The term ‘pocket rocket’ gets thrown around a lot by car reviewers. Maybe that’s suitable for your mum’s 2001 Golf GTI, but my intuition tells me that 257kw of throaty, growling, aggressive Ford engineering isn’t going to fit in your pocket. This car was made for the track, so we took it to its rightful home and let it run free across the bitumen plains.
Blowing the boring Monday stereotype to pieces, we made the pilgrimage west to Sydney Motorsport Park to put Ford Australia’s insane hyper hatch range through its paces. The day was broken up into two parts; full track laps and time on the skid pan. This gave us a taste of each of the cars’ devilish strengths.
The range’s flagship vehicle, the Focus RS, was on show for the day, although (for the first time since its release mid last year) was overshadowed by its flashier, cooler older brother: the up-specced RS Limited Edition.
We were excited to give Australia’s quickest four cylinder manual car a burn around the circuit, but exercised patience and opted to make our way up the range successively in order to gain perspective. We started with the Focus Sport, the entry-level sport spec model. The Sport facilitated a few warm-up laps to familiarise ourselves with the bends and talk tactics with our co-pilot. The speed isn’t much to write home about, but certainly offered a small kick in the right places.
After an amicable five laps we graduated to the Focus ST, which upscaled the fun considerably via its 184kw 2.0 litre GTDi EcoBoost engine. Although still front wheel drive, the Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 2 tyres provided increased grip despite some understeer in the corners. The ST was noticeably quicker on the straights and still had us pressed into the back of the Recaro sports seats when we asked for more power.
Moving to the RS was joyous and I was looking forward to teaching the track some respect. From a few gurgling revs in the pits I knew things were going to get wild. Not surprisingly, the 257kw 2.3 litre engine made itself apparent early. For perspective, the RS races from 0 to 100 km/h in around 4.6 seconds. When put on the track, this converted to a hasty exit from even the slowest of corners.
The all-wheel drive system and bigger wheels (boasting Michelin Pilot Super Sports tyres this time) provided incredible grip when needed, although oversteer still came into play when too aggressive. The front and rear Brembo brakes kept me off the guard rail successfully and were responsive. The engine on this car genuinely sounds great, with its custom backfire appearing on high-rev gear changes making for pleasant listening.
A minor negative was the acceleration on the straight in 5th gear around 160 km/h, which I felt was slightly underwhelming. We still cracked around 200 km/h, although I’m sure the more experienced of the field achieved higher.
The RS Limited Edition
With lap times falling everywhere we moved onto the well-touted RS Limited Edition. The striking ‘Nitrous Blue’ finish is mandatory and matches the new lining on the Recaro bucket seats. Other differences between the Limited Edition and the standard RS are: a standard performance wheel package comprising forged-alloy 19-inch black rims fitted with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres; privacy glass; an “RS” embossed roof spoiler; a black finish on side mirror caps and the roof; and autonomous emergency braking.
The biggest upgrade, however, is the Quaife mechanical, helical-gear limited-slip differential designed to make the Limited Edition even quicker through corners. Mechanically, I’m not sure what that exactly means but I certainly felt it on the track – oversteer was minimal as the blue machine stuck to the road like a clingy girlfriend.
Aesthetics aside, the technical improvements of the Limited Edition are evident in the graph below. The blue and red line represent the standard and Limited Edition, respectively. The new breed is seen to smoke the former for speed whilst in the corner and exiting.
The Skid Pan
For the second part of the day helmets were off and it was on to the skid pan. This was an opportunity to give Ford’s Easter egg of the decade a test – the RS’ ‘drift mode’. As you can guess, this sends more power to the rear wheels for no reason other than to have fun. We got ridiculously sideways and let the RS frolic in the shallows, throwing the back out around a tight circuit of witch’s hats. The grip on the front wheels occasionally inhibited lateral movement but it wasn’t anything some pressure on the throttle couldn’t fix.
The clinch of the Limited Edition is the $6,000 price hike from the standard $50,990 RS. On paper, the sum of the individual upgrades does come out to more but the true value proposition is really in the eye of the beholder. Exclusivity also plays a part since there will only be 500 Limited Edition models released in Australia. Head over to Ford Australia for more info on all cars in the range and stay tuned for our follow up article reviewing the RS / RS Limited Edition off the track.
Images courtesy of Ford Australia.