Ford Focus RS: New Vs. Old
Previewed at a semi-private ceremony in Cologne, Germany, the third generation of the Ford Focus RS promises to be a game-changer compared to not only any of its predecessors, but to most of its rivals as well. In fact, going from a FWD-based econobox to an all-wheel-drive hot-hatch that can do controlled oversteer drifts pretty much makes it the only one of its kind. Not only that, but as was not the case with both of its first two generations, the new Focus RS is finally going to be available in almost all Ford markets at the same time, making for the first-ever global RS model.
With Ford still keeping some of its performance numbers under wraps until it begins production at the end of 2015, we figured that we know enough in order to pit it against the 2010 RS, a game-changer in its own right half a decade ago. Both cars were the fastest production Focus models of their times, so it’s worth comparing them, to see if Darwin was right.
Click past the jump to learn which model wins this family brawl.
As far as looks go, despite being the newer model and having to battle a wider array of hardcore hot-hatches, the 2016 Focus RS is a bit more sedated. Sure, it has a gargantuan engine grille that gives a clear view to both the oversized radiator and the intercooler, while also featuring 19-inch wheels, an aerodynamic diffuser and a decent-sized rear wing, but it still is no match for the wide-bodied Focus RS Mk. 2, which pretty much looked like a Focus WRC without sponsorship decals.
Apparently, since the 2016 model is now a global vehicle, it has been designed to appeal to a much wider range of customers, and because of that the designers were restricted in some areas. Sure, the car was also designed to follow the latest evolution of Ford’s "Kinetic" design language, which has fewer clear-cut lines than previous models, but the biggest change is in the details. The 2010 Focus RS Mk. 2 had a wide body kit that simply screamed performance and made the car look wider, lower and ready to be thrashed around a rally course, while the latest RS arguably only looks as aggressive when viewed from the front.
Point - 2010 Focus Mk. 2
While the second-generation Focus RS had a decent interior design and amenities, it also had rougher plastic panels and a cheaper interior feel. Compared with a standard Focus, the only different bits were the bucket Recaro front seats, carbon fiber inserts, extra gauges on top of the center console and an engine start button on the transmission tunnel. The 2016 Focus RS Mk. 3 comes with higher-quality plastics, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, Recaro bucket seats and three extra gauges on top of the center console and a higher-class interior feel.
There is much more space in the new RS, and Ford’s SYNC infotainment system comes standard, a feature that was still on the drawing board back when the RS Mk. 2 was around. With either touchscreen or voice commands, SYNC can even give you directions to the nearest race track when asked. You would have needed an old-fashioned map and a good sense of direction in the previous model.
Point - 2016 Focus Mk. 3
This is where things get interesting, because the powerplant of the 2010 Focus RS was in many ways better than the turbocharged, 2.3-liter, four-pot in the new model. Having been borrowed from Volvo and heavily massaged to deliver 305 horsepower and 324 pound-feet of torque, the turbocharged, 2.5-liter, inline five-cylinder in the Focus RS Mk.2 was a gem of an engine. The four-cylinder in the Mk. 3 may have it beat in terms of power and maybe even torque, but it’s not likely to have the same low-end grunt or hair-raising exhaust note of its predecessor.
On the other hand, when it comes to putting all that power down, the 2016 Focus RS is undoubtedly king. Unlike the previous generation, which used an innovative RevoKnuckle suspension to better transmit torque to the front wheels without loss of control due to torque-steer during hard acceleration, the new model can send power to all four wheels. Not only that, but the Focus RS Mk. 3’s intelligent all-wheel-drive system can transmit up to 70 percent of the available torque to the rear wheels. Even more interesting, after the torque passes through a so-called Rear Drive Unit (RDU), which consists of two electronically controlled clutch packs that act as a limited-slip differential, it can all be diverted to either rear wheel as needed. Oh, and the car also keeps the RevoKnuckle suspension at the front. In other words, in terms of both performance efficiency and fun on the twisties, the latest Focus RS completely outclasses its predecessor.
Point - 2016 Focus Mk. 3
Both the 2010 Ford Focus RS Mk. 2 and the latest model definitely deserve their places in the history of hot-hatches, and for different reasons. Nobody can deny the fact that the Volvo-powered Mk. 2 looked and sounded bananas while also going like hell for a FWD sports car. Aided by the RevoKnuckle suspension, a Quaife limited-slip differential and electronically controlled torque delivery in the first two gears, it even managed to put most of its massive power to good use with only the front wheels. Thanks to the massive improvement in automotive technology in general, and the addition of the intelligent all-wheel-drive system in particular, the new Focus RS Mk.3 has its predecessor beat in every department except its overall look and exhaust sound. A combination of the two models would probably birth a hot-hatch close to perfection: an actual WRC model for the road.