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In 1992, Ford released the Escort RS Cosworth, a turbocharged, four-wheel drive, big-winged hot hatch to scare the pants off pretty much everything on the road.

Fast-forward 23 years, and Ford has just released the Focus RS, a turbocharged, four-wheel drive, big-winged hot hatch to scare the pants off pretty much everything on the road.

Yes, the third-generation Focus RS is here, and yes, Ford’s hottest of hot hatches is four-wheel drive. And powerful.

How powerful? Though we don’t have precise figures yet, Ford puts projected output at ‘over 316bhp’ courtesy of a 2.3-litre turbo four-cylinder, with as much as 330bhp possible. The similarly four-wheel drive VW Golf R makes 296bhp, the new Honda Civic Type R 306bhp. In fact, in hot hatch world, only the 355bhp Merc A45 and 362bhp Audi RS3 boast greater punching power.

That four-cylinder turbo is, in essence, the same Ecoboost unit found in the new Mustang, though gifted a new twin-scroll turbo and larger intercooler. There head is cast of tougher alloy, while there’s an uprated exhaust and radiator system.

Ford tells us the engine will rev to a healthy 6,800rpm, and promises ‘the distinctive burbles, pops and crackles that are an RS signature’. It’ll have to go some way to match the deliriously characterful soundtrack of its five-cylinder forebear.

That power feeds through a six-speed manual gearbox - no highfalutin flappy-paddle affair here - to a bespoke all-wheel drive system capable of continuously varying the torque balance both front-to-back (with a maximum 70 per cent reaching the rear), and across the rear axle. Rather than using a traditional limited slip differential or e-diff, the Focus apparently employs a unique mechanical solution.

“We’re using an all-wheel drive system we believe no one else is,” says Ford Performance director Dave Pericak. “The RDU has a clutch at the front and twin clutches at the back, one on either side of the diff. So we can control the torque front-to-back but also side-to-side. We push the car around the corner, we don’t slow the car down.

“It’s an all-new AWD system designed specifically for the RS. The capability is unbelievable. It’ll shock you when you get behind the wheel. We didn’t want to do a warmed-over version of the last RS. We wanted a new level.”

The previous Focus RS, you’ll remember, pumped 300bhp through its front wheels alone, a set-up that - despite the presence of Ford’s much-vaunted ‘RevoKnuckle’ front suspension - offered more than its fair share of torque-steer. The new RS should deliver rather less wheel-twirling, and even more speed: though Ford’s yet to release performance figures, expect a 0-62mph time under five seconds.

Ford says the Focus RS delivers unprecedented levels of grip, promising lateral cornering forces in excess of 1g. Presumably that’s on the optional semi-slick Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres (Pilot Sport 2s are standard). 

As well as a new launch control system, the RS has four driving modes - Normal, Sport, Track and Drift. Yes, drift. Ford says Drift Mode “features a specially developed calibration for the AWD system which modifies the torque distribution to help the driver achieve controlled oversteer drifts under circuit conditions”. This is most definitely Very Excellent News. 

Besides the massive rear wing, which you’ll no doubt have spotted, the Focus also sports a hefty diffuser/tailpipe arrangement, smart 19-inch alloys, and a mouth large enough to ingest medium-sized cats.

On the inside, you’ll find Ford’s traditional hot-hatch smorgasbord: Recaro buckets, flat-bottom steering wheel, maybe even a branded baseball cap or two if you’re lucky.

That aero kit means zero lift at both ends, while engineering manager Tyrone Johnson tell us the RS uses the standard Focus bonnet and front and rear wings. The big bodywork changes are those all-new front and rear bumper units.

“It’s not an easy task with all that cooling requirement,” admits Johnson, who also tells TG that the Focus RS won’t join the Megane RS and Seat Leon Cupra in the Nordschiefe lap-time wars.

“We use the Nurburgring for development because of the variety of corners. But we won’t be posting a time,” he says. “It’s about feel, precision, not just the numbers. It’s more complicated than just, ‘We’re the fastest’.”

What else do you need to know about the thirtieth car to wear the Blue Oval’s RS badge? Well, like the Focus ST, the RS will only be available in five-door flavour, and in just four colours: blue, grey, black and white. It’ll be built at Ford’s Saarlouis facility in Germany, but will be sold worldwide in markets including China, Australia and North America.

“We know the competition, and we will be extremely competitive,” says Pericak. “I absolutely believe the performance wars are on.”

No word on prices yet, but we’d be surprised if the Focus RS comes in under thirty grand in the UK. Which is quite a lot for a Ford hatchback, but possibly rather good value for what might just prove to be the ultimate B-road supercar slayer…

Jeremy Clarkson on the old Ford Focus RS

Take a look around Ford’s secret stash

Stig vs Ford Focus RS500: hillclimb

Richard Hammond drives the original Focus RS

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