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First Drive review: 2016 Ford Focus RS

At last, a job for the Cones Hotline gang

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2016 Ford Focus RS review by The Sunday Times Driving

2016 Ford Focus RS at a glance

  • Handling: ★★★★★
  • Comfort: ★★★★☆
  • Performance: ★★★★☆
  • Design: ★★★★☆
  • Interior: ★★★☆☆
  • Practicality: ★★★★☆
  • Costs: ★★★★★

Here comes the new Focus RS — the yobbed-up, full-bore version of Ford’s trusty hatch — and, just like that, sliding a car on purpose will never be the same again. Yes, two years of painstaking research and development and a consultation process that took on board the desires of Ken Block, US rally driver and self-labelled “Hoonigan” — the name of his racing team — have led us to this: a Drift mode.

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You too can be the Hoonigan you always knew yourself to be, the simple button by the handbrake seems to be saying, and maybe not end up in a hedge on your roof in the process.

Here, truly, is a groundbreaking moment in the history of going sideways, and understandably the need to mark it took me swiftly to Valencia, in Spain, and into a tarmac clearing, at the centre of which stood that mystic feature of the land that has beckoned Hoonigans since the dawn of time — a ring of cones.

The idea was to set the Focus RS gently circling within the cones at about 15mph and then, when the tyres were least expecting it, stuff the accelerator into the floor. At which point the car would start twirling like Darcey Bussell, but with a bigger engine, while the tyres screamed and the resulting smoke formed a low seam of acrid fog above the area, as after a battle re-enactment.

And that’s certainly how it was when other people did it, but I must confess that the outer limits of cone-circling on this particular morning proved counterintuitive for your correspondent. Drifting involves brazenly keeping your foot down while the world starts going past your windscreen in a flat spin and at least some part of any reasonable person’s faculties is surely crying: “Make it stop.”

First Drive review: 2016 Ford Focus RS

Accordingly, my attempts to out-Block Ken Block largely caused the car to turn no more viciously than a carousel at a steam fair. Woo and, indeed, hoo. You would say this much for my way of doing it, though: it spared the tyres, and someone has got to have a conscience about these things.

In any case, I hazard that the majority of Focus RS owners won’t have the access to a Michelin supply truck that makes going sideways on a frequent basis possible, and will probably be at least equally interested in going forwards and, when necessary, backwards.

Accordingly, it’s a pleasure to report that the Ford Performance team’s all-wheel-drive system with torque vectoring also yields tangible benefits in the conventional directions, cunningly combining, in tandem with the car’s manual gearbox, the reassuring road clasp of a four-wheel-drive system and the whippy, sporty attitude of a two-wheel-drive setup.

I know this because I took the car for a pleasurable blast through Spanish mountains while the petrol gauge swung towards empty like Tarzan through the trees. (It seems unlikely that a Focus RS in Sport mode will be setting any lasting records for distance travelled on a full tank.)

First Drive review: 2016 Ford Focus RS

In the Sport setting (and in Track mode) the four-cylinder 2.3-litre engine played an enlivening fugue of pops and bangs on the exhaust. The suspension was compliant and even potentially civilised. The car will cling tightly to bends and catapult you past unwanted obstructions — and do both these things while obligingly declining to shake your bones apart.

The plan seems to be for the Focus RS to be part of a rorty wake-up call for the entire Ford brand, around which familiarity has bred, if not contempt, a kind of fuzzy indifference. Clearly stung into action by frayed old gags about Mondeo Man, the company has given its new ad campaign the theme of discarding your preconceptions.

How wrong have our preconceptions been about Ford? No doubt we’ll all fall to confronting that question in our own ways in the coming months. This car is without question a massive step sideways for Ford. And, in the world of the Hoonigan, that’s progress.

2016 Ford Focus RS specifications
  • PRICE: £29,995
  • ENGINE: 2261cc, 4 cylinders, turbo
  • POWER: 345bhp @ 6000rpm
  • TORQUE: 346 lb ft @ 2000rpm
  • TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual, 4-wheel drive
  • ACCELERATION: 0-62mph: 4.7sec
  • TOP SPEED: 165mph
  • FUEL: 36.7mpg (combined)
  • CO2: 175g/km
  • ROAD TAX BAND: H (£295 for first year, £205 thereafter)
  • RELEASE DATE: On sale now

Buying Guide: Ford Focus RS MkI (2002-2003) and MkII (2009-2001)