It may not look much more extreme than a standard Ford Focus ST hot hatch, but the new RS is truly a beast of a very different species. Stunning handling balance, ferocious performance and sheer enjoyment are the high points, easily erasing the lows of a too-plain cabin and (likely) expensive list price.
In the metal
There will be those who will criticise the new Ford Focus RS for looking just a bit too tame compared to the hardcore, wide-boy 2009 version and they have a point. Width restrictions on the Focus production line in Saarlouis (where the RS is built in the same plant as workaday STs and TDCis) mean that there are no fat, distended arches and even the rear spoiler looks a little more subtle than is RS tradition.
However, there will probably be at least an equal number who will welcome the slightly subtler looks (even in the bright baby blue of the launch cars) and there's no denying that the Focus RS has presence. No fripperies though - Ford says that everything you see serves a functional purpose, and things like the massive radiator grille (with bespoke, free-flowing mesh) and the big air dams and diffuser mean that the RS has no lift at either end when travelling at speed - quite remarkable for a car based on a family hatchback.
It can't quite get away from its Focus origins though, and that means you have a slightly disappointing cabin - too dark, too plain, too obviously plastic. Be-winged seats, shared with the ST and made by Recaro, lift the ambience a little but remain too tight for those of us with huskier frames. There is good news though - optional 'shell-style' Recaro bucket seats are available and they're far more accommodating for the husky of frame. Those optional seats are also slimmer than the standard chairs so rob less space from the back seats, but you're going to have to live with the smaller-than-standard boot - its 260-litre size is truncated by the need to mount the chunky rear-wheel drive unit underneath.
There are other exterior options including menacing looking black forged alloys (almost a kilo lighter, each, than the standard wheels) and bright blue paint finish for the vast Brembo four-pot brake callipers (a must-have, surely?).
Marks out of five simply don't go high enough for the Focus RS, it really is that good. Those expecting a car that was merely going to be like an ST, but more so will be relieved - it's far, far better than that. The chassis is effectively bespoke (and stiffer by about a quarter compared to the standard Focus) and the ST's chassis settings are just the kick off point. There are new springs and dampers, and of course a massive redesign for the rear end to allow for the fitting of four-wheel drive.
That drive system uses a three-piece driveshaft to take power from the front to the back, and a combination of mechanical torque-distributing differential overlaid with torque-vectoring by braking. You can select from four different driving modes for the dampers, throttle, ESP stability control and more by flicking a button next to the gear lever. Normal still allows for some very brisk driving and will be plenty for mere mortals. Sport is the RS's homeland though - it sharpens up the throttle and four-wheel drive (which can divert as much as 90 per cent of the engine's 440Nm rearwards, and 100 per cent of that to either rear wheel) and weights up the (excellent) steering, but leaves the dampers alone (you can adjust them separately if you like) so that the car remains composed on give and take roads. In Sport, the RS is just unspeakably good - agile and very, very fast, but not overwhelmingly nuts. Point the nose at a corner and the front end hooks in with not a whiff of understeer, and you can feel the drive from the rear wheels feeding in as you accelerate, helping to balance the car and making it feel astonishingly neutral. There's plenty of feel and feedback from the steering too, and those big 350mm Brembo brake discs are tireless - you have lots of get out of jail free options with the RS. It also alters the engine management, for a cacophony of exhaust pops, bangs and farts that will delight your inner 12-year old no end.
Track mode is, of course, especially for race tracks and its maximum attack mode - all stiff, all the time and it's just fantastic in this setting around the relatively tight and fast Valencia race track. Just endless fun, really.
And then you switch into Drift Mode. Development of this little toy was helped along by the legendary Ken Block, and you can see his influence. It actually softens the dampers and steering, and makes the four-wheel drive system kick torque to the outside rear wheel, setting you up for sideways motoring. It then juggles torque and brakes around all four wheels to help you hold the drift, making you look like an utter hero (or an utter eejit, depending on your point of view) and setting off fits of driver giggles that may last for days.
Put simply, the only potential match, that I can think of, for the RS in dynamic terms, is a BMW M135i - and that doesn't have a Drift Mode.
What you get for your money
Ford has confirmed that the Focus RS will be €52,600. That's a lot of money for a car with a Focus badge and, indeed, a Focus interior, but standard equipment will include all of the RS mechanical bits, the Drive Modes, 19-inch alloy wheels with specially designed Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, Recaro buckets and the Ford SYNC infotainment system. We need to wait for the full Irish announcement as to what's on the options list, but it will include those forged alloys, track-oriented Michelin Cup tyres, the impressive Recaro shell buckets and more.
Ford has worked some serious magic here, especially considering how ordinary the standard ST can feel. This is the car that the 12-year-old me, growing up in rally-addicted West Cork, craved more than anything else. A fast Ford - practical and useable, lightning quick with a chassis that entertains the enthusiast as much as it impresses the engineer. Is the interior a bit rubbish? Yes, but that shouldn't detract from the RS's brilliance. King hot hatch.