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Highly tuned Focus RS gets motorsport-grade personality and an extreme turn of pace

by Richard Lane, 10 March 2020

What is it?
Mountune’s M520 belongs back in time, when no-name electric cars with 2000bhp didn’t show up out of nowhere and we thought supercars making barely one-third of that were pushing the boundaries of what normal humans could handle. If you want a date, try March 2000, which was the month Porsche showed a concept version of the Carrera GT in Geneva.

This is the era you need to mentally revisit to fully appreciate such an outrageous take on the Ford Focus RS. We’ve become worryingly immune to big numbers, so let's be clear: 513bhp is an unhinged degree of power for a C-segment hatchback, and has been achieved by the company that, while Porsche was formulating its V10 supercar, was supplying four-cylinder turbo engines for the works Focus WRC cars of Sainz and McRae.

The M520 also uses a four-cylinder turbo engine, though one based on the 2.3-litre Ecoboost that still serves in the latest Focus ST. Following the M375 and M400r kits, the M520 is the most thorough reworking of the package yet. Mountune fits a new BorgWarner turbocharger with low-friction ceramic bearings and a low-inertia turbine.

There are then upgraded camshafts and valvetrains, a more powerful fuel pump and a host of new gaskets, hoses, studs and nuts. Any car due for conversion also needs, as a prerequisite, to use Mountune’s own intercooler and air-intake, big-bore exhaust and forged engine internals, to take the strain.

Elsewhere, the front driveshafts have been beefed up and there’s a Quaife torque-biasing differential to replace Ford’s open differential. Interestingly, the rear axle, which in the standard Focus RS is never asked to cope with more than 240bhp of the engine’s 345bhp total, has been left untouched.

From scratch it all costs around £15,000, but the promise of Nissan GTR-troubling performance with Mountune’s trademark drivability (not every member of the household wants 300bhp per tonne) has meant no shortage of orders.

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What's it like?
The car feels experimental and illicit, which will scare many people away but should also secure it massive appeal among the hardy few.

And yet ominously little happens below 2600rpm, when the car is mild-mannered except for some pronounced driveline shunt if you don't properly finesse gearshifts. On Michelin Cup 2 tyres and with lightly revised suspension geometries, it also steers genuinely well: still slightly too elastic in its action but responsive, feelsome and with an authentic heft missing from the set-up in the latest Focus ST.

This 35,000-mile development is fitted with two-way KW adjustable dampers, which aren't included in the kit but are worth having. They give the M520 the same solid but supple brand of body control found in the BMW M2 Competition, even if the front axle now needs a very firm hand on cambered or rutted roads. Meanwhile, fuel economy varies between 30mpg when you’re cruising off-boost to as little as 8mpg for cross-country blasts.

But what blasts they are. At around 2800rpm the torque curve spikes violently as the turbo wakes up and piles on 250lb ft in the space of 1000rpm. The acute torque-steer that follows is a candid reminder that the throttle pedal goes both ways, though if you keep your cool you’ll find the M520 never drags you screaming into a hedge, no matter how real the threat at first may seem.

Even on a perfectly smooth, straight and dry road, you can spin up all four wheels if you give it everything in fourth gear, and frankly the car seems as though it’d be happiest with all the electronic aids switched off, wheels constantly over-rotating and McRae himself at the helm. Do get it properly hooked up, however, and you’ll accumulate speed in a way that makes a VW Golf R feel completely pedestrian as the scenery begins to melt.

And once you have become accustomed to the explosive torque delivery, and you trust the chassis to just about cope with the onslaught, you can start to savour the experience. After all, here we have a four-wheel-drive car with a manual ’box and a heavily boosted engine that doesn’t suffer from obvious lag. It's not hard to see the appeal, and the whooshes and hisses up front combined with an exhaust that does a respectable imitation of an anti-lag system when you're off the throttle gives the M520 Audi R8 levels of theatre, if not more.

It’s a car that needs to be learned and respected, one more often thrilling to drive fast than enjoyable, and one that can slide neatly but misbehaves often. It’s flawed but, for the fast-Ford diehards who’ve been waiting for a spiritual successor to the Escort Cosworth, the M520 is probably that car.

Personally, I'd like to try Mountune’s M400r, which doesn’t go so far as the new engine internals of the M520 but is still riotously quick, costs less and allows the chassis to even up the scales. Despite the appalling turning circle it brings, I’d also fit the firmer, lowered KW suspension. The car’s weight demands it, and the rear axle is duly more planted – and playful – than with the standard hardware.

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Should I buy one?
Only you can answer that. If you're hunting for the most thrilling Focus RS sensible money can buy, you'll find the M520's duality impressive. The powertrain's docile persona when the turbo isn't lit makes the car no less usable than the standard Focus RS in normal driving, which is nothing short of amazing when you consider how switched on the driver needs to be when 500bhp and 500lb ft is flowing.

