REVIEW DATE: 09 Apr 2010
Ford's Focus RS500 sets the performance benchmark for a front-wheel-drive hot hatch. Steve Walker takes a look.
How fast should one really be able to go in a Ford Focus? Do we really want chaps who've paid £100,000 for their Ferraris being harried by spotty Herberts in a car designed for the school run? You may have your own views on this but Ford is clearly of the opinion that it sounds absolutely great. First it gave us the Focus RS which set new standards for what was possible in a front-wheel-drive hot hatchback and if you thought that car was hot, the RS500 takes things thermonuclear.
Back in the 1980s, saloon car racing was dominated by Ford's Sierra RS500 Cosworth but to get it on the grid, 500 so-called homologation examples were sold to the public. The car achieved legendary status amongst performance enthusiasts and remains one of the fastest Fords ever produced. Now the RS500 name is reborn and attached to the Focus RS500, a specially modified version of the standard Focus RS developed by Ford TeamRS engineers in partnership with performance tuner Revolve Technologies.
How fast? Well, the RS500 has a 15 per cent power boost over and above the fiendishly rapid Focus RS. The headline figures for the 2.5-litre turbocharged engine are 345bhp at 6,000rpm and a formidable 460Nm or torque that's ready for action all the way from 2,500rpm to 4,500rpm. Against the clock, the RS500 will blast through 60mph in 5.4s and be snarling past 100mph at 12.2s. Eventually, this Focus will top out at 165mph. All of which should leave you in no doubt that this is a performance hatchback of quite incredible capability.
Get the RS500 on the road and the effect of all this technology is immediately evident. The car is preposterously fast but highly controllable with barely a hint of the torque steer that the layman would assume should be unavoidable in a 345bhp front-wheel-driver. The ride is reasonably smooth for such a hardcore hatch, the car cruising at high speeds without drama.
"Ford has a solid history of bonkers performance models but none can out-crazy the Focus RS500."
There's definitely drama in the way it sounds though, everything takes place with the deep warble of the five-cylinder engine as a sonic backdrop. Further accompaniment comes as the exhausts host mini explosions of unburned fuel when you lift of the throttle and with the important pedal pinned open, the air rushes into the cylinders as the exhaust bellows. If anything, the act of letting the RS500 off the leash sounds more thrilling form outside the car. When it blasts past at full throttle it's like the last thing you'd hear if you walked into the lion enclosure draped in a string of sausages.
For the driver of a Focus RS500, the task of getting a front-wheel-drive family hatchback to motorway cruising speeds in less than six seconds is little more than a matter of mashing the throttle and holding on for grim death. For the engineers behind this car, the job was a little trickier.
The RS500 needed to deploy accelerative forces that could crush passengers into a blamanche-like state, leaving them gently quaking in the footwells, but it had to do so in a controllable manner that would see it around the Nurburgring Nordschleife in under eight minutes. It's testament to the ability of the standard Focus RS that its chassis and braking system were carrier over to the RS500 unchanged. The RevoKnuckle front suspension and Quaife limited slip differential that do such an immaculate job of allowing the front wheels to grip and steer in an RS repeat the feat here.
Ford wanted people who spot an RS500 in the street to instantly appreciate that it means business. As with one of the Blue Oval's other famous creations, customers can have it in any colour they want as long as it's black. It's a matt black 'foil' to be precise, one that's specially applied to each of the RS500s at a dedicated 3M facility near Frankfurt. The coating is designed to resist marks and scratches but UK dealers will be able to arrange for any damaged panels to be re-coated by 3M specialists. Complementing the 'colour' scheme are metallic black alloy wheels plus a gloss black finish for the front grille and the super-sized rear spoiler that no RS500 Ford could possibly manage without.
Only the red brake callipers deviate from the stealthy exterior pallet and there's more scarlet inside with the stitching on the leather sports steering wheel, door trim and around the gear lever. A set of red full leather Recaro sports seats can also be specified as an option. The RS500 is no stripped-out trackday special, even though it can more than hold its own on the race circuit. The car comes with most of the Focus options list thrown in as standard but then, you'd expect that at the £35,000 price being asked. That's a lot of money for a Focus, even one that can keep a Porsche 911 honest, but Ford will counter that it's only building 500 and could have sold the 101 units that come to the UK ten times over.
The standard specification includes dual-zone climate control, a heated windscreen, parking sensors, tyre pressure monitoring, automatic lights and wipers, keyless start, a Bluetooth phone system with voice control, a 6 CD stereo and part-leather sports seats. All models are individually numbered with their position in the production run on a plaque ahead of the gear lever.
If you want to spend a similar amount of money on a car with similar performance, there are options but few with the exclusivity of an RS500 and none with front-wheel-drive. A BMW 335i would be one option, an entry-level Porsche Cayman would be another and so would a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution FQ-330. This shows the sort of company the RS500 is keeping and highlights what an expensive Ford Focus it is. There'll still be enough buyers who've wanted to own an RS500 Ford since the days of the Sierra Cosworth version and they won't take much persuading.
Running costs aren't really the issue with a car like the RS500 and there will be those who snap up one of these limited edition models with half an eye on its value actually increasing as a future collector's item. For the record, owners can expect to average well below 30mpg and emissions will be similarly hefty.
Ford has a solid history of bonkers performance models but none can out-crazy the Focus RS500. 345bhp may well look like too much for a Ford family hatchback but there will be no problem finding 101 buyers for the limited UK allocation. Capable of embarrassing some top end performance cars, the RS500 might not be cheap but owners will be getting a rare piece of Ford history that might well appreciate in value given enough time. It will also be great fun while you're waiting to cash in.
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