One of the most satisfying roads in the entire eastern half of Australia is only 103km as the crow flies from Melbourne’s CBD.
The Eildon-Jamieson Road, as it’s unassumingly known, is about 2.5 hours’ drive from central Melbourne and it’s a sleepy Sunday morning as we turn on to this treed-in, 66km dream squiggle of mostly second- and third-gear, front-tyre-killing corners.
It’s raining lightly, it’s foggy, and stringy tree bark debris litters the road, sometimes looking like fallen branches. But we’re feeling good about things, because we’re in an all-wheel drive hot hatch with advanced chassis electronics, a front limited-slip differential, oodles of turbocharged mid-range torque and we’ve, err, removed the track-focused Michelin Pilot Sport Cup2 tyres.
Let’s talk tyres (no, stay with me!) as they make a huge difference to the Focus RS driving and ownership experience. As our test car is the Limited Edition, it comes with standard 19-inch forged wheels and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup2 tyres.
This package is also optional on the standard RS, but if you found yourself requiring a new set of boots then you might be glad to hear that a set of replacement Cup2s is actually, in our opinion, not the way to go for the road.
With the standard Cup2s nearing their treadwear indicators after admittedly quite a hard 9000km, we took Falken up on its offer to try the new FK510 ultra-high performance rubber on the 235/35 R19-shod RS. Although we only fitted the Falkens to review them, it proved an illuminating exercise in the context of the Focus RS itself, as well.
The difference in ride quality between the FK510s and Cup2s was instantly noticeable. Gone was the sensation that the RS was wearing inflatable versions of the rollers on Fred Flinstone’s footmobile, the hard edge replaced with a new, less punishing lower-speed suppleness.
We’re not saying the FK510s transformed the RS into a Mercedes-Maybach, but the ride was definitely improved, and the road noise quieter. And suddenly, we could imagine ourselves driving the RS to work and back everyday. This was a brand new thought.
Geek Speak: Tyre technology
Of course, a lot of this has to do with the Cup2s wanting a fairly high 41/38psi front/rear cold than any special merit on the FK510’s part, as any UHP tyre would presumably have the same effect.
And given the seats are still firm and the dampers only half work below 70km/h – meaning there’s still an element of you tolerating the ride at low speeds – the new tyres have us also wondering if the Focus RS works better on a UHP rather than Cup2 tyre when enjoying the car on the road.
More grip doesn’t automatically improve a car, and the Cup2 almost has too much for the RS’s chassis on a twisty road, such that all you’re really doing is leaning into a huge, blunt wall of purchase and making it harder for yourself to experience the full talent of that brilliant RS all-wheel drive chassis.
As we found on a damp, treacherous, lonely Eildon-Jamieson Road (which is best included in an epic Victorian high-country multi-day driving tour), it seems less is more when it comes to grip in the RS – on the road, at least.
With a UHP tyre, the limit of the front tyres is more achievable, which is more exciting; the rear is livened up and more eager for a play. You can expend the available front grip such that you can feel the brake torque vectoring at work, and have more fun in the RS at lower speeds. (And presumably it’s better for Drift Mode, although we honestly rarely get the urge to use it.)
And the RS is mega on this damp, twisty road. While in these somewhat sketchy conditions we are happy to leave the rear tyres alone and enjoy the front end instead, it’s interesting as well to play a game of How Early Can I Pick Up The Throttle.
There’s a sweet spot – or curve – of throttle application that you can trace where the RS puts its power down and holds or even tightens its line, but get greedy and it’s possible to push the front wide. Does the fitment of a front limited-slip differential make the LE feel a bit too ‘front-driven’? You’d have to drive it back-to-back with a normal RS to really notice, but possibly.
Verdicts only time can tell on Long-term reviews
The RS is also underrated as a gadget for getting from one Aussie country town to another. The damping gets better the faster you go, lending the RS incredible high-speed stability for a hot hatch. It would feel very comfortable at 130km/h on a typical Aussie country road.
Our time with the Focus RS is almost up and the softer 19-inch UHP tyres have turned a fling into potential marriage material. It’s going to be hard to give it back.
2018 Ford Focus RS Limited Edition Pros & Cons
Three things we're falling for:
1 - High-speed damping
2 - That front end
3 - Wet weather talent
Three things we're not fond of:
1 - Breathless top-end
2 - Meh gearshift
3 - Dated interior