The RS has an upgraded version of the 2.5-litre turbocharged engine found in the ST. It produces 305bhp, powering the car from 0-62mph in under six seconds. That may only be less than a second quicker than the much cheaper ST, but the RS makes up for it with incredible acceleration in higher gears. There's a huge amount of reserve power on tap that makes quick work out of overtaking and allows the RS to make fast progress on B-roads.
The way in which the RS delivers its power will please most drivers. There’s a wide band of power across the rev range, making quick acceleration possible without changing gear, though drivers who prefer to use the revs and change gear a lot more are also rewarded - not least with an exhaust that pops on downchanges. The top speed is 164mph.
The manner in which the Focus RS copes with 300bhp being fed through the front wheels is nothing short of an engineering triumph. It’s one of the most powerful front-wheel drive cars ever built and the first time it’s been achieved in a car of this size. Although, under heavy acceleration, it's possible to feel all that power being fed through the front wheels, it never feels unruly and is far from overwhelming.
Cornering is flat and there's little roll. To cope with all that power, the brakes are uprated with larger discs and there is ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist. The ride is very impressive. As you'd expect, it's firm when the car's being driven hard and passengers may find it uncomfortable, but at all other times it's a real surprise - as smooth at low speeds as any other Focus hatchback.
Around town, the RS can feel a bit of a handful as the steering is heavy and there's a wide turning circle, making hard work of parking and three-point turns.
The Recaro sports seat grips the driver in place when the car is being driven quickly, yet - unusually for a sports seat - offers plenty of back support so that it's also pain-free on longer motorway runs. Although there's seatbelt height adjustment, the seat is unadjustable (aside from backwards and forwards). This set-up is designed to suit most driver sizes and shapes.
The seat height can be changed if it's unsuitable, but it's a job that can only be done by a Ford dealer and requires the seat to be removed. The steering wheel is similar to that in the ST and adjusts for height and reach. It also has integrated controls for the stereo. The dials are easy to read on the move, with the turbo-boost, temperature and oil pressure gauges in a dash-mounted cowling that's angled toward the driver, while the switches are all user-friendly.
Forward visibility is good and the mirrors provide a clear rear view, but the rear wing and large sports seats restrict the view when reverse parking.
Whereas the standard Focus is a five-seater, the RS only seats four. There are just two belts in the back because of the Recaro-style rear sports seats. The RS can get noisy on the move too, especially if the driver is pushing the car hard, but that's not the case all the time. On the motorway, engine noise falls away and is much less noticeable, which means it's easy to hold a conversation.