Nice RS

Ford's third generation from the legendary RS stable will soon be dead.

Simon Hacker tries to write an obit while holding on tight.

Blue or orange is probably the kind of debate you don't want to start in Northern Ireland. And it's a settled issue now anyway: Ford decided to bake its last ever batch of third-generation Focus RS models in orange. Very orange, all 50 of them.

The special Heritage Edition model will run until April 6 and, after that, the production line in Germany will fall silent. Until the whispers about RS Mk IV come true, at least...

As with all Focus RS Edition models, it features a front mechanical Quaife limited-slip differential, for "extra dynamic sensation". The Heritage also gains the dealer-fitted FPM375 Mountune upgrade, increasing overboost power from 350PS to 375PS, and torque from 470Nm to 510Nm, thanks to a high-flow induction kit, uprated turbo re-circulating valve and calibration. The price, if you're quick enough to secure one, is £39,895.

But if the back of the sofa's looking a bit bereft, fear not: this week we've had a chance to get our hands on the Heritage's frisky sister, the 350PS RS Edition. And like all that have borne the Rallye Sport badge before it, it's a living breathing classic.

The latest RS has been a key waymarker in the story of British hot hatching. And, as with all of the automotive world's arms races, the statistical ratchet has been casually cranked yet again. Let's call the current setting full bulge. Forgive the sucking of Werther's Originals, but Ford's epic 1992 Escort RS, of whale-tail fame, is recognised to have begun the blue oval's journey into white-knuckle hot-hatch madness. In its day, it shattered society by delivering 227PS. And the bhp of today's Focus RS? 350PS. Yes, that's more horses than the Badminton Trials.

Other dizzying data abounds. Your torque allowance in this creation is 470... the maximum speed 165mph... and the dash to 62mph is achieved in 4.7 seconds. Again, back in the 1990s when the media screamed murder about hot hatches (and we consequently saw the breed cower in the shadows for a decade), anything sub-six seconds was an offence to public order.

Despite all that, today's RS promises 36.7mpg overall, commendably for a 4X4, though whether your right foot can deliver such boasts remains in doubt. Prices start at £32,765 for the 2.3T EcoBoost, while this Edition version is £36,295.

Buying it begs a question: what you get for that near £4,000 premium? Perhaps most obviously, the paint hue is a special nitrous blue, while the roof is matte foil black. You might spot the blue brake calipers and the Recaro shell seats. There's also a smattering of carbon fibre in the trim mix and privacy glass, plus rear parking sensors, power-fold mirrors and Ford's key-free system.

As with all RSs, you get four driving modes: standard, sport, track and drift, the latter two switching off most of this car's desire to keep you from decorating the nearest hedge. On local roads, sport mode is contentment enough: once engaged, the exhaust replies to any enthusiastic revving and gear changes with a crackle of released energy. Very nice if you like that sort of thing. Of course you do.

Ford talks about the Edition appealing to "hardcore" enthusiasts, ie the kind of crazed autofetishists rumoured to hang out in Avon Tuning's reception area. To be fair, it's clear that once you begin to explore this car's phenomenally tight handling and fast responses, that's no marketing boast.

However, there's a twist: the engine has been mapped to ensure the RS is impeccably mannered when required. True, any impression of sedate progress about town is undermined by a suspension which appears to have design input from B&Q but, as with all good Fords, you could toss the keys to this to your granny and she'd be capable of commanding it with no need to steer straight to A&E.

All the same, strapped in the back as she heads out of town and engages drift mode, you might regret your decision...