By Andrew MacLean

Anyone can be Ken Block in the new Ford Focus RS. All it takes is a push of a button and a heavy right foot. It is that simple.

The American stuntman has become an automotive hero for a modern generation of performance car enthusiasts thanks to his YouTube series of Gymkhana videos – a collection of flicks filled with tyre-frying, death-defying, sideways-sliding action that has earned him millions of fans (and dollars) and even a place on the development team for the blue oval’s latest pocket rocket.

2016 FORD FOCUS RS

  • On-sale: Now
  • Price: $50,990 (plus on-road costs)
  • Engine: 2.3-litre four cylinder turbo petrol
  • Power: 257kW at 6000rpm
  • Torque: 440Nm at 2000-4500rpm
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, all-wheel drive

 

The hot hatch segment has a new king in Ford’s potent dynamo.

The Block influence is obvious as soon as you activate the five-door hot hatch’s unique drift mode, one of four drive settings that allows – and even encourages – the same kind of heroic driving antics for which he has become renowned.

Surprisingly in this day and age where electronic driver aids largely dilute the level of engagement and involvement in modern performance cars, the Focus RS uses modern technology to amplify every element of the driving experience to the point where it re-sets the hot hatch benchmark.

While technically on-sale in Australia from this month, with this year’s allocation of roughly 500 cars already sold, new customers will be hard pressed getting behind the wheel until early next year.

But unlike its predecessor, which was restricted to just 310 units locally, this generation Focus RS is a permanent addition to the range. It’s also more practical, coming in as a five-door (rather than three-door), more powerful and faster and, for the first time, has an all-wheel drive transmission – the key to unleashing its Drift mode party trick.

Priced from $50,990 (plus on-road costs), the flagship Focus lines up against well-established rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf R and Renault Megane RS Trophy R, but it eclipses them in terms of performance and offers a more affordable alternative to premium European hot hatches such as the Mercedes-AMG A45 and Audi RS3.

It straddles the two tiers thanks to its Mustang-sourced 2.3-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder that has been re-engineered to sit across the engine bay and elevates peak outputs to 257kW and 440Nm (rising to 470Nm in a temporary overboost mode) that is good enough to propel it from 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds when using the launch control function. It’s a crackerjack of a motor that is as flexible as it is fast.

The whole car comes alive the harder you drive it. The revised steering, which features a unique linear rack with just two turns lock-to-lock rather than the variable one in the mainstream Focus models, is accurate.

While the driving experience raises the bar for fast, affordable fun, the rest of the package lacks the polish of its European rivals. The overall styling is more purposeful than pretty, from the big gaping holes in its front bumper to the chunky rally-style rear wing and lower diffuser. The cabin is mostly mainstream Focus with the exception of auxillary gauges on top of the dash and the lightweight racing seats that offer plenty of lateral support but could be perched lower.

But that is really nitpicking. Any shortcomings are the furthest things from your consciousness when you think you look like Ken Block.

Test drive the Focus RS at Werribee Ford, corner Heath and Morris roads Hoppers Crossing. www.westpointford.com.au