Introduced in 2002, the Focus RS was the first Rallye Sport model in Ford’s range since the demise of the RS2000 five years before. Taking inspiration from the WRC Focus, the new RS curiously eschewed four wheel drive and instead put its power down through the front wheels, via a Quaife torque-biasing differential.
This gave it serious grip and an uncompromising character when pressing on, as well as eliciting a lot of comment from the motoring press. Possessing a very sporty character it was certainly just as exciting as its four wheel drive competition and with a heavily reworked Duratec engine pumping out 212bhp it was right on pace too.
The first of a slew of Focus RS models, this first-gen MK1 may not be able to match the latest hot hatches for pace but it by most yardsticks remains a decently quick car. It offers an engaging drive and is an important part of Ford’s chequered motoring history.
Which one to buy?
With only 4501 units built and no colour or trim options to muddy the waters, your focus so to speak should be on finding the best condition RS within your budget. Essentially this first generation RS remained unchanged for the duration of its short production run, finished in imperial blue paintwork with black on blue leather and alcantara interior it was a sporty looking hot hatch.
Mechanically the Duratec engine featured a modified cylinder head, uprated fuelling system and a GT 2560LS turbo with Chargecooler. The result was 212bhp of power which was channelled to the front wheels through a MTX75 5-speed gearbox and the aggressive Quaife LSD prevented most of it from turning into expensive tyre smoke.
Stock standard low milers are rare finds and command the highest prices, these are also the ones that will be the most likely to appreciate in value over the coming years.
As the mechanicals are robust many have been modified over the years to take advantage of the motor’s latent abilities. Mild upgrades such as remapping and replacement exhausts systems can liberate up to 50bhp and should not detrimentally affect the cars reliability. More heavily modified cars should be approached with caution however.
Phase 2 cars which were introduced in late 2003 featured some very minor changes the most important of which was an update to the engine mapping to resolve a few fuelling issues. The earlier cars should not be overlooked though as these changes should have been carried out under recall.
Performance and specs
Engine 1988cc 16 valve DOHC in-line four-cylinder
Power 212bhp @ 5500rpm
Torque 229lb ft @ 3500rpm
Top speed 144 mph
0-60mph 6.4 seconds
Fuel consumption 27.9mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Curb weight 1278kg
• Ford issued a recall to resolve fuelling and cold starting issues on the earlier cars, however most owners would have remapped the cars themselves by now. Ensure that a reputable tuning house has carried out the work if this is the case.
• A number of panels such as the pricey front bumper are RS Mk1 specific, so replacements can be pricey.
Cars with uprated turbos, exhausts and intercoolers can boost power up to 400bhp, but mechanical longevity can be compromised in other areas and values tend to be lower for heavily modified cars.
• The Duratec engine is robust, however watch out for blown turbos or oil seals. Keep an eye out for blue smoke blowing out the exhaust.
• The cooling system should be given a once over, especially around the thermostat housing. Wet patches in front footwells can either be a leaking pollen filter or rusted water pipe behind the driver’s side wheel arch. Both issues are easy to resolve.
• Suspension rubbers and dampers should be checked if the car feels excessively loose on a test drive.
• The Brembo four pot brakes are well up to their task and should be more than adequate for road use, harder pads and uprated brake fluid can be used for track days.
• Check the Chargecooler reservoir to ensure that water is pumping into it and examine the bushes which can wear out and cause the unit to vibrate on its mountings.
• Rust can manifest itself in the arches and around the door mirrors and plastic boot handle where it meets the bodywork. Paintwork quality in general is not particularly of a high quality so stone chips and small scratches are normal.
• Bonnet linings tended to pull away causing vibration at speed. An issue that affected all Focus models, and can be resolved by re-gluing the affected trim.
2002: Ford Focus RS introduced with Quaife LSD and heavily reworked 212bhp turbocharged Duratec engine. Available solely in imperial blue paintwork and black/blue interior trim
2003: Minor update introduced with changes to ECU, changing from AE to AF spec to resolve fuelling issues. Retrofitted to older models under recall. Production ends in November with 4501 units produced
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.mk1focusrsoc.com – Focus RS owners club
• www.grahamgoode.com – Performance Ford tuners
• www.rsownersclub.co.uk – Club catering for all Ford RS models
Summary and prices
High milers start at around £8000, ensure that a comprehensive service history is available and that any modifications have been carried out professionally. Those looking for the best cars will need to spend closer to £16,000. These are generally low milers and have the greatest potential for future appreciation. Choice is limited due to the relatively small 4501 production run, so it may take a bit of time to find the right car.
Rough around the edges in just the right measures the Mk1 RS combines contemporary levels of performance with an analogue charm and daily usability that makes it a compelling modern classic. Pick a good one and you could have your cake and eat it as values continue to rise.
Words: John Tallodi