It seems like a lifetime ago when your scribe trekked out to the Streets of Willow Springs to ride shotgun in Ford Performance’s yet-to-be-released Focus RS. The first sold on North American soil, this hot hatch is loaded with go-fast performance and tech, and our brief time in the car confirmed that Ford was onto something by bringing this version across the pond.
Since that time it felt like everyone else had bought or driven one of these cars and we were just a sad character in an Internet meme waiting for a shot behind the wheel. From near and far we have seen them crashed, drifted, dyno’d, and raced. However, in late September, we finally managed to talk our way into borrowing the keys to one during an all-too-brief visit to the Great Lakes state to cover another vehicle.
It might look unassuming under all those plastic beauty covers, but the EcoBoost 2.3-liter engine under the hood of the RS packs a nice punch. Combined with the AWD system, it will push you back in the seat nicely as it plants that 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. Knowing how these engines respond to tuning, we can’t wait to drive a modded version.
If you haven’t been following the saga of the 2016 Focus RS, it takes the current Focus platform and pushes it to unforeseen levels. Adding an active suspension, all-wheel-drive and a passel of driving modes to make the most of its 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, the latest Focus RS is far more than just a Focus.
“The all-new Focus RS is a serious machine with high-performance technology and innovative engineering that sets new benchmarks for driving exhilaration on the road and track,” Ford Motor Company group vice president, Global Product Development, Raj Nair said when the RS was revealed. “The RS line has a proud history of technical breakthroughs that have migrated to mainstream Fords to benefit all of our customers, and the new Focus RS is no exception. It’s a great example of our passion for innovation through performance, and creating vehicles that make people’s hearts pound.”
Getting Behind the Wheel
Our tester was a Stealth Gray optioned with the RS2 package. This grouping includes the painted 19-inch wheels, Super Sport tires, voice-activated navigation and Sync 3, as well as heated seats, steering wheel and side mirrors. It only lacked the forged wheels, sticky tires, and moonroof. All told it stickers for just shy of $40,000.
Having driven our own nicely modified 2013 Focus ST to the airport before climbing behind the wheel of the new RS, we already had a good idea what a heart-pounding hot hatch feels like. However, from the moment we were grabbed by the supportive Recaro seats and put our mitts around the meaty, leather-wrapped steering wheel, we knew this car was next level. The steering is sharper, the seats more supportive and only the throw of the RS shifter left us wanting a bit more precision from the driving experience.
This all-wheel-drive system is breakthrough technology—capable of delivering supreme cornering and handling at the limit.—Dave Pericak, Ford Performance
All we could imagine is how good this car must feel on the optional forged wheels and sticky Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.While Michigan isn’t known for the smoothest roads, the state does have a nice collection of cloverleaf-shaped on- and off-ramps. We couldn’t wait to accelerate around one in the RS. As soon as we had a free run on a ramp, we couldn’t believe how much grip was afforded by the all-wheel drive system, even on the base Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber; they combine to keep clawing and pulling you through the turn.
“This all-wheel-drive system is breakthrough technology—capable of delivering supreme cornering and handling at the limit,” Global Ford Performance director Dave Pericak said at the RS unveiling. “We ripped up the rulebook that says all-wheel-drive hatchbacks cannot be fun to drive, and created a car that will surprise and reward in equal measure.”
We can’t argue that Ford Performance is onto something with this system. It does a great job applying the square 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft. The car is nimble, agile and simply fun to drive.
While our ST has full leather Recaros, we really enjoyed the grippy, comfortable supported offered by the black leather Recaro seats with Miko-Dinamica inserts. The blue RS stitching and logos were nice touches as well. Otherwise, the interior is what you expect from the current generation of Focus.
2016 Focus RS Drive Modes
• Normal: Normal on-road settings
• Sport: Spirited on-road driving. Sports settings for engine response, steering and exhaust valve
• Track: Track use only high-performance driving. sports settings for all controls, including AWD, dampers and ESC.
• Drift: Track use only. Controlled oversteer drifts. Unique AWD setting, normal damper setting, sports settings for all other controls
Part of what makes it so good is its standard active suspension and adjustable drive moves. You can even engage the driving modes and change the feel of the dampers by toggling through the options with the button on the end of the turn signal stalk. This, for example, allows retaining the calibration tweaks offered by Sport mode, but softens the dampers for choppy road conditions, which can be faster on the track and more comfortable on the road. We found this particularly useful on some of the choppier patches of Michigan’s interstate system.
We were there to shoot another car or two, so driving the Focus RS was really a surprising bonus. The car has some really good power, and the driving modes really do change its personality, but we didn’t have the time or opportunity to safely test some of its more aggressive features like Drift Mode and Launch Control. The latter does utilize the same programming that drives the fuel-saving stop-start feature.
We are big fans of the optional forged wheels, but the standard, 19-Inch Premium Painted Alloy Wheels are pretty sharp too. They still let you see those blue Brembo calipers, which do a really impressive job of reining in the feisty Focus when you dive hard into a turn.
“We knew we wanted to put start-stop technology on the RS,” Tyrone Johnson, engineering and vehicle manager, Ford Performance Europe said when this feature was revealed. “So we said, ‘What if we went one step further, and controlled for engine stall at launch using the same technology?’ Well, that’s exactly what we did and it’s just as fast as our start-stop technology.”
The launch control is said to be a real throw-you-back in the seat hoot that we hope to try out when we have additional time in the car. However, these two features using the same technology does embody the split personality of this car. It is fast and fun, but it is also a bit spendy and thirsty. The Focus RS starts at $36,605 before you add some of the available options, and it only delivers 19 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway for a combined 22-mpg rating.
If there’s anything we’d tweak right away in the RS, it’s the shifter. The throw is a bit longer than we’d like, but it’s a minor complaint. The buttons on the other side of the shifter, however, give us no complaints. You can really feel a significant difference between the driving modes, but we are still pining to try Drift Mode in Launch Control in a safe environment.
So, the RS is an upmarket option as a daily driver, but boy is it a fun option. Having driven one, we only want to own one more. We would also love to put one through its paces on the autocross, road course, and drag strip. Another time, perhaps. For now, we are glad to say it was worth the wait to drive this car. However, if you are procrastinating on buying one, keep in mind that previous RS models have only been available as two-year production runs and the 2016 model year has already given way to 2017 production.
Anyone want to buy a nicely modded Focus ST? (Just kidding. Maybe. I think.)