- Available from £18,500
- Tremendous 305hp five-pot
- Clever RevoKnuckle suspension
- Tough mechanical engineering
- Classic status assured
The second Ford Focus RS landed like a meteor. It was unveiled at the British Motor Show in July 2008. The car went on sale the following May, with orders for the 305hp machine flying in as soon as order books opened. Of 11,500 RS Mk2s built, 4,000 of them found homes in the UK.
Any fears that the Mk2 would be a slightly heated up version on the 2006 ST were quickly allayed when the details of the powerplant were revealed. It was far more than just an electronically-tickled version of the 2.5-litre five-cylinder; there was a larger turbocharger, new intercooler and stronger forged crank, along with silicon-aluminium pistons and graphite-coated bores.
Despite producing 305hp from its turbocharged inline engine – a respectable amount now, let alone in the late noughties – the Mk2 RS stuck with front-wheel drive, with one trick up its sleeve: RevoKnuckle front suspension. Together with a Quaife limited-slip differential, the front-drive RS defied physics in the corners, or so it seemed back then. 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds and a 163mph top speed only told half the story; once rolling, this was a car to keep up with serious sports machinery. Later Ford launched the ultimate limited-edition RS Mk2 in the shape of the RS500, which cost £35,450 and still seemed like decent value.
Thanks to country’s undying love of the RS, Ford allocated 101 cars from the RS500 production run – the number denoting the total produced – for the British market. Power was up to 350hp and torque jumped to 339lb ft, helped by a larger air-to-air intercooler, wider diameter exhaust downpipe, uprated fuel pump and revised ECU map. All of this allowed the RS500 to see off 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds, but it seemed quicker still.
Other changes for the RS500 included a numbered plaque in the centre console, black wheels and red brake calipers, as well as a matt black finish for the body achieved with a wrap. The colour underneath is called Panther Black, which some owners have chosen to expose by peeling off the factory-applied vinyl skin – hence both matt and gloss black cars appearing on the used market.
Today, the best RS500s are nudging around £40k, with the lowest mileage cars qualifying as collector's items. Higher mile cars don’t exactly fall off a cliff in value either, with most sitting comfortably above £30k. But you can access RS Mk2s for much less than that; prices begin at about £18,500, with cars bearing full histories starting from the mid-twenties. Suffice to say there’s a wide range of choice out there; our guide should help you siphon out the best.
SPECIFICATION | FORD FOCUS RS (2009-2011)
Engine: 2,521cc, inline five, turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 305@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 325@2,250-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.9 secs
Top speed: 163mph
MPG (official combined): 25
Tyres: 235/35 (f), 235/35 (r)
On sale: 2009 - 2011
Price new: £26,995
Price now: from £18,500
Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
To achieve its potency, Ford's 2,521cc Duractec – which is technically linked to Volvo’s five-cylinder – uses a bespoke single turbocharged setup. Delivering 305hp at 6,500rpm and a redline of 7,050rpm, the RS five-pot has a larger turbo than other applications, bigger exhaust downpipe and different intercooler, with a stronger forged crank, lighter pistons with a graphite coating to reduce friction.
Coupled to an uprated version of the ST's six-speed manual gearbox, which had the same ratios as the ST but stronger bearings, clutch housing and a Quaife helical LSD, the RS was a much more bespoke car. Despite all of the changes, however, the RS has proved to be incredibly reliable for such a powerful hot hatch.
Some early cars suffered from exploding plenum chambers due to a backfire, but Ford solved this with a remap of the fuelling. Some tuned cars can still experience the issue, so a cast aluminium plenum chamber is advised for more heavily modified cars.
At the same time that Ford launched its RS500, the company also unveiled the Mountune-developed MP350 kit that cost £1,995. Due to demand for the RS500 and limited supply, Ford recognised a desire among standard RS owners for increased performance, which the MP350 kit duly provided by taking the engine to 350hp with upgrades that consisted of a larger air box, even larger diameter exhaust downpipe and higher capacity fuel pump, as well as a reworked ECU. Along with the higher output, RS owners reckon the changes help the motor rev harder to the red line.
The Mountune kit had the distinct advantage of being factory-approved to retain warranty cover and it came with its own Association of British Insurers code to make insurance was easy and relatively affordable for a modified car. Mountune later offered its own MP375 upgrade to take power to 375hp and drop the 0-62mph time to 5.0 seconds. That kit used a three-inch exhaust downpipe, sports catalyst and cat-back exhaust, cast aluminium inlet plenum, recirculating bypass valve and upgraded engine map. However, this kit was never backed by Ford's warranty.
