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Focus RS gets four on the floor.

Byline: ANDY ENRIGHT newsdesk@walesonline.co.uk

DESPITE being one of the few hot hatches that could get away with an outrageous look, Ford's Focus RS is remarkably restrained. It's signally lacking the steroidal wheel arches and monster spoilers that we all expected. Look a bit closer and all of the cues are there though; the way the car clearly massages the air, the planted stance and the chunky rubber on the road.

This is the third Focus to wear the RS badge. The first was wild and rather wonderful and are rapidly becoming collector's items. The second generation car was altogether angrier and more purposeful and justly sold in big numbers. This third generation car moves the game on again. How? It's four-wheel drive.

As much as we loved the last generation Focus RS - and still do - it was clear that despite its clever RevoKnuckle front suspension, Ford was teasing a the limits of what could sensibly be put through the front wheels. Debate raged on internet forums as to whether this latest car would continue the front-wheel drive theme or go all-wheel drive and it was only when video leaked of a development car exiting a corner of the Nurburgring at flat chat with a few degrees of power oversteer that the cat was out of the bag.

We've yet to drive this latest version but we already know that its all-wheel-drive system is extremely clever, featuring a pair of electronically controlled clutch packs which act much like a limited slip differential by taking data from sensors 100 times a second to direct power to the front and rear axles and then to either side at the rear. Power comes from a modified version of the 2.3-litre Ecoboost turbo four as seen in the latest Mustang, in this instance making in excess of 320PS driving through a short-shifting six-speed manual. So, yes, this is going to be one for the purists. Expect 62mph to come and go in the high fours.

There's only one five-door body style, but the RS definitely looks the part. The front end treatment is perhaps the most unusual aspect of this car, with a broad plastic bar splitting the upper and lower grille intakes. Still, it means there's somewhere to put a number plate, unlike some cars (ahem, Alfa) which seem to have been styled with no reasonable place for such an item. The bonnet features aggressive fluting and there are vertical strip running lights.

The wheel arches look muscular but they're more Jason Bourne than John Rambo this time round, and there's more flow to the styling. There's still a roof-mounted spoiler above the rear glass, and a bit of a diffuser effect down near the exhausts that looks more for show than go, but overall, the effect is just about right if Ford wants the RS to appeal to a broader audience than the last one.

Ever since the BMW M135i changed the rules in offering a 300PS premium hatch for less than PS30,000, there's been a glut of superhatches clustering around this price point.

The Audi S3 and the SEAT Leon Cupra 280 also offer serious pace and presence and Ford has promised a sub-PS30k price for the Focus RS. Looking at this company, it needs to. As we've seen with the previous Focus RS500, Ford isn't shy of turning up the wick on the turbocharger to go further and create a high-powered limited edition model which could go head to head with the likes of the Audi RS3 and the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG.

There's been no firm word on economy or emissions as yet but there's one thing that's absolutely cast iron and it's the guarantee of great residuals delivered by that RS badge. As long as you give an RS-badged Ford a bit of time, it delivers when it comes to resale values. Being the first all-wheel drive RS Focus moves this car into a new performance realm. Expect to see all the 'new versus old' tests trotted out with this against an Escort Cosworth. Spoiler alert: the Focus is going to win.

Ford simply doesn't drop the ball when it comes to its fast hatches. Think about it. What was the last one that wasn't very good? You'd need to go a long way back to the Focus ST170 of 2002 to find one that was in any way underwhelming and even that has now wormed its way into our affections as one of the great used bargains. The Focus RS is altogether more serious stuff.

With 320PS going to all four wheels, it's a genuine next generation product from Ford and will pave the way for a series of even more focused performance cars.

Of course, much will hinge on the way that it handles uniquely British road conditions before it can be deemed a hit, miss or maybe.

It's up against some hardcore contenders that have already proven their credentials.

The signs thus far suggest that Ford hasn't taken any short cuts.

This is going to be fun.

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This is the third Focus to wear the RS badge
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 31, 2016
Words:857
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