RX2 ice racer review: 310bhp rallycross machine tested

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Time to hit the ice in the nutty S$230k RX2

Oh look, a Ford Fiesta on ice.

Look closer. Not a Ford Fiesta. The shape of the headlights, grille and body panels say that’s what it is, but those are just fibreglass mouldings. Underneath it’s something much more bespoke – a spaceframe chassis’d RX2 ice racer.

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RX2? That sounds familiar…

Quite possibly, as RX2 is the feeder series into World Rallycross, a one-make program featuring identical cars, all built on this platform, designed and manufactured by Swedish firm, Olsbergs MSE, as a lower cost platform for upcoming drivers.

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Hang on, but this one’s on ice.

Well, Olsbergs MSE, being Swedish and wondering what to do with their racers when rallycross wasn’t happening, came up with Supercar Lites – basically RX2 on Ice. Same cars, different surface. You might think that the changes made would be extensive, but no. Instead they amount to no more than a heated windscreen and a different set of tyres. Olsbergs claims there is absolutely nothing faster on ice than this.

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Wow, how much power does it have?

About 310bhp from its 2.4-litre Mountune Ford naturally aspirated four cylinder. Which might not sound like much when the big boy rallycross cars boast somewhere around 600bhp from their turbo motors.

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It doesn’t. So why not put one of those in it? That would make it faster.

At this point let me introduce you to Kevin Eriksson, one of Olsbergs MSE’s front line drivers (and the man responsible for this stunning overtake). “We thought that, so a couple of years back we converted one of the turbo World RX cars to ice specification. 600bhp. And you know what? It was slower! You just couldn’t get the power down as accurately as the naturally aspirated engine, so you’d get too much wheelspin, it was too much out of control.”

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Tell me more about the specification.

Minimum weight is 1,200kg, the engine sits longitudinally behind the cockpit and drives all four wheels via a Sadev six-speed sequential gearbox. Because the formula is in its infancy and they want to keep costs down there’s no four wheel steering, no trick differentials and only limited suspension adjustment.

Super-skinny 110/65 DR16 tyres packed full of spikes (about 360 of them per tyre) ensure as little of that power goes to waste as possible.

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Remove the front clamshell and there’s nothing underneath except the flimsiest tubing that’s only there to hold the fibreglass in place. As a crash structure I’ve seen more effective cobwebs. However this approach does allow Olsbergs to change the car from a Fiesta to a Peugeot 208 or whatever just by changing the panels. On some cars even that’s not necessary – simply changing the stickers for the headlights and grille is enough to make them look different.

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Is it easy to drive?

Compared to most modern racers, absolutely. There’s a steering wheel, push/pull gearlever, jutting hydraulic handbrake and a small pad of toggle switches, fuses and knobs. There’s not much to get wrong in here. Except the throttle pedal.

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I’m trying to think if I’ve ever driven a car that had a more hyper-alert right-hand pedal. The merest brush of shoe sole has the revs wanging round to the limiter. It doesn’t help that as it’s minus 15 outside, I’m wearing walking boots…

More delicate inputs combined with sharp shoves and tugs of the gearlever have me out on the ice, at which point I realize the RX2 is utterly hilarious and no car collection or driving experience is complete without having sampled one. I mean, travelling slowly on ice is all well and good, it’s lovely feeling a car gracefully slip between understeer and oversteer, to perform balletically. But being able to treat ice with utter disdain, to simply charge about like merry hell… well, that’s just outrageous.

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Fun, is it?

Addictive more like. Inside the tin can cockpit it’s utterly frantic. While other cars slip around in near silence, the RX2 screams and barks its little heart out: gears clank, diffs whine, revs spike, ice squeals, there’s vibration and racket and at the centre of this melee, me deafened but hooting with laughter into the teeth of the onslaught.

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Provided you keep pressure on the drivetrain, upshifts and downshifts are clutch-less, and the gearing’s so short and the steering so direct you can pretty much drive with one hand on the wheel, the other on the lever ready to punch another gear in. The cornering speeds are beyond ridiculous, you lob it in, nail the throttle, the engine zings, all four wheels spin and you come out bang on line. At every corner. It reminds me of the Hyundai i20 WRC car I drove a couple of years back: astonishing agility, hair trigger reactions, yet a sense it’s looking after you.

The weight balance is rear-biased, but it’ll rescue itself from ludicrous angles, can be Scandi-flicked about with impunity and finds traction and control where you wouldn’t believe there is any. It loves being lobbed about, with you sawing at the steering and jabbing at the brakes – it’s just so energetic and lively.

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Sign me up. Now.

Quite, imagine what a grid full of these little screamers is like. The 2018 series has just finished in Sweden and Norway (it has to before the ice melts…), but it’ll be back next year. And you thought the motorsport season started with F1…

STORY Ollie Marriage

TopGear
Author: TopGear
Top Gear is a British television series about motor vehicles, primarily cars, and is the most widely watched factual television programme in the world.