There are other tuning kits out there for the Focus RS Mk2, from the likes of Graham Goode Racing and BBR, that offer improvements in power to 335hp and all the way to 400hp. The Focus's engine seems happy to take such hikes in power, but anything beyond 400hp will require larger fuel injectors to keep the engine reliable.
Service intervals are spread quite far apart for the RS, with an initial 2,500-mile check then leading to the next scheduled service at 25,000 miles. Many owners will prefer to have the car serviced every 12 months rather than wait for the miles to accumulate, so check the car's service record carefully for evidence of a fastidious keeper.
Tuned and standard cars will benefit from an engine stabiliser bracket, which is £82 from Graham Goode Racing, plus fitting. It eliminates vibration and helps the engine transfer power more smoothly to the wheels. Otherwise, there's very little to worry about under the bonnet of the RS Mk2.
Ford's RevoKnuckle was the big revelation for the RS. Rather than a one-piece configuration, the RevoKnuckle is a two-piece design that allows the MacPherson strut's lower suspension arm to dictate the basic wheel control and geometry but keeps the centre of the suspension in line. In this way, the wheels are less prone to tramping or torque steer.
Working with an epicyclical design of Quaife limited-slip differential, Ford avoided the need to use four-wheel drive to deal with the power of the RS. The company also opted against relying on electronic stability systems to rein in the power, in an attempt to give the driver a more natural feeling through the steering system. As for the rack itself, it’s an electrohydraulically-assisted system with 2.32 turns from lock to lock.
At the back, the suspension was more traditional with an independent control blade, cast iron knuckle and anti-roll bar. However, the RS had a 40mm wider track than the standard Focus ST to boost stability and mechanical grip. Brakes at the back use 302x11mm discs, while at the front there are 336x30mm ventilated discs. They are linked to Ford's ESP stability programme and electronic brake force distribution. In the RS they last reasonably well and you can expect to change a full set of discs at 25,000 miles. Reckon on around £425 for a full set of front discs and pads, with the rears around £200 for a set.
Tyres are a big RS consumable, with some owners reporting only 6,000 miles from a set. The front-wheel drive set-up means the fronts get a hard time by default, but this was exacerbated when the car was new as many RS Mk2s left the factory with poorly set-up front suspension. A proper alignment will help enormously here, and some owners report an easy 15,000 miles from their tyres. Continental SportContacts are the choice of many.
As with the RS's engine, there are plenty of kits to upgrade the car's suspension. One of the most popular is the Mountune Clubsport package. It includes Bilstein springs and dampers and lowers the car by 27mm at the front and 22mm at the rear. You can, of course, takes thing further and add Mountune’s brake upgrade, which reduces weight by 4kg per axle and adds 365x32mm semi-floating front discs and six-pot calipers.
The 1,467kg Ford Focus RS Mk2 has an all-steel monocoque construction and it sits 4,402mm long, 2,020mm wide including the door mirrors, and it’s 1,484mm tall. All RS Mk2 models come with rear privacy glass and 19-inch alloy wheels with a 15-spoke design. The RS500 uses the same wheels as the standard RS but painted black to match the limited edition's wrap.
For the standard RS, Ford offered Frozen White, Ford Performance Blue and Ultimate Green with gloss black for the grille and much of the exterior trim. A large front grille and unique RS bumper are fitted, along with one-off rear bumper, side mouldings and bonnet and wing vents. There is also a large rear spoiler mounted to the tailgate.
Xenon headlights were standard, as were a heated windscreen and Ford fitted all Focuses of this generation with its Easy Fuel capless filler to prevent misfuelling. With the optional Luxury 1 pack, buyers could order keyless entry, rear parking sensors, automatic wipers and a Tyre Deflation Detection System. RS500 models come with all of this kit as standard, as it effectively had the Luxury 1 pack incorporated into its specification.
Ford chose a special matt black 'foil' finish for the RS500, which was applied by 3M in Frankfurt, Germany after the cars had been built and painted Panther Black at Ford's Saarlouis plant. This matt finish is very tough, but Ford recommended not using normal car washes for the RS500 as it could wear the matt finish and turn it shiny.
