Ford Focus RS (2002): Retro Road Test

It has to work as a daily driver, a school-run shuttle, a family holdall – and it does all of those with a similar breadth of abilities to the benchmark Golf GTI.  …but it lacks the raw excitement and, well, focus of the RS. We borrowed Focus RS number 0001 of 4,501 cars made – fresh from Ford’s heritage fleet – to decide who is right. The Focus is a front-wheel-drive hatchback, yet its most obvious in-period rivals – the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo (pictured) and Subaru Impreza WRX – were four-wheel-drive saloons. It works by diverting twist to the opposite front wheel if wheelspin is detected, improving traction and agility – at the expense of some refinement. And on that topic… That mechanical front diff is essentially a sticking plaster – a solution to the absence of four-wheel drive. But we’re inclined to see these traits as part of car’s character, rather than faults to be ironed-out   A 212hp output is merely Fiesta ST territory now. Service and maintenance costs should be manageable (this is a Ford, after all), but custom RS-specific body panels mean accident or rust-related repairs can be expensive.   Also practicality is a match for any mid-size hatchback – save for the three-door-only body (ironically, the Mk3 Focus RS only came with five doors). It’s something quite special, a genuinely five-star hot hatch that takes its place alongside the Fiesta ST, Escort Cosworth and other notable fast Fords in the pantheon of greats. Mechanical components, including the engine and Quaife differential, are tough, but that shouldn’t stop you insisting on a fully-documented service history. Ensure the cambelt has been changed at least once, preferably well in advance of the recommended 100,000-mile interval, and don’t dismiss cars with an additional non-standard intercooler – it can help prolong the life of the engine. Check those unique RS body panels carefully, as some are becoming hard to source. Peer under the wheelarches for signs of rust where the bodykit meets the metal and look for uneven panel gaps due to crash damage. Don’t forget to check all the RS-specific interior bits, such as the two-tone steering wheel and Sparco gearknob, are also present and correct. Speaking of value, fast Fords are always in demand and, in theory, this longer-term gain in the car’s worth can be offset against the cost of running one. Bear in mind, however, that nothing is guaranteed, so I’d buy a Focus RS to drive and enjoy – with any rise in value a welcome bonus. The exact amount is uncertain; internet forums (always, ahem, a reliable source) suggest anything between £4,000 and £6,000 per car. This hole in the balance sheet is one reason the later Mk3 Focus RS (seen here) didn’t have custom body panels and shared a higher percentage of parts with the standard car.