Ford Focus RS: A Quick Drive

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Perspective. When you take any testimony into account, it’s the single most important variable to consider. My vantage point of the RS is a bit unique coming from an Evo background, where the benchmark for a turbo-AWD car is performance first. Handling, acceleration, braking, and upgrade potential are all important to me.

The furthest turbo-AWD compact from the Evo X is the Volkswagen Golf R. I’m smitten with that car due to it’s quality, but the ultimate handling ceiling is a little lower than what I’m looking for.

Enter the RS. From all the media hype, I did not expect to like it due to drift mode, gimmicky reviews, and what I now see as misfire marketing- the failure to capture what this car really is. But make no mistake, Ford’s star is on the rise. When considering their current boosted small displacement compacts, I definitely enjoyed the Focus ST, and liked the tossable and feisty Fiesta ST even more. Neither of them enough to own, though, until now. The RS blows them both completely out of the water.

I’ve been active on FocusRS.org, and arranged to weigh a forum member’s car. He wrote a review on the forum comparing his new RS to his STI. Upon realizing that he not only had a similar perspective to me, but was also local, I had to meet him.

What better place to make this happen than Cars & Coffee? I met another forum member with an RS at the show and we put his car on the scales too.

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Here’s our corner weight data:

Zach
2016 Ford Focus RS2, stock
2 gallons of fuel in tank, refill light illuminated
LF:998 RF:1072
LR:716 RR:654
Cross weight RF/LR: 51.97%
Left to right weight: 50/50
Front to rear distribution: 60/40
Total curb weight: 3440 lbs.

Destin
2016 Ford Focus RS1, bagged, aftermarket wheels
Almost a full tank of gas
LF:983 RF:1075
LR:720 RR:708
Cross weight RF/LR: 51.49%
Left to right weight: 50/50
Front to rear distribution: 59/41
Total curb weight: 3486 lbs

Zach was kind enough to let me drive his car after weighing it. That twenty minutes took every expectation I had about the RS and turned it on it’s head.

If I had to pick one word to describe this car after driving, it’s certainly not the one I expected. But here it is: Refinement.

Quality is apparent everywhere in the driving experience. The RS has distinctively German virtues, which floors me coming from a car with a blue oval badge on the wheel. That’s certainly not to detract from the great things modern Fords are accomplishing, just that the fit, finish, and mannerisms of a BMW were the last things I expected to find in a Focus.

You don’t have to even make it out of the parking lot to realize the dynamics are great. The shifter feel is utterly sublime, easily the best in this class of car. The Recaros are excellent. I used to say the Evo X Recaros were the best bolstered, most comfortable and supportive factory seats I’ve ever used in a car. The RS and GT350 Recaros take that a level beyond. The steering feel is wonderful, amplified by a flat bottomed steering wheel that is nice to the touch.

The chassis is poised and harmonious, conveying that every bolt is torqued to perfection. The car was in sport mode during the entire drive, a bit stiff at times, but nowhere near obnoxious. There’s enough compliance in the springs to mitigate the slightly aggressive damping of the shocks. The trade off for this is a bit of body roll.  I blame some of that on the fact it’s a 3450# car running on 235 wide tires, but still, it isn’t enough to be a complaint.  Through a couple of twisty on and off ramps to the interstate, handling felt great when hustling the car. I didn’t explore the edge of the limits on my friend’s low mileage example. They’re way higher than you can reach without a racetrack anyway, unless risking an overnighter in jail is your thing.

I zinged it through the first four gears, and am happy to report acceleration was good. Zach said he’s felt some of the same inconsistent power delivery that other forum members are experiencing. As a potential owner, that wouldn’t bother me in the least, I’d just have it tuned as soon as possible.

I neither experienced pops and burbles during the drive nor stop-restart, which was fine by this grumpy forty-something old man.

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The view under the hood is a slight letdown, like most modern cars.  The factory intake with exposed paper element looks chintzy. I also think the glued-on intercooler block off plate just looks cheap, out of place, and needs to go.

Compared to the opposing poles of the Evo and R, the best compliment I can bestow is that the RS’s refinement does not detract from it’s handling performance, and that’s no small praise. The Evo X feels like a rare steak in comparison, slightly sharper turn in and handling, completely at home on a racetrack, but a tiresome commuting companion.  As a car you can live with everyday,the RS slays it dead.  The Golf R has a bit nicer interior, but nowhere near the driving dynamics of the RS.  In short, you don’t have to compromise with the RS; you can have your cake and eat it, too!

My complaints are few.  It needs a front limited slip differential.  And goodness, Ford needs to stop this super limited availability on their best cars post haste! Dealership ADM is asinine and shouldn’t happen. The RS doesn’t need the hype machine; it completely stands on its own. Ford needs to build and ship more so they can get them into enthusiast garages where they belong. If the car can handle power upgrades reliably and availability stops being a problem, Ford will have a massive sales winner on their hands.

In parting, a word of encouragement if you’re one of so many people who have this car on order, but are still being forced to wait. Hunker down a little longer and exercise that self control! This is a cohesive, tick-all-boxes performance car, wholeheartedly worth the time of the frustrating ordering process.

Huge thanks to Zach and Destin for making this writeup possible!  Sorry for the lack of pics.  Something had to give dragging scales around on the hot middle Tennessee summer heat, and it was quality photography.

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