TWO CORNERS at the Haunted Hills hillclimb circuit converge into one, as one configuration of the track meets another.
Entering his left hander is Warren Luff, sideways, in a Subaru BRZ, at probably 60 or 70km/h. And entering the other, my right-hander, at a similar speed, is yours truly, in our Ford Focus RS Limited Edition long-termer.
There’s a video camera suction-cupped to the bonnet and my job is to tuck in behind Luffy as he drifts past to capture it for video. Get the timing wrong, or anything wrong, and we’ll be making two tricky phone calls to separate car companies. Get it right, and we’ve just nailed an epic shot.
We’re at Haunted Hills experimenting with a video for Bridgestone. Basically, they love our recent video efforts (which you should too, at our YouTube channel), and so asked if we could help get the message out about their RE003 and RE-71R patterns.
We offered to put Luffy in a rear-drive something, on Bridgestone tyres, and have him show off around a racetrack – which we hope people will enjoy. They said sounds great. And so here we are. (The video, as well, will be out soon.)
It meant we needed a car in which to chase Luffy, and it turned out a hot hatch with 257kW on sticky tyres (that weren’t Bridgestones, mind you) was ideal. Aside from its flat bonnet being perfect for a suction cup camera mount, and it being fast enough to keep up with Luffy Jnr in a sideways BRZ, the RS’s tenacious front end in particular proved its worth during our shooting, where we could tighten the line mid-corner to capture a slightly better shot of the broadside BRZ only metres in front of us.
At the end of filming, with the crew packing up, Luffy on his way back to the airport and an empty Haunted Hills shrugging its shoulders at us, there was no resisting heading out onto the tight, twisty track to try the Focus RS. The undulating hillclimb circuit proved instructive as we tried Ford’s front-diff-equipped RS LE.
Once you’re a little used to the high seating position, the first thing you notice when pushing the RS on a tighter track is the grip on offer from the 235mm (F/R) Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. They are mega.
As you build temperature into the rubber, the Focus RS loses understeer from its vocabulary as your sides are squished against the Recaro’s supportive side bolsters. The ABS also starts to disappear further and further down the travel of the brake pedal with tyre temp, letting you brake later with seemingly every new corner.
Traction is incredibly strong and you can pick the throttle up very quickly, the computers and torque vectoring smarts working to maintain the RS’s line despite your hamfisted efforts to push it wide (there’s a little bit of torque steer). And, truthfully, there is so much all-wheel drive traction on this rubber, it is actually tricky to know how much of a difference the LE-only front limited-slip differential is making.
Operating-temp Cup 2 tyres turn the RS into a seriously fast little car. Brought back to Haunted Hills for a hillclimb competition, it would doubtless frighten many other older, would-be-faster machines.
When it came time for some oversteer shots, my already meagre skills were left feeling even more inadequate as I tried every trick I knew in an attempt to defeat the velcro-like rear tyres. Alas, it was I who was ultimately defeated, the stubborn rear end needing serious speed and serious technique to unstick, at which point we were talking only a few degrees of white-knuckle corrective lock.
The base car, on the less grippy Pilot Super Sports, will happily and accurately lift-off oversteer into corners or on the brake. It will also power oversteer a fraction if, in a tight corner with half a turn of steering lock on, you boot it, where it will give you a quarter turn back the other way as it hangs the tail out. It does feel a little artificial, but still fun. And, fortunately, still possible even on warmed up Cup 2s.
And that’s one thing that’s obvious about the RS in attempting all this: it’s fun. Properly fun. It exists to entertain you. While, sure, its playfulness is at the slight cost of overall comfort, it’s worth it. And on these tyres – or presumably any track-focused rubber – it’s a proper little weapon.
Four updates in, are we enjoying living with the Focus RS LE? Yes.
Once you know what you’re in for before getting in to drive it, it brings a bit of fun to the morning and evening commutes. The gearshift – functional and notchy when we first got the car – is becoming a bit looser and nicer to use with more kilometres.
The ride is a bit bumpy and occasionally crashy, but is okay most of the time. In fact, we’ve noticed a suppleness and sophistication to the damping at freeway speeds which has even drawn unsolicited compliments from non-car-people passengers.
The firm Recaro seats? You’ll be squirming in them over long distances, but appreciate them on a track. Which is where we’re heading next month – a proper one.
2018 Ford Focus RS Limited Edition Pros & Cons
Three things we're falling for:
1 - It’s fast and fun
2 - 5-door practicality
3 - Looks cool
Three things we're not fond of:
1 - Big turning circle
2 - Sitting quite high
3 - Bland-ish interior