Others will look at the total price – which is a minimum of £37,000, even if you find a second-hand donor car – and rightly start to wonder about an old Mitusbishi Evo IX or similar. Both cars share the same Group A vibes but in the older car you'd trade some interior quality, rolling refinement and mod-cons for similar point-to-point pace to the M520, greater pedigree and sweeter, less front-biased handling. Elsewhere, the new Mercedes-AMG A45 S is a fair bit more expensive and comparatively light on charisma.

If it has to be Ford, and a special Focus RS at that, Litchifeld’s more subtle, 410bhp effort is also worth a look.

Ford Focus RS Mountune M520 specification

Where: Essex, Upgrade price: £15,000 (est), On sale Now Engine 4 cyls in line, 2261cc,
turbocharged, petrol, Power: 513bhp at 5550rpm, Torque: 516lb ft at 4000-4700rpm, Gearbox 6-spd manual, Kerb weight: 1599kg Top speed: 175mph (est) 0-62mph 4.0sec (est) Economy na CO2 na Rivals Mercedes-AMG A45 S, BMW M2 Competition

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DONT DO IT

The only car this M520 actually works on is the mountune demo car all customers are up in outrage as it burns oil, won’t cold start and your lucky if it makes 480.
One customer was that disappointed after make repeated trips to mountune for them to sort over weeks and they couldn’t. He has now binned the M520 map (well 480) and Had a new map done by Sabre and all the issues have been sorted and power is now 530.

Mountune USA MRX big turbo mod advocate using Syvecs UK have tried to use the COBB and failed..........Badly
 

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They are still selling it with all the issues still their, as a fit only which is ridiculous as it’s TOTALLY CRAP.
 

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Okay, i was just told otherwise on phone 2 weeks ago.
But to be honest, i find it hard to believe, a reputated company like Mountune, would keep selling stuff that would make your car not working. Just saying.
 

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They Have had bad feed back since the they sold the very first M520 to a paying customer, but they carried on selling them regardless.
I personally think Mountune UK peaked at the Mk2 Focus RS and the Mk3 Has been a let down bit time

this is a Screen shot from another RS site

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I recognize what you are saying, but i have heard of two cases, about errors with Mountune M520. Thats not a lot i think.
In your picture there is also bad talk about M380 and M400, i've had M380 for 2 years (now i have M400), and i know others with M380, and no problems ever.

I have no reasons not to believe you, but the story just doesnt match with my experiences.
 

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@Randy What's your take on this mate??

I know you are Mountune USA....but surely you would of heard if their were a lot of issues/bad reviews
 

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All the hardware is good apart from the oil cooler a number are not sealing properly on the blocks of car.

Come on be sensible as if “Mountune” USA are going to say yeh “Mountune” UK can’t get the mapping on the COBB to work properly.on both their big turbo upgrades M450 or M520

Im no hater or licker of especially balls as I have purchased some 14 different Mountune UK hardware products.

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LOL!!!

I asked of him, if he is aware of these issues mate, not to stick up for or bag anyone???
I also never specifically said YOU were a ball licker either.
Just to be clear.
 

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Strange thing to say i think...
White-RS2 and me was just exchanging experiences, and i totally get him, because of the "hype" of Mountune sometimes.
So if they have a bad product, i would like to know more, at the moment it seems like a one-sided story, so the more information the better.
 

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The true test for Mountune UK if they'll stick to it and work with their customers to fix the issue. It's unfortunate that they are having their customers be paying beta testers, but when buying a niche item on a sort of low volume car it's to be expected. Not trying to make excuses, but there are growing pains when you're one of 10 or 20 installs.
 

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I would agree with you whole heartedly Phillofoc if Mountune didn’t state the following-

the mountune m520 mrx upgrade replaces the oe turbocharger with a borg warner series larger frame unit to deliver incredible power output with minimal increase in turbocharger lag, greatly enhancing the driving experience.

tested and validated over thousands of miles and countless hours on the dyno for durability and performance, the mountune m520 mrx turbocharger upgrade includes all required hardware, fittings and hoses needed for installation and is the perfect upgrade for customers already running either m400r or m400x.

It also doesn’t come as stated “with all the required hardware” as now Mountune UK are recommending a clutch upgrade.

Or is this statement simply “a lie”

Mountune USA have it sorted, as they offer custom mapping and Syvecs ECU’s. Custom mapping Is like having a bespoke suit made for YOU.
The UK it’s like buying a suit off the peg it fits where it touches.
 

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Couldn't imagine a build/upgrade like that without a custom tune! Perhaps thats where the problems stem from?
 

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The Mountune hardware is good but you do need the oil restrictor ( they will argue that you do not) which is fine as if you want to burn 2 litres of oil every 2,000 miles just run with out it.

the map is rubbish
Cold start
Power delivery
Actual power
Actual lbft

it’s a bit pathetic

I went Mountune as they were supposed to be the best


anyway sabre tuning has has sorted the car now lots more power better delivery more torque driveability is absolutely on point.

For reference I know of x3 M520 cars that have now been remapped due to poor performance

and another x3 are booked in
 
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