, Team RS has added a much larger Borg Warner K16 turbo with a maximum boost pressure of 1.4 bar, double that of the Focus ST’s 0.7 bar. And with 440Nm of torque available across much of the rev range, it just keeps pushing.

Ford has limited the amount of torque available in first gear though (to prevent the transmission from going up in smoke), but drop it into second and the big green RS machine turns into a freak of nature that doesn’t let up even once you are well outside the legal speed limit.

So it’s all thumbs-up then?

Well yes. As long as you keep your eyes fixed on the turbo and speedo dials and not your petrol guage. This is one thirsty beast. And with CO2 emissions of 225g/km the only thing green about the RS is its “Ultimate Green” paint option.

Ford claims a combined consumption of 9.4 litre/100km; in reality we managed a figure closer to a guzzling 16 liter/100km. That’s worse than a thoroughbred supercar like an Audi R8 V10! The driving was admittedly, erm, spirited, but you will definitely need some extra padding for your wallet to soften that kind of fuel bills.

It is a good thing then that Ford has priced the RS so competitively. In the UK Ford’s hottest wheels will set you back £25 740 (roughly R335 000), slotting in neatly beneath the Subaru WRX STI and significantly cheaper than the Lancer Evolution X. To simplify the purchasing process the RS is only available in four colours – Electric Orange, Frozen White and Performance Blue. But nothing says RS better than the toxic Ultimate Green.

Unfortunately there aren’t any plans to bring the RS to South Africa at the moment, especially not with the economy being what it is.


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