When Ford first unleashed the Focus RS back in 2002, it was a very tempting piece of forbidden fruit that was exclusive to European roads.
212 horsepower out of a highly-modified turbo Cosworth four ensured a firecracker of a car.
The strong demand for this variant prompted Ford to launch a sequel in 2009 that made use of a Volvo designed 2.5 liter turbocharged five cylinder engine to produce just over 300 horsepower in a wrapper that was bolder and more aggressive looking than ever before. Unfortunately it remained out of reach for U.S. buyers who had to make do with our country’s version of the second generation Focus which was known for being anything but fast.
Ford decided to change all that with the current generation Focus RS which is the first RS variant to be designed as a true global offering. But has the long wait for this special Focus been really worth it? and can it stand out in a growing field of budget performance offerings?
The exterior styling of our Nitrous Blue test car straddles the line between being an everyday offering and an all out boy racer pretty well.
Granted, the RS still has many distinctive cues that make it stand out from its more mundane siblings including an angrier front fascia as well as the subtle roof mounted rear wing but the basic profile is still firmly entrenched in its more mainstream roots which should please buyers looking for a performance offering that still offers a bit of restraint in its overall appearance.
While some may claim that the Subaru WRX STI may have a bit more aggression in its lines than the beefed up Ford, the RS does have an edge over the Volkswagen Golf R which wears a decidedly more conservative suit of clothes.The interior of the Focus RS also blends functionality and boy racer flair into a unique presentation that should please the tastes of many enthusiasts. A meaty flat bottomed steering wheel greets your hands and many buttons and switches are positioned within easy reach of the driver. The RS also features Ford’s SYNC 3 system and it is a noticeable improvement over its predecessors especially in terms of screen quality and ergonomics.
The Recaro seats also provide ample amounts of support, but they also offer a terrible seating position when compared to other performance offerings. Ford claims that a key part of Ford’s “DNA” is offering a high “H-Point” in its seats to accommodate older buyers. While this is understandable for mainstream entries like the Ford Taurus, Edge, and Explorer that tend to appeal to older drivers, the company could have made an exception for more youth oriented models like the RS to truly make the seats more capable of keeping occupants nestled in place during spirited driving.
Our only other complaint centered around the lack of exhaust note that makes its way into the cabin. Its a shame because the dual exhaust system sounds awesome when your outside the car, but the bulk of it gets muted out by the sound deadening material in the cabin. Otherwise the interior is a solid presentation that is not only much more refined than the Mitsubishi Evolution Final Edition that we recently tested, but also serves as a good indicator of the direction that Ford is going in terms of interior design for its future offerings.
Performance for the RS comes from the same 2.3 liter EcoBoost four cylinder engine that also sees duty in the Ford Mustang. But wheras the pony car only makes do with 310 horsepower, Ford engineers made several modifications to the engine which allows the RS to produce a balanced 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. This extra muscle is noticeable out on the road where the RS accelerates with authority and the extra beef also makes the car easy to push hard out on winding driving roads. It also allows the RS to scorch its way to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and hit a top speed of 165 mph (an impressive feat indeed.)
There is some turbo lag at first, but give it some throttle and the engine does a good job delivering power in a smooth and refined manner. All of this grunt is routed to all four wheels through a six speed manual transmission that delivers smooth and crisp shifts. The clutch pedal is deceptively light and has a springy nature which takes some getting used to, but thankfully it catches the gear relatively low in the pedal’s travel which makes gear engagement relatively easy once your feet get the hang of it.
In addition to the tricked out four cylinder, the Focus RS is also the first Focus offering to come equipped with an all-wheel drive system. Seeking to ditch the notoriously high levels of front wheel drive induced torque steer that defined past iterations of RS, Ford engineers tuned this particular system for maximum performance. This is achieved thanks to a pair of electronically operated clutches that can deliver up to 70% of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels as well as to either side of the car. It really shows its colors when pushed hard where the car grips corners and turns with tenacity while retaining a high level of driver confidence.
The Focus RS also comes with an electronically controlled drive mode selector that offers four distinct modes Normal, Sport, Track, and a segment exclusive Drift mode. During our time with the car we preferred to keep things in Sport or Track mode especially to experience the full auditory assault delivered by the exhaust system. Braking in the RS was strong and smooth with very little fade present during hard stops.
Pricing for the 2016 Ford Focus RS starts at $35,900 with our heavily optioned test car ringing in at $40,255 thanks to options such as the $695 Nitrous Blue paint job as well as the $2,785 600A Equipment Group package. This price may prove to be a hefty sum to pay for some buyers, but it does undercut the more expensive and more luxury focused Golf R, and a Subaru WRX STI ends up roughly near this price point with every option checked off.
The RS could also benefit from the Mitsubishi Evolution’s exit from the marketplace and snag buyers that might have otherwise drifted towards that model for their budget performance needs.
But neither of those models offer a Drift mode, and they simply do not have the level of aggression and bold moves that the Focus RS can provide in everyday use.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.