When the need is raw speed
THE closest I’ve come to the World Rally Championships was at the Polana Hotel in Maputo more than 15 years ago.
We had completed an incredible six months travelling through the African bush, steering clear of cities when we could, choosing instead the romanticism of thatched villages and the night sky. The five-star Polana was a welcome oasis, a chance to wash off the dust and grab some rest in a real bed before setting off on the final leg back home to South Africa.
We arrived with scratched knees, bedraggled backpacks and dirty hair just in time to see competitors in the WRC whizzing past to their overnight destination close by.
Later at dinner in the hotel restaurant it was obvious that we were seated among some decidedly sporty types but to be honest, I was so consumed by my queen prawns and peri-peri sauce that I barely recognised Tommi Makinen at the bar.
But the lure of the championship itself has always held a fascination. It’s difficult not to give a nod of acknowledgement to a group of super-talented drivers showing off their prowess on surfaces ranging from gravel and tarmac to snow and ice in specially designed, well-honed machines.
Machines, it seems, that bear a close resemblance to the Ford Focus RS parked on my driveway last week.
This beast is made for the driving experience, not to stretch out in. The whoosh and roar of the engine when you switch it on tells you so.
But saying that the Recaro seats are quite comfortable provided you can get over the side bolsters and ignore the lack of seat boost adjustment.
Headroom in the front is pretty generous, less so in the back where limbs have to work hard to find a comfortable spot.
While the outside of the RS is breathtaking the inside is less inspiring with plastics dulling the sporty look enhanced by colourful stitching and chunky steering wheel. The boot is surprisingly big and coupled with the 60/40 split fold rear seat makes light work of storage needs.
On the road
From conception, this second generation Focus RS has reached for perfection with designers stretching every sinew to deliver the most unforgettable hot hatch in production.
That takes a lot of genius, a lot of courage and a lot of well, madness. But perhaps that’s exactly what you need to attempt running 224kW through just the front wheels.
Because Ford wanted every bit of that power to be usable they introduced the RevoKnuckle which is basically a new MacPherson strut design that gives you all the benefits of advanced multi-link systems without even more added expense. This is coupled with a Quaife LSD which does its bit to eliminate the dreaded torque steer and keep the car compliant. What this means is that this RS, unlike the Mk1, version will actually go where you point it and respond well to commands from the steering wheel.
The drive is an adrenalin rush, letting its hair loose at the slightest urging. The gearbox is smooth, clutch responsive and steering pretty well weighted. Corners, straights, hills – all become delightful obstacles in your own rally championship.
What do you get?
The RS may boast threads of a sports car but there is a Focus lurking underneath. You get Xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker sound system with USB inputs. There are rear parking sensors but no sat nav – although getting lost in this car is certainly no hardship. Safety features so important on a car of this type include front, side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS, EBD, traction control, brake assist and stability control.
This is quite a refined sector and primary competition comes from the VW Golf R ($48,490), Subaru WRX Sti ($59,990) and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo ($61,490).
It is hardly surprising to hear that this is no family car. We managed two car seats in the back but loading and unloading is no picnic in a sloping three-doorer even though the drive does make up for it. Visibility is great, storage is good (although the cupholders aren’t actually big enough to be useful) and the rush you get when you start her up is perhaps worth the price-tag.
This is a car that reminds you of your reckless youth, a time without kids, mortgage payments and the GFC.
If you don’t baulk at the $60,000 price-tag, the 12.3 litres you will need for every 100km is hardly going to raise an eyebrow. Comes with a three-year/100,000km warranty with servicing suggested at15,000km intervals.
The RS is available in just three colours - ultimate green, performance blue and frozen white. The giant front spoiler and substantial rear wing makes it impossible for the RS to blend into the crowd. It may say Focus on the badge but looks anything like one.
The 19-inch spoked alloys, large wheel arches, sizeable exhaust tips, snarling front grille and gaping air scoops make the RS a head-turner. It is easy to see why they call this a hot hatch.
Only 315 Focus RSes made it to Australia, no doubt into the waiting arms of expectant owners. There may still be a couple knocking about.
If you manage to get one, hold on for dear life.
Model: Ford Focus RS.
Details: Three-door front-wheel drive hot hatch.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Engine: 2.5-litre Duratec five-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 224kW @ 6500rpm and peak torque of 440Nm @ 2300-4500rpm.
Consumption: 12.3 litres/100km combined average.
Performance: 0-100km in 5.9 seconds.
Bottom line: $59,990.