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by John Calne, 20 January 2016

We expected the new Focus RS to be good. Now at last we’ve driven it — and ‘good’ hardly scratches the surface…

The waiting is nearly over. Come April, the third-generation Ford Focus RS will go on sale — putting 345bhp, four-wheel drive and world-class suspension in reach of anyone with £29,995 to spend.

What’s it like to drive then?

Let’s cut straight to the chase. The new RS can’t be defined just by numbers. This car continues an outstanding tradition of fast Fords — and it’s a glorious celebration of all the know-how Ford has gained along the way.

Here’s a perfect example of that. Like most fast cars now, the Focus offers a choice of drive modes. It has immaculate balance, a masterful 2.3-litre engine and steering and suspension that mean proper business — and the mode selector allows you to make the most of all of it.

If you’re just having fun, Normal and Sport modes give you a blend of pace and poise that’s perfectly controlled but at the same time utterly natural. You don’t feel as if the car is intervening at all — even when, with the dial turned to Track, it reinvents itself as more of a racecar than ever.

But then there’s another position on the dial: Drift. This is your license to step the back end out as you exit corners, with elegance and purpose rather than ham-handed lairiness. The back tyres slide, the big grin takes over and even though the car keeps you honest when the whole project threatens to overtake itself, once again you barely notice.

It doesn’t feel like a computer’s kicking in: think more in terms of nature taking your side. It’s brilliant.

As is that engine. With a hard-edged rasp, it spins vigorously when asked and hauls with earnest intent wherever you are in the rev range. It sounds like it wants to get on with the job, and when the clutch comes up on the six-speed manual box that’s exactly what it does.

Within less than five seconds, you’ll be leaving the 60mph mark in your dust. On the way through the gears, shifts are firm and mechanical — yet also smooth and precise. You don’t feel like you’re working at it so much as that the work you’re doing is being rewarded.

Its steering feels heavy, too, compared to the over-assisted set-ups that can blight a car all too easily. Not so much heavy as weighty, actually — and supremely so, once again putting you in complete control and removing any concerns that the RS might be doing things you can’t feel.

It doesn’t roll in corners, or understeer flabbily — it just turns in as you attack the apex, grips the road with overwhelming intent and practically instructs you to get on the gas this instant. It’s a car that wants to be driven, and hard.

This all comes with a ride quality which, while certainly firm, is never harsh. The suspension moves the body around on uneven roads, which has the potential to be annoying, but you can’t call it uncomfortable — certainly not when you take into account the context of what it (very successfully) sets out to be.

Likewise the cabin in which you sit to enjoy all this dynamic brilliance. It’s still a Focus, but the RS styling touches are there to make it special — as are the dials and controls that turn a hatch into not just a hot hatch, but a scorching one.

And it’s scorching in terms of value, too. This is a genuinely usable everyday five-door whose abilities touch the stars — and at £29,995 it blows the competition out of the water.

You can put together an argument for this or that of its rivals — faster, softer-riding, more track-focused. But there’s nothing, at all, that can deliver such vast entertainment on any road, in any weather — and at such a spectacularly tempting price.

Ford Focus RS

Price: £29,995

Engine: 4 cyls, 2261cc, turbocharged, petrol

Power: 345bhp at 6000rpm

Torque: 325lb ft at 2000-4500rpm (347lb ft on overboost)

0-62mph: 4.7sec

Top speed: 165mph

Gearbox: 6-spd manual

Kerb weight: 1599kg

Economy: 36.7mpg (combined)

CO2/tax band: 175g/km, 30%

First drive: 2016 Ford Focus RS - John Calne - Get Reading
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