When was the last time you truly felt alive? Today more than ever, it is perhaps the experiences we have – and the moments when we feel a sense of risk, jeopardy, fear, exhilaration or just sheer joy – that make us truly wide-eyed.
Which brings us to the Focus RS. Britain’s favourite family hatchback. Into which some engineers have dropped a 350bhp, 2.3-liter Ecoboost engine. And yep, it’s bonkers – just thinking about it makes our hearts beat faster. For driving a Focus RS, hard, is not an experience you forget in a hurry.
Ford Focus RS review: Nothing ‘Normal’ here
It begins the moment we get in. The RS feels like a very physical car. We drop onto deeply sculpted Recaro bucket seats. They’re set too high (why can’t Ford get this simple thing right?) but grip hard and tight.
Belt on, we thumb the Ford Power starter and the Ecoboost chunters to life with the exhaust spitting out a small pop to hint at what’s to come. A prod of the drive mode selector, we toggle between Normal, Sport, Race and Drift.
We start in Normal. Having moved off, there’s a physicality about the RS’s controls that leave us in no doubt this is going to be an engaging drive. The clutch is heavy by modern standards; the steering too. It’s no truck, but nor is it the floppy “is it connected?” everyday hatch driving experience.
We set off across the car park and the RS feels like it’s on a leash. Out under the barrier, a prod of the throttle sees the little blue needle in the centre of the tri-gauge dash-top pod arcs across the gauge as the turbo comes to life. It already feels fast.
The very precise gear change – which is positive, but without the machined precision of a Honda – stands out. It’s physical, but without the arm-aching weight qualities of some. It’s a manual, just in case you needed to ask, and it’s a precise thing to use.
The ride feels firm, yet not unyielding. Later, on East Yorkshire’s crumbling B-roads, it refuses to lose its composure. The Focus RS is analogue in a world of increasingly automated, digital machines.
Ford Focus RS review: Sizzling in ‘Sport’
Now we select Sport mode, bury the throttle on a motorway slip and the Focus just digs in and explodes forward, ripping past ponderous, inside lane bumblers. No wheel spin, no drama – thank the standard four-wheel drive – with just the slight, offbeat warble of the 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine.
It sounds more cultured than an four-cylinder has a right to. It remains largely impervious to turbo-lag. The four driven wheels is a Focus RS first – but in some regards a return to the motorsport arms’ historic roots. Remember the Escort and Sierra Cosworth? There’s a red thread linking them to modern Focus RS somewhere in here.
One junction on the motorway is all we need before we roll off, onto meandering, well-sighted and empty B-road driving nirvana. Past the de-restriction sign, down into second gear and pin the throttle… Boom.
We’re not sure we were prepared for what came next: the Focus hurls itself towards the horizon, second gear sees us nearly all the way to the legal limit, and approaching the rev limiter we change gear and an artillery fire of noise erupts from the twin exhausts on the overrun, scattering the local wildlife.
Bumps in the road bring bucking, and that hunting, weaving sensation from the front axle is telegraphed precisely through the steering wheel. It’s not torque steer, just that the car feels so taut it hunts out road cambers and darts this way and that.
It sounds horrible, but by this point we’re smiling, laughing as we grip the steering wheel harder, approach the corner, dipping onto the powerful breaks and then throwing the Focus at it, at a seemingly ludicrous speed, only for it to track obediently round.
Overdo it, and the RS moves into a slight four-wheel drift. Engage the vaunted drift mode and it’ll hang it’s arse out for England, yet keep you out of the undergrowth. Every down change and every up change through the gearbox accompanied by that army of exhaust noise.
This is an adjustable, tactile, egg-you-on sort of car.
Ford Focus RS review: Small gripes and sensibilities
Ten miles down the road we stop to take some photos. And change our underwear. We hear the car tick and ping as it cools.
But upon getting back in we can’t help feel this interior is showing its shortcomings. The Sync touchscreen is difficult to reach in its high-mounted dash position. The list of small gripes runs deep.
But that’s all but forgiven when dipping that throttle again. We turn the Focus around and drive our B-road all over again. And then again.
With a price from £31,000 (hitting £34,342 as tested, including £1,145 of the race style RS Recaro Shell seats and £465 of Sync2 Sat Nav) the Focus RS is a lot of cash for an everyday family car. But, in the same breath, there’s nothing family nor everyday about this hatch.
The Focus RS might look like it’s been driven through a Demon Tweeks catalogue – it even possess an image those of us over 30 will feel just a tad uncomfortable with – but for that one mega drive, and for embarrassing Porsche Caymans and BMW M2s, the Focus RS really is the one.
It’s a car that’s achieved that rare thing: to make us feel truly alive.