The paint on other the standard RS is good, but watch for slight mismatches in shade with cars painted Ultimate Green. It's a tricky colour to match and Ford didn't always get it right straight from the factory, so don't immediately suspect accident damage if you spot a mismatch on green cars. That being said, it’s advised to carry out more checks to be sure the car has not been in a collision if you spot something amiss.
If there is any corrosion, it's likely to take hold at the tops of the wheel arches. With so many RS models sold, there's no point taking on a rusty car. The metal parts of the front grille can also corrode and check the bonnet and bumper carefully for stone chips as they are quite vulnerable to this kind of damage.
Lastly, listen for any rattle from the tailgate, which will most likely be the rear spoiler shaking slightly in its fixings. The long-term solution requies its removal and then refitting, with a small bead of sealant around the base to hold it firmly in place and absorb any future vibrations.
Taking centre stage in the cabin are the large Recaro sports seats, which are colour-coded to the exterior paint. Green cars have matching wings for the seats, while both blue and white cars getting blue wings. There's also a Recaro 60/40 split rear bench seat and buyers could order part-leather Ebony black hide as an option.
Ford's Power button starts the engine rather than the ignition key, while the main dials are supplemented by three smaller dials on the dash top for oil pressure, oil temperature and turbo boost. A carbon-effect centre console sits in front of a gear lever with aluminium knob and handbrake with aluminium handle.
A Sony CD stereo with six-disc changer and DAB digital radio was fitted as standard, complete with MP3 player and AUX connections. There's also air conditioning, electric windows and Thatcham Category 1 alarm. The Luxury pack adds an auto-dimming rear view mirror and dual zone air conditioning. Customers could also specify a Bluetooth hands free and voice control system. A Luxury 2 pack further added a DVD-based satellite navigation system with seven-inch touchscreen display. If any car you consider has the sat nav fitted, make sure it is up to your needs as it's a primitive system by today's standards. Also, make sure the rear-view camera for reversing works as the lens cover is prone to cracking.
As for the rest of the RS's cabin, there's little to worry about as it's surprisingly hard wearing thanks to the use of hard and scratchy plastics. Only the outer bolsters of the heavily sculpted front seats can wear, but no more so than any other car with this type of seating.
For the RS500, Ford fitted a numbered plaque to the centre console to tell you where your car was in the 500-car production. The RS500 also got red stitching on the steering wheel and gear lever gaiter, door cards and floor mats. The only options for the RS500 were full red leather for the front Recaro seats and the sat nav system.
With its ASBO styling and front-drive layout, the Mk2 Focus RS could so easily have been a torque-compromised, overwrought mess. It wasn't. It confirmed that the mega-hatch concept could achieve greatness if its maker was prepared to go the extra mile. For Ford that meant perfecting the RevoKnuckle and its relationship with the Quaife diff. It did not eliminate torque steer entirely, but quelled it to an extent that seemed inconceivable to a Mk1 RS owner.
Mated to a barrel-chested five-cylinder engine, the resulting Focus turned out to be near unputdownable. Tellingly, it was a longtermer gold dust in car magazine offices, the keys coveted for as long as the front tyres retained any tread. Lest we forget, it was practical, too, with a capacious boot and usable back seats. And with so much torque on tap it could be easygoing if you weren't in the mood. Which was virtually never.
The Mk2 was so good, and its memory so cherished that not even the histrionics of the much more sophisticated Mk3 could entirely put it in the shade. Indeed, the sudden omnipresence of all-wheel drive handed the older car a curious USP, and some continued to yearn for its simpler, purer way of doing things. Even its slightly yobbish look is now largely forgiven; compared to the likes of the FK8 Civic Type R, the Focus is rakishly good looking. It still makes for a compelling purchase, over a decade from its launch.
It helps of course that the car enjoys a reputation for toughness, not least in the engine bay. Factor in the resilience that fast Ford's typically conjure up in the face of depreciation, and it's hardly surprising that prices stayed buoyant for a remarkably long time (helped no end by its maker's decision to replace the model in erratic, whim-like style). Ford's recent confirmation that it is unlikely to offer a replacement for the Mk3 anytime soon - certainly not a like-for-like one - means that the Mk2 remains part of a very exclusive RS club. High-mile, long-suffering examples will obviously continue to get cheaper. But don't be surprised if cherished cars become increasingly covetable as time passes and options dwindle.
[This is a comprehensive update of an article originally published in 2014]
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