Green With Envy: A Week With Ken Block’s Mk2 Focus RS
A little while back we set out to convince Ken Block that lending us his Mk2 Focus RS would be a good way to promote Project ST and generate enthusiasm for an RS-starved American audience. He fell for it, and as a result we got to spend a full week with his very special car.
As alluded to above, the US never got the Mk2 RS. Hell, we never even got a Mk2 Focus of any kind, so driving around in a bright green, fat-fendered, 5-cylinder turbo RS was an experience pretty damn close to what we’d have felt in any typical exotic car. Lots of “what the **** is that?” and “how the **** do you have that thing here?” types of questions were asked of us during the week, though more than a few SoCal people knew exactly what the bright green RS was and exactly who it belonged to.
As many of you already know, the Mk2 RS is a very interesting car. With a 300-hp 5-cylinder turbo engine, 6-speed manual trans, and high-tech “RevoKnuckle” front suspension set-up, the RS was (is?) more than likely the most capable FWD hot hatch ever made. The RevoKnuckle front hubs separate the tie-rods from the front strut assembly, and as such help to greatly reduce the effects of torque steer. It wasn’t long ago that most chassis engineers agreed that a 300-hp output just wasn’t possible for a street-driven FWD car. Well, we’re here to tell you it’s not only possible but it just flat out works.
The major wild card in this equation is the use of a mechanical limited slip differential. This torque-sensing piece of wizardry makes the RS’s steering wheel come alive in your hands. Not with torque-steer, though; because while there is some of that, what you’re mostly feeling is the LSD biasing traction to each wheel and the communication between those two front wheels and you is the kind of info that makes you feel like you can place the car on any line through any corner, and hold it there right on the edge of traction. When the front tires finally do give up their grip, the chassis is tuned to offer an oversteer adjustment simply by way of lifting off the throttle. Just like the Mk3 ST, the rear end is more than just along for the ride and does its share in helping the front tires keep the car holding pretty much any line you ask it to.
We just mentioned the Mk3 ST and that makes sense, since during the week with Ken’s Mk2 RS we also had his Mk3 ST – the Focus Block STyle. Obviously, the goal here was to compare the two cars and report on how well (or not) the ST fares against the Mk2 RS. We’re happy to say the ST competes remarkably well. First and foremost, though the ST is down some 50-hp to the RS (they weigh about the same), in a straight line in third and fourth gears the RS had trouble pulling convincingly on the ST. With a smaller turbo and direct injection (much higher static compression ratio), the ST enjoys better throttle response and much quicker turbo spool compared to the RS. So while the RS is the faster Focus, on the street the two cars feel evenly matched.
In the handling department, there’s just no getting around the benefits offered from a mechanical LSD. The Mk2 RS simply offers way more steering feel and better car control. The ST’s electronic systems do an admirable job in helping the car get all its horses to the ground, but at the end of the day, in a track environment, the RS is a more capable car. Again, though, in the real world the two cars are more closely matched than we anticipated. Even with our Ford Racing/Eibach adjustable coil-over suspension, the ST actually rode more comfortably than the RS, and was more stable at high speed. Both cars felt very similar in the braking department and short of finding their fade limits on a racetrack we’d have a tough time choosing between them.
On the interior side of things, differences between the RS and ST were much more apparent. Simply put, the Mk2 Focus interior feels like it was designed a generation ago. But that’s, of course, because it was. Though clean and very “Euro” in its design details, the Mk2 interior by now just feels old. We did prefer the blue instrument needles (an RS thing), but for style and function the Mk3 interior is simply a better place to be. We’d love to trade for the Mk2 RS’s three-spoke wheel and Recaro Sportster CS-based seats, but that’s just a personal preference and in doing so we’d be giving up multi-function steering wheel options and side airbags – probably not good moves in the long run.
On the styling side of things, the RS and ST are at the same time both very different and very much the same. With its flared fenders, hood vents, raised wing, and deep rear diffuser, the RS is pure rally-car-for-the-street in appearance, while the ST is far more subtle. Then again, each car is painted in a retina-searing color, sits purposefully over big wheels and tires, and is instantly recognizable as a very special Ford.
When the week was over we handed back the RS key to KB and we all sat around discussing our thoughts regarding the two cars. For the most part we all agreed they were far more closely matched than we’d estimated, and each of us was very impressed with how well the ST held its own.
KB loves his RS and always will, but he admitted he was more than a little anxious to have both cars in his stable at the same time. We suggested that could make him seem like a greedy bastard, but he simply pointed out he’s a family man with kids and a dog and that having a three-door RS and a five-door ST under one roof just makes sense. Well played, Mr. Block.
So here we are at the end of the article and we know quite well many of you are waiting for us to declare one car better than the other. Since the mission statement for each is so clearly different we’re not going to do that, but we will let you know which one we’d prefer to own. Hands down, if it came to choosing which car we’d like to see in our own garage, we’d take KB’s Focus RS. Simply put, for any US Ford fan, the Mk2 Focus RS is pure exotica. It’s forbidden fruit. It’s revenge. It’s a piece of fast Ford Euro history we American enthusiasts have been deprived of for far too long, and for those reasons alone it’s simply irresistible.
Of course a Mk3 Focus RS – available to us in the US – could well make these questions completely irrelevant. As close in all-around performance as the current ST is to the last RS, though, we can definitely say for sure that Ford has their work cut out for them. In other words, it’s really a great time to be a Ford enthusiast.
Check out the rest of the photos taken for us by good friend and pro photographer, Linbergh.