Five minutes with the Ford Focus RS

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What is it?

A Ford Focus RS, the third iteration of the Blue Oval’s ultimate performance hatchback.

The first generation was built from 2002 to 2003 and only 4,501 examples of it were made, making it a collector’s piece today, while the MkII RS was one of the most powerful hot hatches of its era, launching with 305hp in 2007 and later upgraded to 350hp for the RS500 limited edition. However, both previous RS Focuses were front-wheel drive only.

Why are you driving it?

Because the MkIII RS is now four-wheel drive, like a legendary fast Ford of the past: the Escort RS Cosworth. Powered by a turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine making 350hp, that means the Ford is in a league where it competes with expensive German hyperhatches like the Audi RS3 (from £39,620) and the Mercedes-AMG A45 (from £39,995). Yet the RS can be bought for as little as £31,250.

What do you like about it?

Everything. Absolutely everything; we adore this car.

Ford has a long history of producing dynamically well-sorted machines and the current Focus RS could be the very best of the lot.

It has delightful steering, rock-solid body control, a monster engine and enormous all-weather grip, provided by the rear-biased four-wheel drive that makes it so entertaining to chuck about on your favourite back roads.

Yet, as it features adjustable dampers and drive modes – as well as five doors, five seats and a decent boot – it can potter to the shops in relative comfort just like any regular Ford Focus. It’s a marvellous car in all respects.

Any issues?

Well, some people don’t like the rather extrovert looks – although this generation is more sedate to behold than the wild MkII RS – and in our test example, optioned up to nearly £36,000, the absolutely beautiful RS sports bucket seats are mounted too high, making you feel perched above the car rather than hunkered down in it.

Also, the Focus cabin is a bit plain and, save for some blue stitching and a different steering wheel, the RS interior isn’t much different to the rest of the range.

What’s it like as a business vehicle – are there any tax benefits?

This is not the RS Focus’ forte, to be honest.

It’s not particularly cheap on the road licence front, costing £720 in VED for the first three years if you register it before road tax laws change on April 1, and rising to £1,080 for 36 months after that.

It’s also in the 32% Benefit-in-Kind company car tax bracket, so it’s not going to be a common sight on fleet buyers’ lists.

Where does it rank in class right now?

It’s top of it, obliterating the Audi, Mercedes-AMG and Volkswagen (in the form of the magnificent Golf R) opposition by being cheaper than all of them, practically as quick as any of these rivals and yet far, far more engaging to drive than the competition.

And if we admit that the Focus RS is the greatest hyperhatch of them all, then surely it’s better than all the lesser-powered hot hatches that you can find elsewhere in the market?

Making it, potentially, one of the finest performance hatchbacks of all time. Buy one now, before emissions legislation kills off thoroughly sparkling cars like this for good.