The 2016 Ford Focus RS on test for Changing Lanes!
The 2016 Ford Focus RS on test for Changing Lanes!

This week I’m revisiting my review of the Ford Focus RS. Back in 2017, the angels sang Hallelujah with pops and bangs to herald the arrival of the then new Ford Focus RS in my test schedule. To say I was happy is an understatement. I was THRILLED. I couldn’t think of much else in the weeks coming up to our rendez-vous with bells on.

I was still relatively new to test driving cars and I had just entered my third year with Changing Lanes. The blog had enjoyed a breakout year and now I was riding the crest of a wave where everything I touched turned to motoring gold – cars, press launches, long lunches, and branded biros (lots of them!). I had hit my stride and the cars were coming thick and fast-er. I was typing reviews from dawn to dusk, learning how to take a half decent photo of a car, and expanding every day. I was LOVING it.

Just like those first flushes of love, in the weeks leading up to my date with the new Ford Focus RS, I couldn’t eat without butterflies doing somersaults in my digestive system to the tune of ‘Holiday’ by Madonna. In some ways it was testament to the killer teaser campaign Ford Europe launched in the build up to the arrival of the Focus RS in Europe. It was well played, drip feeding the motoring press with little details, images and videos to whet the appetite and work us all (me) into a frenzy. So much so, that by the time the car did arrive in Ireland, the Focus RS had legend status. Whispers circulated, how good is it, is it really that good? Could it be as good as those early press reviews that were emphatically positive? Really?

Embossed wing of the Ford Focus RS Mk3
Embossed wing of the Ford Focus RS Mk3

But I always make my own mind up about a car thank you very much. I waited patiently for my turn. By the time I got the Ford Focus RS, it had been through the hands of many. It had been drifted, launched, revved to the red line, and all those other things you’d love to do to a Focus RS if you got the keys to it for a week. I know.

The Ford Focus RS was one of the most anticipated new cars of recent years and finally arrived in Ireland in 2016. Developed by a small team of Ford Performance engineers in Europe and the U.S., it was the 30th car to wear the legendary RS badge. It continued Ford’s tradition for high performance road cars heroically, with plenty to justify its ultimate hot hatchback status. Headline features included a sophisticated all wheel drive system and an industry-first ‘drift mode’.

It would be the last halo product of the Ford Focus Mark 3. This car would reach the end of production in 2018 just as a new generation of the Ford Focus was about to receive its European debut. Now looking back, I can see that the 2016 Ford Focus RS was a beautiful swansong. In 2020, it has been widely reported that there will be no new Mark 4 Focus RS.

The 2016 Ford Focus RS has a modified exterior design with a unique front end that features a bold upper trapezoidal grille above a deep front splitter. At the rear, a large diffuser houses twin round high-performance exhaust pipes and, in Europe and Asia, a clear central fog lamp.  The rear roof spoiler is carefully integrated with the car’s silhouette through body-coloured side panels featuring an embossed RS logo. Sigh. Nitrous Oxide was the signature colour, a bright blue with sparkly texture when viewed up close. Unmissable, unmistakable though the RS was also available in some more conservative colours like Stealth Grey, Shadow Black, Magnetic Grey and Frozen White. Wheels were multi-spoke 19-inch RS alloy.

The interior of the 2016 Ford Focus RS
The interior of the 2016 Ford Focus RS

Inside the Ford Focus RS is disappointing. Aside from some super sporty Recaro bucket seats, it is a standard Focus interior except for a few logos and ‘blue bits’. Of course, you would be pretty dim to think you were driving a 1.0-litre EcoBoost Zetec on start up. But in fairness there wasn’t much apparel in here to tell you otherwise.

Under the bonnet, the Ford Focus RS shares a 2.3-litre EcoBoost turbo petrol engine with the new generation Ford Mustang. Here it’s tuned to produce 350 hp and 440 Nm of torque, putting awesome power to the road via a 6-speed manual gearbox. It was the fastest ever RS model, sprinting from 0-100 km/h in 4.7 seconds and hitting a top speed of 266 km/h. It had the most powerful brake system ever fitted to an RS model, with 350 mm ventilated front discs and aluminium Brembo four-piston monoblock callipers, finished in RS blue. All wheel drive with dynamic torque vectoring came as standard, with a dramatic impact on handling and cornering stability.

So, on the road the Ford Focus RS feels refreshingly mechanical and tactile for a modern hot hatchback. Alive and in touch with the driving experience, little small movements on the steering wheel make you feel like a master of your own destiny, just as you slip around another corner at lightning speed. The downside is a very firm ride that just jostles and jostles and jostles, incessantly. Not so bad on short commutes but on the motorway, it could be highly irritating. The Focus RS just isn’t interested in bringing you to the shops comfortably. It wants to hit the track. Quick.

Pop, pop, bang, bang, brrp, brrp
Pop, pop, bang, bang, brrp, brrp

Then there is the soundtrack. Every journey is like a performance. Special attention was made in development to make it entertain. I never heard such pops, bangs and burbles from a modern hot hatchback. It is addictive and highly juvenile. You can play your Ford Focus RS like an instrument.

The third generation Ford Focus RS is also the first RS to offer drive modes, with ‘Drift Mode’ being so anti-social that in some territories people wanted it banned. Banned! Launch control also features accompanied by an irate, grizzly popping from the exhaust before the car takes off like an excited bee. Despite the annoying, jostle ride and boring interior you couldn’t credit how magnificently engineered this car is. This car is an icon and will go down in history as one of the greatest hot hatchbacks of all time. A car to dream of driving. I drove it and I still dream of it.

Ford Focus RS: a car to dream of driving
Ford Focus RS: a car to dream of driving

By Caroline Kidd

Model tested: Ford Focus RS
Price new in 2017: 
Engine: 2.3-litre turbo petrol
350 hp
Torque: 440 Nm
4.7 seconds
Top speed: 266 km/h
36.7 mpg
CO2 emissions:  
Motor tax: 
€750 per year