There is one thing the brand-new Ford Focus RS cannot do. Park it next to the first-generation Focus RS, launched in 2002, and tell us, hand-on-heart, that the new car is the more attractive of the pair.
We’d be surprised if the vote went in the new car’s favour. No Focus has been quite as well-proportioned or neatly-detailed as the original, and the RS combination of imperial blue paintwork, blistered arches – covering a 65mm wider track – and a 25mm drop over 18-inch five-spoke OZ alloy wheels is just about perfect.
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Which is more than can be said for the way it drove, at least in the first example we tried. And several others. But some were fine, oddly – devoid of the rampant torque steer we experienced initially. The first Focus RS’s inconsistency has always puzzled us.
At the time though it was certainly one of the faster hatches available. Its output of 212bhp at 5500rpm sounds borderline ridiculous today – we’ve accused more recent hot hatches, with more power at their disposal, of feeling under-nourished.
The 229lb ft peak torque output can’t quite match up to the latest RS’s figure either, though with only the front wheels for traction it’s easy to see why those early cars might have struggled on bumpy UK roads.
But bumps didn’t trouble the car’s balance then and they don’t today. When we last drove the RS, back in our Greatest Hot Hatches test in issue 195, we said it was ‘superbly controlled’. While firm, it was never brittle, and the steering is accurate.
There’s lots of grip too, though that does take away from the car’s potential adjustability. And while the brakes are excellent, pedal placement isn’t immediately conducive to heel-and-toe downchanges.
Ultimately, the RS lost that test in issue 195. But it set the tone for the Focus RS that followed – and improved upon its formula – while the latest car is the best yet. Pity it doesn’t look like its 2002 predecessor.