Dan Trent: The Mk1 Focus RS is the most hardcore, and the one you want

19th June 2017
dan_trent_headshot.jpg Dan Trent

A bit of a project on RS Fords has got me all fired up for the genre of late, the focus on the, er, current Focus perhaps inevitable. It’s a very impressive car and one that makes clever use of some signature all-wheel drive technology to cut angles never seen before from a car of this type. Well, assuming you don’t mind replacing tyres on an hourly basis. Which you’ll have to if you get a bit carried away with the Drift Mode. Ask me how I know this… 

But if the current car impresses with its global remit to sell Ken Block enabled hot hatches to Americans, and its predecessor is honest to the more thuggish traditions of the breed, the first-generation Focus RS is my pick.  Mainly I love the fact it’s the most understated to look at but, in fact, the most hardcore in terms of its engineering and breeding. While perhaps not as dominant as the Escorts of the 70s and early 80s, it was inspired by a bona fide WRC car – remember RS stands for Rallye Sport after all.

Colin McRae will always be associated with Subarus but he also rallied a Martini-liveried Focus WRC. OK, he crashed it quite a lot too, that mangled shell he somehow managed to keep rolling after two big crashes in Cyprus in 2002 always dragged out as a ‘McCrash’ compilation favourite. But both he and McRae senior were Ford men at heart, onboard in the McRae/Grist Focus the kind of mesmerising footage I can watch on endless repeat. If you ever wondered where the ‘if in doubt, flat out’ reputation came from, watch the video above. Utterly terrifying.

There was no homologation link between the RS road car and the WRC versions rallied by McRae, Sainz and others. But the emotional one is enough for me. Plus the fact it hails from a time when Ford’s performance division had a proper skunk works vibe. Cars like the Racing Puma and the original Focus RS felt less the carefully managed global product and more the creation of a bunch of talented engineers working some way under the corporate radar. And the Focus RS was an enthusiast’s car, built by enthusiasts with no regard for the bottom line. Which is why Ford allegedly made a loss on each of the 4,501 sold.


This is explained by the cherry-picked parts from the likes of Quaife (the controversial limited-slip differential), Sachs for the dampers (same as the outstanding Clio Trophy of the same era), OZ for the gorgeous five-spoke wheels, Brembo for the brakes and Sparco for the interior bits. The standard Focus of this era handled superbly; suitably enhanced it was even better, even if lead-footed reviewers unable to manage basic skills like throttle modulation moaned about the torque steer. Drive one today and you’ll find a far more flowing, nuanced car than you have been led to believe, the modest sounding 212bhp and locking diff paired with an exceptional chassis and tremendous brakes. It drives as well as it looks. And it looks superb. 

Not long ago you could get one for well under £10K. Most are around the £15K mark now, with super low mileage ones up for more than double that. RS Fords have always had passionate followings and values of good ones are likely to go one way and one way only. My chosen car has sensible miles, a one-owner history and looks to have been well cared for. I’m not so keen on the aftermarket exhaust and for a car like this I think originality is important; I’d ditch this for a standard system but apart from that this looks like a great place to put your money and appreciate one of the best Fords to wear the RS badge. One worth looking after a little more carefully than McRae!    

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