It’s a very usable family hatch that hauls in a straight line, around curves, and to the store, blogs Dan Scanlan.
A 2.3-liter EcoBoost Four delivering a whopping 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, also popular in the latest Mustang, powers Ford’s 3,460-pound econobox. It’s mated to a short-throw six-speed manual transmission with a delightfully responsive clutch that engages immediately but smoothly.
There’s a center console button that controls the drivetrain. For daily use, just leave it in Normal. With its “All-Wheel Drive with Dynamic Torque Vectoring” to dig in all four tires at launch, we hit 60-mph in 4.9 seconds in second gear with a snarling exhaust and a pop at overrun on the shift. The clutch on our 8,600-mile-old test car bit decisively as we poured on power.
The best use of drivetrain choice, though, is when you use the “Sport” setting. That boosts gas pedal and engine response and opens a valve in the exhaust system for some serious snarl, pops and crackle on overrun. It’s very anti-social! Add “Launch Control” which sets up the all-wheel-drive for best launch grip as it puts the shocks to firm, backs off stability control and lets the engine get to its peak rpm power before the clutch is released.
Apply liberally to asphalt and the car catapults off the line with almost no wheelspin to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, and 100 mph in 12 seconds. Peak torque hits at about 2,000 rpm, stays there through 4,500 rpm, and most of it keeps through 6,000 rpm, Ford says.
Repeated use didn’t seem to bother our Stealth Gray ghost, all-wheel-drive repeatedly divvying power to the rubber as needed at speed. The exhaust snarled and screamed, snapped, crackled and popped at each shift. It sounds like the rally car it is. But play Hoonigan – and we averaged 17-mpg on premium, topping off the 13.4-gallon gas tank twice on our week-long test.
The 5-door hatchback rides on very sticky, low-profile P235/35ZR19-inch Michelin Cup 2 rubber on Y-spoke black alloy wheels. They are connected to a MacPherson strut front suspension with semi-isolated subframe, and a short/long-arm independent rear axle with control blade. Spring rates are about a third firmer all-round than the Focus ST. It also gets two-mode dampers – firm and VERY firm, activated via a button at the end of the left steering wheel stalk.
In the base firm setting, the tightly controlled suspension movement has some buffering at full compression, which happened quickly over bumpy roads. The RS stayed commendably flat around curves, very much at home on any turn you set it to. Potholes and speed bumps were announced with a fast and tightly controlled rebound with just a hint of soft at the end. Some passengers found it too harsh for daily driving, but it was just fine if you love sports cars.
And the RS is exactly that. It carves curves and hangs in on a winding road like glue, and tracked around expressway ramps flat and true with no drama. Bumps in this suspension setting didn’t upset the corner track. Ford claims virtually no understeer, and when it did, applying throttle would bring the rears into play. The result can be up to a claimed 1-g lateral acceleration.
I tried living with the very firm setting, but the ride was like hard rubber set between tires and frame. Cobblestone streets and raised crosswalks were rat-a-tat-tat with almost no suspension travel, while suspended highway with dipped concrete slabs set the car bouncing up and down quickly, with hard and fast suspension compression.
Then there are four other settings – “Normal,” “Sport,” “Track” and “Drift.” Tune in “Sport” and steering seriously firms up, very precise with the slightest input resulting in quick point-and-shoot. The engine gets quicker throttle response as all-wheel-drive routes power as needed. The suspension stays in normal mode, as does stability control, but that radical exhaust note is activated – no sneaking home at night! “Track” mode resets all-wheel-drive to allow for a bit more rear bias in curves, and backs off stability control to allow some play at the limit.
On my small skid pad, the RS hung on for high-speed circling, then understeer came in with a stuttering screech as the rubber tried to hang on. But judicious use of throttle could get the tail to talk. Then there’s “Drift” mode, which can direct engine power to the rear wheels or either side via a rear transaxle torque vectoring system. With it, up to 100 percent of available power can be driven to left or right rear wheel, or it can lock the rear axle for launch.
I don’t drift, but I can hold a tail out for a bit. So our once front-wheel-drive econobox could hang tail with just a slight steering twitch and throttle bump. We could get the rear to hang out as the tires smoked a bit. Stability control is still there a bit to help, while steering and suspension are in the normal mode. Check out the video to see my meager drifting skills.
The steering is quick, about two turns lock-to-lock, with delightful and very precise feel. The super-sticky, optional Michelins seemed to tramline on grooved highways. And at high speed, when set in “Sport” or “Track” mode, the steering was almost too sensitive and I had use both hands and really focus. The 13.7-inch vented front disc brakes with Brembo 4-piston monoblock calipers, and 11.8-inch solid rear discs, had very controllable, immediate bite. The car stopped straight and short with no nosedive at full stop, no fade and no worries from any speed.
Overall, my favorite was “Sport” for around town, with suspension in normal. “Sport” went off when I came into my neighborhood, to limit the exhaust crackle, but enthusiastic gas pedal use and shifting could bring some to life on shifts.
As for looks, the Ford Focus RS goes one up on the former hot hatch in the range, the front-wheel-drive 252-horsepower Focus ST. The RS’s one-inch-longer nose gets an aggressive rewrite with upper trapezoidal grille wide open to air flow above a faceted black bumper bar with a blue “RS” in one corner. Below that, another wide lower intake ready to suck in air at speed over a lower air dam and into a huge intercooler.
On each side are big brake cooling ducts with vertical fog lights and splitters. Slit headlights get bright bi-xenon units with small LED eyebrows. The rear hatch gets a serious RS-badged spoiler. Big twin exhaust tips punctuate a finned aero lower fascia. It all hugs the ground with purpose, the spoiler, air dams and lower diffuser working to ensure zero lift at speed, Ford says.
Inside, an RS-logoed door scuff plate and sculpted, bolstered leather and suede Recaro racing seat with six-way power adjustment and lumbar for the driver. The gauges get vivid blue rings with white numbers and red needles; the speedometer reading 180-mph and the tach 8,000 rpm with 6,500-rpm redline. In between, a color display with trip meter, audio and settings like Drive Mode and suspension. And atop dash, a slim readout with oil temperature and pressure, flanking a turbo boost gauge.
The driver grips a chunky, flat-bottom steering wheel with leather and suede-covered rim, blue stitching here as well as on seat bolsters and door inserts. A stubby 6-speed manual gearshift has a blue-stitched boot. In back there’s just enough room for two adults. The seatbacks split 60/40 to expand a decent trunk under the hatch. Under the floor, a Sony amp and sub-woofer fill the spare tire well, with a tire sealant kit and inflator in a foam tray with storage space. The spare was ditched due to the large rear differential under the floor.
The Ford Focus starts at $16,775 for the base S sedan with 160-horsepower Four. But the RS’s entry price is $35,900. Our options included: $2,795 RS2 option package with heated mirrors, steering wheel and front seats and voice command navigation; and $1,990 for super-sticky Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires on neat black thin-spoke alloy wheels. Add destination, and it was $41,550. Real performance doesn’t come cheap!
For more details about the street and track Focus RS, please visit https://www.ford.com/performance/focus-rs/