What’s bright green, has a gloss black front air dam and splitter, rear diffuser and dominant rear spoiler? No, not a Porsche GT3 RS, but a performance car almost as rare in South Africa, the Ford Focus RS.
It’s taken Ford South Africa the good part of a year to bring the car to SA. The reason is because the car has been so well received in the UK, one of Ford’s top markets, that they’ve battled to find 60 cars to send our way. However, they have arrived and I headed to Zwartkops Raceway just outside Pretoria to sample the car in, what became apparent as, its natural habitat.
Before I tell you how well it goes though, and it does go very well, it’s important to know that the Focus RS is not simply a Focus ST with a body kit and larger turbo. After all, as Dean Stoneley, Ford SA’s new vice president of marketing and sales, said “The RS is hallowed ground for Ford, we won’t just put this badge on anything.”
Yes, the turbo is bigger (a Borg Warner K16 unit) and supplies 1.4 bar of boost pressure to the ST’s 0.7. And yes, it does have a bodykit with added ventilation and aerodynamic aids, but the Focus RS has been the subject of intense scrutiny by Ford engineers in the pursuit of creating a car with the power and handling to deliver a thrilling driving experience.
First up, the chassis. Looking at the car, the most obvious change to that of the ST is the 40 mm wider track and 20 mm lower ride height, which means the flared wheel arches are stuffed full by the 19-inch 235/35 profile Continental tyres. Under the skin though, the engineers have a made a number of changes to ensure the Focus RS has inherent mechanical grip without the need for assistance from electronics.
At each corner, Focus RS is set up with stiffer springs and higher spring rates, with rear spring rates increased 40%, versus Focus ST. These are matched to thicker and longer, 24 mm anti-roll bars, to further aid stability. The steering has also been made slightly sharper, with a ratio 10% quicker than the ST (13.2:1).
However, it’s the front suspension and drivetrain that have received special attention, as their role is critical in the success of delivering the huge torque generated by the most powerful front-wheel drive production car available. Initially Ford had developed a four-wheel drive prototype RS, but found the car lacked the agility they were looking for and consequently weighed more, cost more and drank more fuel. So the RS development team (officially known as Team RS) turned to their World Rally Championship (WRC) colleagues, who, after competing with the Ford Focus in the WRC since 2005, had learnt a thing or two.
The result is the RevoKnuckle system, which is an adaptation of the otherwise traditional MacPherson strut front suspension layout. Without launching into a PowerPoint presentation with diagrams and a laser pointer, Team RS has managed to eliminate torque steer significantly by reducing the critical distance – known as the ‘king-pin offset’ – between the centre of the front wheels and the steering axis line. At the end of the day – in conjunction with the Quaife limited-slip differential – the system allows the power to be introduced sooner when exiting a corner and ensures the car follows your steering inputs rather than road imperfections under hard straight-line acceleration.
The final key ingredient is the 2.5-litre engine. Once again, Team RS invested many hours in developing a powerful and reliable engine and although it’s based on the Focus ST’s engine block, the modifications have been extensive enough to warrant a new engine name – the ‘RS Duratec’. As such, the RS Duratec features a revised cylinder head gasket, metal sprayed cylinder bores, revised pistons and a bespoke camshaft profile and connecting rods, allowing bigger small end bearings. In addition, a new air intake system, exhaust manifold and turbocharger, which all together serve to produce a potent 224 kW at 6 500 r/min and 440 Nm of torque between 2 300 r/min and 4 500 r/min. The Focus RS is endowed with a 5.9 second 0 – 100 km/h sprint and a 263 km/h top speed, both of which seem entirely believable based on my first driving impressions at the launch.
Exiting the pit lane at Zwartkops, the off-beat 5-cylinder engine rumbles eagerly as I headed for turn 2, the hairpin. Being the slowest corner on the track, opting to use 2nd gear would not be out of place, however, left in 3rd the RS’s torque rockets the car out the other side and onto the straight. As the revs rise, very quickly I might add, a loud whoosh begins to develop as the turbocharger begins forcing all the air it can down the RS’s gullet. Snatching 4th gear before sweeping to the right and through turn 3, the power continues unabated and the engine really comes on song with the accelerator pegged firmly to the floor. Braking hard for turn 4 at the end of the back ‘straight’ the RS gets a little light at the rear, but I turn in, unphased, and revel in the grip and balance of chassis. Up the hill to the tight right-hander the RS pulls strongly in 4th gear, with complete disregard for the incline. The car’s poise is once again evident in the change of direction on the exit of turn 6 and through the left-hand kink. With the rev needle pointing skywards in 4th, the 336 mm ventilated front discs – supported by 302 mm units at the rear – slow the wheels quickly at the bottom of the hill, before it’s back on the gas and down the start/finish straight for another hit of endorphins.
It’s a blast on the track, somewhere most owners will, and should, spend plenty of time with the car. Ford claim the RS will perform admirably over the imperfections of our local roads too. If the comfortable and grippy Recaro sport seats are anything to go by, I suspect it might, but that conclusion will be made another time, as track time with the RS was over all too soon. To Ford’s credit though, enough would never have been enough and I’d still be out there lapping Zwartkops with a huge smile on my face if I had the chance.
There is some not-so-good news though, news that might wipe the smile off your face if you are planning to buy one. It’s a sad fact for many that all 60 cars have already been sold, with no further plans to import more says Ford SA. However, those that placed orders quickly have dished out R479 000 for the privilege of owning the hottest hot hatch on SA’s roads.