Does it flatter to deceive? Not a bit. Enough journalistic impartiality remains to recognise the overly lofty driving position, but beyond that the optional buckets fitted to our test car felt spot on. The interior doesn’t feel hugely special otherwise, but then it retains the usability of any other Focus.
Start the engine and it produces a subdued burble, and there are other telltales that confirm the RS has been fundamentally changed, as opposed to being an ST with an extra notch of boost.
The clutch feels heavier and sharper, while the gear lever has a meatier, more satisfying shift. This continues to the steering, too, which is beautifully sorted. It’s weightier than standard even in its Normal setting, but not overbearingly so, and it’s lost that annoying self-centering action that rather spoils the lesser versions.
It feels pointier as well, goading you into upping the pace to see what feel and fluency it'll generate. Plenty as it happens, producing a front end that demands a search for S-bends to marvel at the RS’s ability to change direction. That's also helped by the rear axle squirting the power to the outside rear wheel, helping to rotate the car, before delivering superb all-wheel traction as you fire it off the apex.
There's some roll, but not enough to mar its litheness on switchbacks. The RS has that wonderful firmness of a properly sorted car, and any on-road jitteriness is something you’ll happily accept for the payback of unflappable damping in the face of mid-corner undulations. That's in the suspension's Normal setting, but in Track mode it's too stiff for the road, so that's best left for smooth circuits.
Its brakes are also mighty. Ford reckons they’ll shrug off 30 minutes of circuit driving and up to 13 stops from 135mph before they fade. All I know is they managed several laps of Silvertone’s Stowe circuit with ease, and lack nothing in pedal feel when leant on.
So what about the heart of the Focus RS, the engine? It’s perhaps not blessed with the very last word in character, and the free-flow exhaust produces a slightly contrived sound, but we’re told it is all combustion pulses with no digital enhancement. It starts off as a warble, builds to a moody grumble in the mid-range, and ends up with a raspier rant as the engine climbs towards the limiter. In Sport mode you get some pops and splutters on the overrun, and when launch control’s engaged, sounds WRC-manic from outside.
It pulls well, too. It’s quick by hot-hatch standards, without feeling unusable for the road. The mid-range is potent, but it’s the final surge over the last 1500rpm that you’ll enjoy the most, before the shift light blinks to tell you it’s all change for another gear.