Ford Focus RS

Ford Focus RS vs. greener rivals

Ford Focus RS

Ford Focus RS

The Ford Focus RS has received universal acclaim as a performance car that can beat much more expensive machinery, but are there greener alternatives? Green Car Guide investigates.

Green Car Guide stands for cars that are great to drive but also efficient, and we review cars that offer the promise of fitting that brief. However it’s important to carry out reality checks – are ‘green’ drivers’ cars really as good to drive as some of the best performance cars out there? Well, we’ve done a reality check with a Ford Focus RS – read on for the results…

The Ford Focus RS has enjoyed much praise from the motoring media. There are a number of reasons for this, but the headline is that the Focus RS offers speed, traction and handling to compete with rivals that can cost well over £40,000, yet the Focus costs just £31,000.

Ford Focus RSFord Focus RS

Click on images to enlarge and for slideshow

The main trick of the Ford Focus RS is that, unlike previous generations, which have all tried to put lots of power through just the front wheels, this time it’s four-wheel drive. And not only that, there’s a rear-bias to the system. There are four drive modes: Normal, Sport, Track, and Drift. The instrument panel tells you that the latter two settings are designed for the racetrack only, as the safety net of the car’s traction control system is removed. So if you follow the car’s advice, you’re left with Normal and Sport for the road. For twisting North Wales B-roads, Sport is the setting to go for – if for no other reason that the exhaust sounds like a 1980’s Group B rally car – ie. in line with what the concept of the latest Focus RS is all about.

Ford Focus RSFord Focus RS

Click on images to enlarge and for slideshow

So what’s it like to drive? On a twisting Welsh B-road then the handling of the Focus RS comes alive, and thanks to the four-wheel drive system it exhibits excellent traction through the corners – with a rear bias that provides added driver rewards when desired. Because of the high reserves of grip, you can carry entertaining speeds through the corners, and the 6-speed manual gearbox provides a level of interaction that is typically missing with automatic boxes.

Ford Focus RSFord Focus RS

Click on images to enlarge and for slideshow

Because the RS is supposed to give the feel of a WRC car, as well as testing it on tarmac, it was essential to see how it performed on some Welsh forest rally stages. The four-wheel drive system proved to be a very surefooted companion, and although we weren’t on a racetrack, we were off the public highway, so drift mode had to be tested. The result was a car that still had lots of grip, but that gave you a nudge from the rear to help you around corners when you wanted a bit more fun. However the RS primarily has suspension that is designed to be sufficiently firm for a racetrack, rather than compliant for a rally stage – or for pot-holed UK roads.

Ford Focus RSFord Focus RS

Click on images to enlarge and for slideshow

But here’s the key thing: to get the benefits of the Ford Focus RS, you need to drive it fast. As fast as possible. In normal driving, when you’re stuck behind lots of other cars on roads in built-up areas, you’ll experience a Ford Focus with a high seat (with zero height adjustment), a very firm ride (yes, even in Normal and Sport modes, and this is firmer again in Track and Drift modes) and heavy steering. And even the engine – a 350PS, 2.3-litre turbo petrol originally sourced from a Mustang – isn’t the most characterful engine around.

Ford Focus RSFord Focus RS

Click on images to enlarge and for slideshow

And what about economy? We’ve previously tested the Ford Fiesta ST and that is genuinely a fun car to drive on the road and it also returned decent miles per gallon if driven sensibly. Can the Focus RS repeat this trick? No. The official combined fuel economy of the Ford Focus RS is 36.7mpg (equating to 175 g/km CO2), but the best we got from the RS was a shade over 30mpg at 70mph on the motorway. Overall, after a week of mixed driving including some rallying, the end result was hovering around 20mpg. And the fuel gauge goes down quickly, requiring frequent fill-ups.

Ford Focus RSFord Focus RS

Click on images to enlarge and for slideshow

So – is the Ford Focus RS a great car? Yes. But you either need your own personal racetrack or to live in the absolute middle of nowhere to get the benefits from this car. For most people, during 99% of their driving, you can’t extract the benefits that the Focus offers when it’s driven at the edge. Which leads us to suggest some cars that offer drivers a rewarding experience in everyday driving, and which also offer efficiency – in other words the holy grail that we have been seeking for the last ten years…

Green Driver’s Cars

  1. BMW I8

bmw i8

The BMW i8 is the world’s first plug-in hybrid supercar with a three-cylinder petrol engine, and it combines a top speed of 155mph with an official economy figure of 135mpg and emissions of 49g/km CO2. It can shift power around to provide four-wheel drive, and it does this in a way that provides an entertaining experience both in normal driving and when pressing on, yet it can also average 50mpg in everyday driving.

