U.S.:First Drive: 2003 Ford Focus RS
Yo, SVT--we'd like this one, too
By Martin Buckley
Motor Trend, August 2003
Although SVT has recently given the U.S. market its own brand of hot hatch, Ford's RS (Rallye Sport) badge has a worldwide history that stretches to the early '70s, adorning a wide variety of small performance compacts and sedans. Its value became slightly tarnished in later years, as Ford stuck it on anything with boy-racer pretensions. Good news: The latest recipient of the RS moniker, the Focus, is truly deserving. Bad news: You can't buy one in America -- at least, not at the moment.
The stock Focus chassis has been one of Ford's best efforts for some time, yet the car has been thoroughly reengineered in RS form with 70 percent of its components uprated or redesigned. The vast spoilers and unseemly body kits that made the last-generation, Euro-market RS Escorts look so thuggish have been replaced by a subtly muscular stance that's sufficiently different from the standard car to let you know it means business.
Inside, you settle into the figure-hugging Sparco seats; the starter button, drilled pedals, and chunky aluminum gearshift knob add more racing flavor. The engine, Garrett turbocharged and good for 212 horsepower--an increase of 42 horses over the U.S.-spec SVT Focus--has a gruff, throaty edge that'll hit all the right notes with hard-core drivers. It goes strong from low revs, spearing forward through five gears as the blower spools up between 3500 and 6000 rpm. It feels urgent, spiky, and very fast. The Quaife differential copes admirably with the power, although torque is limited to 177 Ib-ft in first and second.
On a smooth road, there's only an occasional hint of torque steer. Resolute body control and a resistance to the lift-off oversteer that's normally the scourge of quick frontdrivers make the Focus seem hard edged, yet forgiving at the same time. Steering is sharp and accurate, the Brembo brakes effective and resilient. A bumpy surface will find the chinks in the RS' armor, however, and have you working hard as the ride deteriorates away from main roads.
The WRX/Evo phenom has proven that the rally-car-as-street-car formula works for American buyers. We suspect, or at least hope, that SVT chiefs are watching Focus--and Dodge SRT-10--sales, and in the event there's a business case for a step up (to 200-plus horsepower), the RS Focus is ready and able to fill the bill.
2003 Ford Focus RS
Price range $30,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, fwd, 2-door, 5-pass
Engine Turbocharged I-4, alum blk/hd, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displ, ci/cc 121.9 / 1998
Max hp @ rpm 212 @ 5500
Max torque @ rpm 229 @ 3500
Transmission 5-speed manual
0-60 mph, sec 6.0 (est)
On sale in U.S. To be determined
(Left photo)2003 Ford Focus RS
(Middle photo)Turbocharging gives the RS what the SVT Focus lacks--generous low-end torque.
(Right photo)Rally touches include a special steering wheel, turbo-boost gauge, upshift light, and engine starter button on the carbon-fiber center console.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....