Why you should buy an Escort Cosworth over a Ford Focus RS

The recently discontinued MK3 Ford Focus RS is destined to become a future classic, but should you buy an Escort RS Cosworth instead? We find out...

Ford has a reputation for building some of the greatest hot hatchbacks to ever have graced tarmac. Turning mundane family machines into sports car shaming upstarts has become something of a speciality. The recently departed MK3 Ford Focus RS demonstrated that the ‘blue oval’ has still got what it takes then it comes to affordable fun, but it wasn’t the first time it had combined a heavily turbocharged engine with all-wheel drive. The Ford Escort RS Cosworth was the people’s champion of 1992, but is it a better buy than the modern-day RS?

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There’s no denying that the 2015 Focus RS will become a classic. For this generation it was one of the definitive hot hatchbacks that did battle with the potent Honda Civic Type R of the same year. 345bhp, 4.7 seconds to 62mph, and a Ken Block inspired Drift Mode, saw many people paying above list price to secure this RS. Today its residual values are holding strong with the final orange Heritage Edition cars selling for a premium — one was even listed for £100,000 ($127,000).

However, for those who preceded the Playstation generation, the Escort RS Cosworth is their era defining fast Ford. Designed to homologate the rally car, this Escort was actually an evolution of the monstrous Sierra Cosworth that preceded it. The rally car went on to win the 1994 Monte Carlo Rally, spawning this 1994 Cosworth Monte Carlo special edition of which you see here. It’s just one of 70 examples ever made it is distinguished by its Jewel Violet paintwork and OZ alloy wheels.

Visually, both cars are striking to look at — especially the Focus RS in signature Nitrous Blue. However, there’s no denying that the Escort with its enormous spoiler and swollen bodykit is more provocative. Could Ford have made the newer car a greater assault on the eyes? Yes, but then less people would have bought it, as Honda found out with the Type R of the same era. Both Fords strike a purposeful pose, although one is certainly more politically correct than the other.

The Achilles heel of the Focus RS has always been its relatively low-rent interior trim. Its Recaro seats serve their purpose well, but hard plastics and an uninspired design left people wanting. The Escort shares that trait with a baron plastic dashboard only defined by its cluster of turboboost gauges. Thankfully for both, Ford spent its research and development budget elsewhere.

This Escort Monte Carlo packs a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine tinkered with by Cosworth. This WRC inspired unit that sits beneath bonnet louvres sends power to an all-wheel drive system via a 5-speed manual transmission. Total output is 227bhp.

Back in the Nitrous Blue corner, the Focus features a turbocharged 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine also found in the Ford Mustang. An intelligent all-wheel drive system can shift power to the front and rear as and when needed. Additionally a Haldex clutch pack also enables power to be sent from one side of the car to the other.

Hitting the road in these cars immediately reveals the Focus RS to be the more grown-up car in terms of refinement and comfort, whereas the Cosworth doesn’t really give a damn in comparison. That said, you’re not reading this to find out which of these cars is better to drive to Tesco — it’s the Focus RS — so let’s pick up the pace.

It’s fair to say that the Focus RS retains a whiff of turbo lag, but the second its spooled up, you’re off! 0-62mph takes just 4.7 seconds and the surge of torque in the midrange is almost relentless. However, it’s through the bends where it impresses most. Charge towards a corner with fire and fury shouting from the exhaust pipes before putting its precise and feelsome Brembo brakes to work. Crackles from the exhaust pipe on downshifts via the pleasing 6-speed manual box precede the moment you pitch in aggressively for a corner. It’s keen to get its nose in to the apex, aided by torque vectoring, and you can really feel the weight transfer around the car as the bend tightens. The Focus’ clever chassis figures out the best distribution of power before it simply grips and goes. Not only is this car one of the fastest road-legal means to cover a British B-road, but it’s also one of the most thrilling.

The Escort RS Cosworth comes from another age where you don’t have the aid of an on-board computer. However, its more mechanical method makes it a very communicative car to drive quickly. The turbo lag is almost comical as you light the fuse and wait for the of the turboboost needle in the gauges to twitch — you soon know when the car is ready. The sudden boost arrived as a thump and the car quickly disappearing down the road. It doesn’t have as much power as the Focus, but it also doesn’t have as much weight to lug around with it. To get the most out of this car you need to really feel for what’s going on beneath you. Trail the brakes into a bend to get the rear light, pivot the car, then start feeding in the throttle to get the nose to pull itself around the bend. You can easily trim the angle of attack with how much throttle you input, making the Cosworth surprisingly predictable and easy to manage. Of course, it is a physical experience with less steering assistance and the car leaving you clenched at the very moment you realise the engine performance outweighs stopping power. It is utterly addictive.

What we have here is two variations of the same recipe. Take a mainstream model, add performance, allow to simmer with anticipation, and watch it be adored by the masses. The key difference is that the Focus RS takes full advantage of the technologies of today to not only allow you to drive faster, but faster with greater ease. For many that is a huge bonus because it means that you’re less likely to throw your new pride and joy into a tree. That said, a vehicle that challenges you on a daily basis is the one that delivers a better driver over time. In a way that perfectly sums up why we would buy an Escort Cosworth… Every time you turn the engine off you feel like the car has got the best out of you, as well as you getting the best out of the car.

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