Originally “Rallye Sport” meant exactly that. The 1970 Escort AVO RS1600 twin cam was built, as Walter Hayes used to say, "to win on Sunday and sell on Monday." Even the Cosworth Escort RS unveiled on a hot night in 1991 at Blenheim Palace was already stage bound. Nowadays, Ford doesn't even rally the Focus and when the sport's administrators realised technical advances were leading to rally cars being faster without a driver, they steered the rules in the opposite direction to that of road cars. With one flap of its leathery wings, Ford's marketing department had taken over the RS badge.
Fortunately in recent years, Ford's engineers ensured that each subsequent Focus RS was more adept and novel. From the 2002 Mark I with its extraordinarily wayward limited-slip differential, to the 2009 Mark II Focus RS, so long in problematic gestation that it seemed like a car built round an exhaust manifold, to this, the Mark III Focus RS (not to mention 30th RS model), which embraces and technically enhances a hooligan tendency, which has never been far distant from a souped-up Ford.
After the stonking Mustang GT350 and awesome Ford GT 2016, this is Ford RS's latest salvo, The Ford Focus RS.
All RS models with the exception of the 1988-1990 Sierra RS Cosworth saloons have been two-door shells, but this car is a standard five-door, world-market Focus bodyshell. It's strengthened to suit and the multilink rear suspension and GKN axle occupy the spare normally taken by the spare-wheel well. Brakes are by Brembo, with the massive front monoblock callipers, the biggest they can fit inside the standard 18-inch wheels, though that's just for snow-chain requirements and all Brit-spec RSs roll on 19-inch wheels with over 80 per cent of the 2,000 UK advanced orders specifying £595 forged alloy rims.
Those Recaro seats hold you like the embrace of the spider woman, but they're as comfortable as a bosun's chair, with just a bit of blue stitching to lift the gloom. And in homage to the original Escort RS models, there's three extra gauges peeking out of the top of the dash like crocodile eyes staring out from the Limpopo River.
Did I mention options list? At under £30,000, the RS is a blue-collar supercar bargain, but add a single thing to it and you blast past 30K with the earth's escape velocity. So it's any colour you like as long as it's black, while optional blue, white and metallic paints run from £250 to £745. Shell backs for the front seats, which are pretty much essential if you want to have any kind of rear-seat leg room are £1,145, the lux pack of power-fold door mirrors, rear parking sensors, cruise control and privacy glass is £1,000, a satnav and Sony stereo is £465 and an electric tilt and slide sunroof (does anyone choose these anymore?) is £575.
"It's easy to position, it's easy to control and it's fast!" says Jurgen Gagstatter, chief program engineer. Yeah and it does doughnuts in car parks at a flick of a switch. Oh sorry, did I write that down? Of course it only does this on race tracks with pro drivers at the wheel dressed in fireproof overalls and serious expressions. Except that most young folk do it in deserted industrial estates at two in the morning before being moved on by the police...
Drive it hard and through a long series of bends the RS flows beautifully, but needs precision and determination to turn it in to tighter corners and an accuracy about exactly where you want the wheels to be on the road. Ford has worked hard to ensure it doesn't just plough straight on in corners, but there's a reluctance to change direction if you just saw at the wheel.
The ride is as firm as a six-day-old loaf, though on decent motorway surfaces, it's tolerable. Off the main highway it's choppy and your spine will chafe at the seat back. Go in very hard and the slide on Michelin Pilots is gentle and recoverable, especially with the RS's quick steering rack; it not only makes you feel good, but it makes you look good, too.
On track, and on Michelin Cup tyres, it's still as fast and adjustable, well mannered and while it understeers slightly, the way it barrels out of a corner is something that the German rivals would struggle to match and those progressive and super powerful brakes will have you grabbing your false teeth off the dashboard. I would have liked an “everything-off” setting as it's a benign thing and as Roger 'Albert' Clark used to say of the Escort: "unless you’re looking out the back window, you’re not going to spin it.”
Then there's Drift mode, of which the best we can say is that it works, but isn't the fastest way round a corner and burns up those Michelins faster than you can say Ken Block. While it's likely to be the source of endless fascination on internet chat rooms, the likelihood is that, for most owners, the Drift button will stay firmly unpushed.
At 1.6 tonnes this Focus RS weighs 900kg more than the old RS1600 and 300kg more than the Escort RS Cosworth. It's the curse of modern safety and emissions legislation, yet the Focus RS Mark III is faster, safer and grippier than any of its predecessors. And if there's a slight lack of exactitude which some previous RS models carried like a red badge of courage, you shouldn't perhaps blame Ford, but celebrate the fact that it's still in the ring and swinging.
For all it's very minor faults, the RS is a mighty, giant-killing, blue-collar supercar.