As one of the UK’s most favoured motoring brands, Ford has always been a staple manufacturer on our roads, thanks mainly to cars such as the Focus and Fiesta, but the blue oval became truly iconic through its more potent variants.
Making great use of its ST and RS monikers, fast Fords have grown almost into their own sub brand to the ilk of AMG or the M Division. Today, we are blessed with two of the best hot hatches on the market.
The Ford Performance division of the firm will release 12 new models before 2020, including next year’s new Focus RS and GT, but we’d like to pay homage to the fast Fords of old (and current) with our own top five.
5. Shelby Mustang GT 350
Admittedly we’re going to kick this list off with a car that isn’t strictly a Ford, but is in fact based upon the original Mustang, the 1965 Shelby GT 350. Known affectionately as the ‘Cobra’, the GT 350 took the already brilliant Mustang, which was at the time selling like hot cakes, and fettled with the car’s engine, suspension and brakes.
The early models saw the 4.7-litre V8’s power rise from 271bhp to 306bhp, while heavy-duty rear axles replaced the live rear axles on the standard Mustang and larger drum brakes at the rear and front disc brakes were also added. Meanwhile, the Mustang’s styling was made more aggressive and those iconic stripes ensured the GT 350 become a legend in motoring.
4. Ford Focus RS Mk2
Revealed at the 2008 British motor show and changing the hot hatch market forever, the Mk2 Ford Focus RS was about as close as you could get to having a rally car for the road. Blessed with a upgraded version of the five-cylinder engine from the then current ST model, the Focus RS produced a whopping 301bhp which was all sent through the front wheels, to the amazement of many, achieving a 0-62mph time of 5.9 sec.
The grunt from the turbocharged Volvo-derived powertrain was tamed through a sophisticated suspension system up front called RevoKnuckle which was engineered to curve the car’s torque steer; this was done through separating steering and suspension movements to reduce the RS’s scrub radius and make the car’s steering less sensitive to braking inputs.
A subsequent RS500 model received even more power (345bhp) and upgraded parts under the bonnet and offered a 0-62mph time of just 5.6 sec.
3. Ford Escort RS Cosworth
If we’re going to talk about iconic fast Fords, we have to mention the Escort RS Cosworth, the spiritual predecessor to the Focus RS. Recognised immediately by its gigantic ‘whale tail’ rear wing, the Escort RS ‘Cossie’ was a bit of an animal, yet also one of Ford’s most capable cars in the corners.
Armed with a turbocharged 2.0-litre powerplant, the Escort RS Cosworth had a modest-sounding 217bhp, but its ability to be tuned to outrageous levels meant that the car became a favourite of the early 90s tuning culture. The Cossie’s four-wheel-drive not only brought about great strength in the corners, but also ensured the car was a highly adept in the WRC and took 10 victories overall with the likes of Carlos Sainz and Francois Delecour at the wheel.
2. Ford Fiesta ST Mk2
Bringing us right up to date is the highly capable Fiesta ST; the pocket rocket has dispatched its key rivals in pretty much every group test published since its inception in 2013 and remains the junior hot hatch to beat today. The regular Fiesta is a joy to drive as it is, but with the addition of the ST treatment, the hatchback becomes something totally focused when driven with intent and eats up the corners with its grippy front end.
Its turbocharged 1.6-litre powertrain might be a tad smaller than its predecessor’s, but offers 30bhp more at 180bhp and a further 20bhp through an overboost feature that also serves up more torque, not that it’s ever short on pull through the gears. Speaking of the transmission, the changing of gears at speed is a joyous process and really highlights just how good that engine is up front.
1. Ford GT
Although a tad obvious we might have put the Ford GT at the peak of this list, it was just far too hard not to give top place to Ford’s blue collar supercar and celebrate just how amazing this car is. At the time of its development, Ford bosses wanted the devastating speed of a Ferrari 360 combined with the agility of a Lotus Elise, and it’s fair to say they got pretty much what they asked for.
Mid-engined and looking genuinely striking, the GT was given immediate supercar credentials, whilst its supercharged 5.4-litre V8 borrowed from one of Ford’s pick-ups created a sense of attainability to the car, despite a £110,000 price tag. That stoking source of power behind the seats offered a massive 550bhp and a 0-62mph time of a mere 3.7 sec and blew away a standing 1/4 mile in just 11.2 sec. As a result, and famously documented by one Jeremy Clarkson, the fuel consumption was a little on the thirsty side, but the GT remains a fan favourite 10 years after its launch.