Read our BMW i8 review

  1. MAZDA MX-5

Mazda MX-5

The Mazda MX-5 is lightweight and efficient; the 2-litre model is excellent, but the 1.5-litre is slightly lighter again, and so even better on twisty Welsh B-roads. Because it’s rear-wheel drive and light, its handling has a delicacy in everyday driving that the Focus RS can’t get anywhere near.

Read our Mazda MX-5 review

  1. TOYOTA GT86/SUBARU BRZ

Subaru BRZ

The Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ, essentially the same car, are amongst the most entertaining cars that money can buy, and they’re also a lot more efficient than a V8 supercar. They’re rear-wheel drive and you can feel the rear moving around when you’re driving – even at low speeds – which delivers a rewarding and interactive driving experience that is missing from so many modern cars.

Read our Toyota GT86 review/Subaru BRZ review

  1. CATERHAM 160

caterham 160

Can a Caterham 160 with a design that’s almost 60 years old, skinny tyres and a three-cylinder, 660cc, 80bhp engine really offer a fun and economical driving experience? The answer is yes, and like the MX-5, the key reason for this is the lightness of the car, so it feels alive even at slow speeds – so helping with fuel economy as well as helping you to keep your driving licence.

Read our Caterham 160 review

  1. LOTUS ELISE

Lotus Elise

Lightweight, mid-engined, a direct driving experience, and, yes, efficient – that’s the Lotus Elise. It may have been around for quite a few years – although not as many as the Caterham 7 – but it’s still one of the best sports car experiences.

Read our Lotus Elise review

  1. BMW 330d

bmw 330d xdrive touring

To some, the BMW 330d, especially in Touring guise, may sound like a strange choice for inclusion in a list of efficient driver’s cars, but it’s available with either rear-wheel drive or rear-biased four-wheel drive, and either way it has great handling, an excellent, smooth, torquey engine, and it does a great job of combining performance and economy – it will return 50mpg on a long run – as well as offering comfort, quality and a functional interior. In Touring form surely this is the world’s best all-round car? There’s also the 335d which offers more performance and comes with the added traction of four-wheel drive as standard.

Read our BMW 330d review

  1. PORSCHE PANAMERA S E-HYBRID

porsche panamera hybrid

The Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid has an official combined economy figure of 91.1mpg, yet it also has a top speed of 167mph. You certainly won’t see both at the same time, and you’ll probably never see 91.1mpg, but you can benefit from low company car tax and a great driving experience, and even decent economy if you can drive on electric power for much of the time.

Read our Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid review

  1. PORSCHE CAYENNE S HYBRID

Porsche-Cayenne-S-Hybrid-001

Green Car Guide exists to look for cars that are great to drive and also efficient – this combination doesn’t happen very often, but the Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid hits the mark. It may be a big SUV, but it drives like a Porsche, and like the Panamera, you can even drive on pure electric power for around 20 miles.

Read our Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid review

  1. TESLA MODEL S P85D

Tesla Model S P85D

The Tesla Model S is probably the biggest revolution in motoring in the last 100 years, as Tesla has appeared from nowhere and produced an amazing all-electric sports saloon with a range of 300 miles, 0-60mph acceleration in 3.1 seconds, and it can even seat up to 7 people. It may not have delicate handling, but the combination of ‘insane’ or ‘ludicrous’ acceleration modes, virtual silence and zero tailpipe emissions is addictive.

Read our Tesla Model S P85D review

  1. MINI

MINI 5-door Hatch

The latest incarnation of the MINI delivers fun, character and refinement – along with performance and economy, especially in the case of the 2-litre SD 5-door Hatch – although many other models in the MINI range also combine a fun driving experience with efficiency.

Read our MINI 2-litre SD 5-door Hatch review

Paul Clarke

Paul Clarke, Editor, Green Car Guide