Hot hatch farewell: final Ford Focus RS put to the test
FORD'S flagship hot hatch, the Focus RS, has come in for a final tweak as it nears the end of the German production line. Just 500 examples of the limited edition RS are heading to Australia.
If history is a guide, once they're gone there will be vacant space in Ford showrooms for at least another five years before the next-generation Focus RS arrives.
That may be one reason the price has risen by a whopping $6000 - more than 10 per cent - from $50,990 plus on-roads to $56,990. Ford is in no rush to sell them.
Another reason for the price hike is extra equipment such as lightweight alloy wheels, stickier and wider Michelin tyres, limited-slip front differential and even more aggressively bolstered racing-style seats.
Trainspotters will also note the black mirror caps, roof and end plates on the rear wing and the RS logos in the centre caps of the wheels.
Automatic emergency braking - which can slam on the brakes at suburban speeds if the driver is not paying attention - is also now standard.
Ford will no longer import the regular Focus RS, so it's this new expensive limited edition - exclusively in bright blue - or none at all.
There's no more power from the 2.3-litre turbo (257kW/440Nm) and the claimed 0-100km/h time is, as before, 4.7 seconds. In an earlier road test we couldn't match this even when using launch control. Not wishing to fry the clutch, we did no better than 5.2 secs.
The Focus RS is more about how the car feels once on the move. In second and third gear the acceleration is brutal, with gear changes announced by a crackle from the exhaust.
Ford engineers had to add the aural enhancement. The fireworks use a smidgen of extra fuel, though the RS is a thirsty machine anyway.
The extra weight of the all-wheel drive hardware and the physics involved in getting a smallish engine to move a 1575kg car means you get V8-like economy when you exploit the V8-like performance.
Owners clearly don't mind - they see it as the cost of doing business. More than 1000 examples of the Focus RS have been sold locally over the past 12 months.
So, can you feel the difference with the stickier tyres and the mechanical front diff?
It's hard to pick, in part because track conditions changed from dry to wet as we switched from the regular Focus RS to the limited edition during the media preview drive this week.
Ford fitted data loggers to illustrate how the RS LE "clawed" out of corners better and the supporting graphs showed this, albeit with scant differences. We'll take their word for it.
What difference these changes make in the daily grind, however, remains to be seen.
Our experience with the RS in a road test last year revealed the suspension was stiff even on soft settings and a relatively smooth road.
The track exercise this week revealed something that may come as a shock to fan boys: the car had more grip on the motor racing circuit in "normal" soft suspension mode than it did in the stiffer "track" mode.
The softer suspension setting allowed the car to better transfer its weight to the corner that needed it most, rather than turning into a stiff sled that wanted to skate wide.
For those who prefer to be pampered, the $43,000 front-drive 2.0-litre turbo Focus ST is still a relative bargain. It matches the Golf GTI for pace and poise, even if it lacks some of the VW's overall presentation and polish.
Ford says the Focus ST will remain in production for most of next year after the RS is retired.
AT A GLANCE: FORD FOCUS RS LE
PRICE: $56,990 plus on-road costs (expensive)
WARRANTY/SERVICE: 3 years/100,000km (average), 12 month/15,000km intervals (good), routine servicing $1125 over 3 years (good)
ENGINE: 2.3-litre four-cylinder, 257kW/440Nm (good)
SAFETY: Four airbags, rear camera, AEB (no ANCAP star rating)
THIRST: 8.1L/100km (optimistic)
SPARE: Inflator kit (not ideal)
BOOT: 316 litres (small)
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling