To many, the lasting memory of Paris 2010 will be of Naomi Campbell vacantly smiling at a Lotus Esprit like it was a child with one eye. Baffled, almost sympathetic – but generally indifferent. To us though, even the A-list weirdness of new-era Lotus is forgettable. What’s clinging to the inside of our skulls is driving there and back in a Focus RS500. The big black Ford is a horrendous bastard of the highest order… and it’s totally fucking brilliant.
But also tinged with sadness. Dressed entirely in black, the RS500 mourns the demise of the Focus RS and its gargling baritone of a five-cylinder engine. For a mainstream model, the RS was actually pretty controversial. ‘Pah! It won’t be able to handle the power! The torque steer will give you tennis elbow!’ yelped car fans with sheltered lives; ‘it’ll amputate your arms and storm off into a ditch’ they continued, ignorantly. And that was just about the standard 300bhp car. The RS500 has another 45bhp, not to mention 15lb ft more torque. Only 500 will be made and it costs an almost unbelievable £35,000. Yet it’s still brill.
Picture the scene. You’re at Beaconsfield services, in the rain, at 11pm and all you want to do is reach a warm bed in Maidstone. Car brimmed, you approach the M25 entry slip. Because you’re bored, not to mention curious about how 345bhp could possibly be applied to damp tarmac via two front wheels, you check the mirrors and stop, right at the start of he slip road. Then, with traction control optimistically switched off, you nail the best getaway possible. Like you’ve just robbed a Post Office.
Bwaaarpp-ba-ba… tsshh… Bwaaaaaaaaarrpp… tsssh… bwaaaaaaaaaaaaarp… you’re doing the speed limit. 0-62 in 5.4 seconds. Apart from the judder of axle tramp (which incidentally, is no worse here than in a DSG equipped Golf GTI), and a swerve through the lorry ruts it happens cleanly, smartly and without a hernia. Of course, just like even a rear wheel drive car with over 300bhp, you can’t just hoof the throttle and slam the clutch without ultimately looking like a bit of a tit – but the RS500’s extra turbo boost, bigger fuel pump and fatter exhausts haven’t made it undriveable.
What they have done is make it disgustingly quick. Through 3rd, 4th and 5th, it’s M3 fast. Unhinged, nobs turned up to 11, laugh out loud even on the M20 at midnight fast. Its stability is phenomenal too. While at town speeds the steering could benefit from a quicker rack, at velocities where the RS500 beggars belief, it’s perfect.
Micro-adjustments in the fast lane are second nature. You never actually consider how much input the steering needs to change lane or tackle a sweeping bend, you just turn the wheel and it moves instantly and gracefully. No twitching, no nervousness, no delay – just great steering with a natural feel.
When you get off the motorway and stop marvelling at the speed, steering and stability, the RS500 shows off its talent as an urban magnet for admiration, camera phones and ‘rev it’ hand gestures… even from surly Parisians. We parked it right in front of the Eiffel Tower and a tourist actually asked to have his picture taken next to the car instead of the iconic French landmark.
Through the horrendous jam that is La Peripherique, it’s just as easy to drive as a standard RS, which in turn is just as forgiving as any other Focus on sale. A light clutch, progressive brakes and lots of windows to see out of. It even treats you to parking sensors and a reversing camera, to help avoid scuffing the matt black wrap when parking at the Porte de Versailles.
Then a motorshow happened. Lamborghini released a fake car we thought would be real. Porsche showed a car with spinal curvature. Ferrari took the roof off a 599. Jaguar made the world’s first fictional hybrid with jet turbines. Ford showed off a four cylinder Focus ST that makes the RS500 look even more special. And Brian May made five very similar looking new cars from Lotus all smell off hairspray. After all that, it was time to drive back. Paris back to Brum.
Most of the return journey was a blur – but we can’t talk about it for legal reasons. Some toll booths. Darkness. 20mpg. Driving from full to empty without stopping. A tunnel. A game of Angry Birds. The M20. A panini. The M25. The M40. The M6. And then, coming off a junction early for Birmingham at 1:30am. Brilliant.
If you ever drive to the middle of Birmingham from junction 5 of the M6, you might have already discovered the series of roundabouts that start at Castle Bromwich, go past Fort Shopping Park, through Nechells and into the City centre. If you’re a cock with a Saxo, you’ll already go there every Sunday night to compare neon lights with your dickhead mates. These are the best urban roundabouts in the country… and at 1:30am there’s nobody else to bother you.
First, you’re forced to stand on the brakes as you hit the left-hand exit slip-road towards lights that are always red. Sit. Wait. Then tackle the wide roundabout, right at the top of second gear. Half throttle pulls a tight line, 3/4 throttle forces the front wide with inside wheel scrabbling. Take the third exit, grabbing third gear after the apex. Heading back under the M6 now, towards the Spitfire roundabout and Jaguar plant… there’s a tight left after the hill has crested. If you don’t know it’s there, you best phone the paint shop.
Take it in second, again finding the inside wheel’s traction point and breaking it just for fun. Now a blat to the top of third as you pass Fort Dunlop. The wall is high to your left, and the car sounds frightening and awesome. Straight over the next roundabout at the Bentley dealer, in third. Up the hill, hoping the lights at the next roundabout are green. They are. Entering with a slither of brake pressure, the back is firmly tied down… jolt on some more lock, feather the throttle, lift off to try and provoke some tail swinging action – but the RS500 is having none of it.
The next roundabout is on the crest of a hill, and a very easy one to get violently wrong – as we came very close to experiencing in an R33 Skyline GT-R last year. Full throttle would see any car crash… so we give it as much as we dare and it sticks. Change direction quickly to take the exit, the front snuffling for grip as wet tarmac turns into rough, damp concrete. Grip increased, the throttle touches floor mat for just long enough to see third gear… and a speed camera. Brakes on, fun over. The last trickle into the city is taken with a heart rate far quicker than our speed.
Yes, a normal RS could have covered the ground very nearly as quickly and would have required less concentration to do so. But the times where the RS500’s massive power is a glorious pleasure far outweigh the occasions where it’s unusable or a burden. It’s expensive, ridiculous, tacky, does less than 30mpg and looks like the type of character who’d draw a cock and balls on a gravestone. But that’s exactly what it should be – a tribute to the RS, with a personality that’s a caricature of what makes that car so great. The RS500 is the naughtiest epitaph ever written.