2017 Ford Focus RS
Ford knocks another one out of the park
Ford is really firing on all cylinders these days.
We’re still tingling from the Shelby GT350 we drove earlier this summer, a car that exists against all odds what with its bespoke, hand assembled flat crank jewel of an engine. Waiting in the wings are the incredible Ford GT hypercar and the beastly F150 Raptor, each featuring a turbocharged V6 cranked to differing levels of insanity. Even the new Fusion Sport sedan makes an honest 325 horsepower. If all those cars didn’t convince you that Ford is in the heady midst of a performance renaissance, the clincher has surely got to be Ford Focus RS you see here, finally plying our roadways after so many years of being exclusive to Europe. Spoiler alert: it’s insanely good. Chevy and Mopar loyalists, your resolute allegiance to your respective brands might be in jeopardy; we’ve seen more than a few die hard fans cast wonton glances at Ford showrooms as of late.
OK, but $50 grand for a Focus?
More than a few people remarked during the course of our Road Test that paying $50,000 for any Focus is outside the realm of common sense. We would have agreed with them had the Focus RS not been as scintillating as it is. Save for the Recaro seats and auxiliary gauge pod perched atop the dashboard, the interior doesn’t look any more special than the legion of Foci you readily see in your travels. The exterior thankfully lacks any boy-racer flourishes and aside from the lovely Nitrous Blue paint job, everything is nice and understated. Ford didn’t spend money on fancy trims and all sorts of electronic gimmickry, instead pouring the dollars and cents into the oily bits. In fact, based on the RS’s capabilities, we’d say the asking price is a bargain.
After taking flak that the last Focus RS had too much power funneled to the front wheels alone, Ford decided that all-wheel drive would be necessary to reign in all the engine’s firepower. They didn’t just slap on a garden variety system and call it a day- sourced from GKN, the system has to be one of the most brilliant and advanced currently available. It’s capable of sending a full 70% of the power to the back, and 100% of that can be diverted to each wheel as the computers and sensors deem appropriate which gives the Focus RS unbelievable traction and handling. It’s got monster 350mm Brembo anchors up front, a massaged 2.3 lire turbo four donated by the Mustang Ecoboost and the only gearbox available is an honest-to-goodness 6 speed manual. Oh, and it has 4 distinct drive modes including Drift Mode to indulge all your smoky, slidey fantasies as well as adjustable dampers and super sticky Michelin Pilot Spot Cup 2 tires.
Yes. This selectable driving mode is what was responsible for whipping up the motoring press and internet at large into a tizzy when Ford began releasing details for the RS. The idea was to allow drivers who don’t have a great amount of skill to be able to hoon their Focus the way Ken Block can seemingly do in his sleep. Select Drift Mode via a button on the console and away you go. We didn’t experiment too much with it- mostly because we didn’t want to return the car with those pricey Michelin tires worn down to the cords- but suffice it to say that it works exactly as intended. Even a novice will be able to hang the tail out at lurid angles if given enough practice.
What about when you aren’t channeling your inner Ken Block? Does the AWD turn it into a sloppy, understeering mess?
Not at all. On a trip to visit some friends in Northern Ontario, we checked our smartphones for the roads that offered the most squiggles and pointed the Focus’ nose towards them. While these are narrow two lane roads, they are surprisingly smooth and feature significant elevation changes and blind crests. Best of all, they’re lightly travelled. In other words, it was the place the Focus RS felt most at home (a racetrack would have been better, but we didn’t have that option.) Attacking those sinewy roads proved to be a transcendent, revelatory experience. It’s just so confident inspiring, forgiving your mistakes and responding to inputs faithfully and without fault. The AWD system supplies so much grip and you can feel it working to provide the best possible scenario of divvying up the power that, coupled with the strong brakes and clever suspension tuning make for a back road experience that is pretty hard to come by, even at much more than the Focus’ asking price. Even if we hadn’t ventured off the beaten path in search of the perfect driving road, the Focus RS would have still been a memorable car, but driving it in that context showed us how truly special this car is.
Noted. How does it fare in a straight line?
That engine from the Mustang we talked about? It’s found new life under the hood of the RS. It’s not that the Mustang version isn’t good, but the Focus RS application fixed everything we didn’t like about it- it sounds better (even offering gratuitous pops and cackles from the exhaust), revs freer and makes a lot more power- 350 horses and an equal 350 lbs/ft. of torque. Activate launch control from the instrument panel menu and 100km/h flashes by in under 5 seconds. That puts it right in the wheelhouse of its competition, specifically the VW Golf R and Subaru WRX STi. So yeah, it’s fast, but straight line scoot isn’t really what this car is about.
Sounds like there’s quite a bit of love for this car. Is there anything that spoils the mood?
There’s really nothing wrong with the Focus RS that would make it a deal-breaker, but there are some issues we found. Take the turning circle, for instance. It’s positively nautical and those who find themselves driving in areas with tight dimensions will want to make sure their multi-point turn skills are up to snuff. The Recaro seats, while a joy to be sitting in when you’re at play, are simply not that comfortable on long drives- we think it might be because they are mounted too high so you sit on them rather than in them. The interior won’t feel special enough for some of those who pony up to by the hottest Focus but you’ll probably be driving it around with an ear-to-ear grin so wide that it won’t matter to you- at least it didn’t to us.
How would the Focus RS fare in a Canadian winter?
The Focus and its AWD trickery would make for a sure footed choice for transportation no matter the season, but we’d love to see what it would be like in the throes of a snowy winter. You’d never get far with those Michelins when the snow starts to fly, so Ford includes a set of snow tires specifically designed for the Focus. With or without the help of Drift Mode, you will be playing Sebastien Loeb when the roads get a nice dusting of the white stuff. That leads us to perhaps the defining characteristic that makes the Focus RS such a compelling choice. It’s one of those cars that excels exceedingly well as performance minded conveyance, but also how good it is at the average stuff owners will ask of it- hauling around a bunch of stuff from a Costco run, being surprisingly fuel efficient and the four season capability it offers. Skip the Nitrous Blue paint and you have something that truly flies under the radar so there’s the incognito factor working in your favor as well. But as we said before at the beginning of our Road Test that this truly is a golden age of performance hardware coming out of Dearborn. We say that if you are considering putting a Focus RS in your driveway (or even one of its competitors) you better get to your local dealership and put a deposit down on one, like, yesterday. Already the demand has exceeded Ford’s expectations for this truly brilliant machine. This, much like its Shelby GT350 stablemate is one of those cars that we have a real hard time giving back at the conclusion of our Road Test.
2017 Ford Focus RS- Specifications
- Price as tested: $50,664
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger hatchback
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Engine: 2.3 litre turbocharged 4-cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 350 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque (lbs-ft.): 350 @ 3,200 rpm
- Curb weight: 1,569 kg (3,459 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Consumption: 11.3L/100km (21 mpg)