From the moment the Focus RS fires up with pops from its race exhaust system, you know you are in for something special.
How could a normal car, one that is practical and affordable, be so hilariously fast, playful and potent?
350HP to all four wheels makes this a hyperhatch. Or maybe a boiling hot hatchback. This is car on that can sprint to 60-mph in the 4’s and have WRX STi levels of grip as its flung around corners. Yet one whose Drift Mode and ultra-hightech rear axle also give you tail-out adjustability like a stunt car.
Now that production numbers are ramped up, Ford has sold more than 3500 of these fabulous RS Focuses in the US so far. That number could, and should, keep doubling as Focus RS carves its share of sales from Mustangs and WRX owners.
In short, this $39k hero of a car wins a Best of 2017 award for being a musclecar in clever five-door disguise.
Here is a detailed review of the Focus RS in real life, over a 600-mile round-trip to Amelia Island Concours. Two HD drive videos and an obscene amount of pics accompany headings of Exterior, Interior, Performance and Price.
Performance Drive Video Part 1
The Focus RS wears a totally different face from any other Focus and is instantly recognizable as such. Yes, the car shares all its steel panels with the ST. But that is just the starting point for the RS. An all-new front bumper is dark and Aston-wide trapezoidal grille. A sharp upper edge for the hood and carved-out air intake above the bumper are menacing and a perfect spot for the RS badge.
Below the dark central intake like a scramjet, the Focus RS has twin body-color fangs that extend down into the lower wings. This wraps around the lower corners with more sharp edges and big depth changes. Black shrouds for the vertical halogen foglamps hide ducted air intakes for the brakes. The lower breather is all exposed to flood the intercooler with cold air as well. Finally, an extra pronounced lower splitter in black extends the dimensions slightly and helps cut lift.
Cutting lift at 100-mph plus is the name of the game for the giant rear spoiler. This tall piece is stamped with RS and rises nearly a foot above and behind the back glass. It is stunning up close, cool from behind, and extra cool in profile. It actually stretches the look of the car backward — so RS just looks like a dagger dart of a machine.
In back, the wing is a nice cap on the top of the huge new diffuser and giant double exhaust. These central pipes are hardwired to your cortex on the road — thrumming and brumming and popping with joy.
Our stealth grey example is one of just four colors offered, with only the bright blue being a cost extra.
The RS2 pack on our test RS also upgrades to 19-inch alloys in dark charcoal. Spider-skinny fivespoke forged alloys are also available as an option, with or without Michelin Pilot SS Cup 2 tires. Our summer-tire example also has these sticky paws — virtually slicks in the entire central portion. 35-series width means these wheels fill out the Focus arches perfectly. The car rides low and mean in either of its adjustable damper modes.
The cabin of the RS aims to be the practical velvet lining on a trackready racer. It has standard recaro seats with giant, grippy bolsters and part-leather, part-hypersuede upholstery. These are manually-adjustable as standard until you add the $2800 RS2 package. Our tester has this upgrade, which also brings nav to the touchscreen, heated seats, auto-dimming mirrors, the big stereo and a few other goodies. Seems like a great addition if you have the cash. The only other cabin option is an $875 moonroof that we honestly missed a bit. Without this, the black headliner makes things a bit dark inside – but obviously not essential.
The RS has a unique steering wheel with extra-thick leather wrap, blue stitching and custom badges. Other RS exclusives are the sills, carpets and the extra three-pack of gauges in the top of the dash. A cool pod/speaker grille holds the boost gauge and others — looking factory-integrated but also like a cool, exclusive bit of kit.
The RS cabin feels terrifically tight and well-assembled, if not quite as comfy overall as the Golf R. This generation of Focus has that slightly imposing dashboard and long windshield slope that is results in an airy-yet-cramped ambiance inside.
Is it comfortable on the highway, and how about in that third hour of roadtrips? That hour when Evo and WRX STi really start to tire you out with their springy rides, intrusive noise and pinchy racing bucket seats.
Thrilled to report that Focus RS solves for three of the major rally-rocket downsides:
- it is quiet on the highway (until you floor it!)
- the adjustable dampers let you relax the ride to tolerable, premium firmness. With the stalk button pushed, the ride is nearly 2X as firm as the Focus ST — quite hard indeed. This is needed for stunting and that awesome drift mode — but able to be relaxed back nicely for long drives.
- The seats of the Focus RS are extra supportive but they are tight, and they do pinch/squeak a bit.
Not sure what was more irking between pinching and squeaking. The squeak is because the seats’ side bolster rub against the center console lid. (Some felt or the soft side of a Velcro piece would silence this for owners!)
The pinch for your chubby hubby of an auto journalist was not a bid deal. Just slight outer leg soreness after days at the wheel. If you are less than 250-pounds and remove your wallet before getting comfy, then Focus RS will be a stellar flytrap of a performance cockpit.
The drive position is excellent in general, with the wheel and six-speed shifter falling right to hand. Ford’s SYNC 3 system and midcluster options menus are as modern as you could want, by the way. Moving among drive modes and the performance displays is particularly easy and secondnature.
Performance Drive Video Part 2
Here is where you really must click play on either of the videos above. Without seeing and hearing the car in action… these words will ring hollow. But they are true!
This Focus RS is one of the most joyous and fun cars this author has ever tested. It is potent, chuckable, balanced and near-perfect at 10/10ths driving.
350HP and 350 pound-feet in a compact car makes for some unstoppable fun.
The six-speed manual with its alloy pedals and shifter set your brain into a performance mood right away, and adore being slapped around. This car has thrust for days, precise shift action, perfect pedals for heel-toe shifting, and smiles/hoots of laughter guaranteed.
Focus RS has much more than power to thank for this. It has a unique rear suspension, an industry-first AWD system with double clutches in back and Brembo front brakes on the oscar acceptance speech list. We discuss the AWD system in detail on video above, but so will summarize here. This “Ford Performance AWD” system has the most rearward thrust torque-split available of any front-drive, transverse-engine application. This means most Audis and almost all crossovers are nowhere near as balanced around corners. How? This system does not use a center-diff, but rather a driveshaft that pulls more than its share of power from the front wheels. In Sport and Track modes, this power split is locked in and makes Focus RS launch like a rocket. Engine brake like a WRC car. And corner like sticky tape.
This is not all for the AWD system’s skill. It also has a double clutched rear propshafts to selectively engage each rear wheel based on yaw needs. It is so shockingly effective. Far, far more so than any “Torque Vectoring” we’ve ever sampled to date.
Powering out of corners in Focus RS lets the car come alive in your hands. Just divine.
A final treat? The Drift Mode that lets you do things no other AWD rally-road car can achieve. Actual drifts. On command. Donuts with all four wheels spinning up a wild amount of smoke? YES. At any time.
From a former Subaru owner who was forever trying (and usually failing) to break the tail loose, the RS Drift Mode is a revelation. You can drive at any speed in Drift Mode, too, with lighter steering and extreme rear-bias for the torque. This makes any rainy day into that dream drive of instant, controllable drifts around any corner. Heavenly.
Focus RS had a slow rollout, and we mis-speak on the above video about how many are available. SO HAPPY that Ford is cranking them out now, and that others will know this car’s brilliance.
Pricing is from $36,800 with delivery. Our test car with the RS2 package comes in at $39,560.
At this price, no other car is this fun while being this practical.
Are you convinced? What more could you possibly want!
For balance, we will note that the RS is pretty thirsty at all times. 25-mph highway and 19 in the city are the official numbers. But this 2.3-liter engine drinks premium when driven as intended. Like a racecar on blast, then.
Who cares though? We certainly don’t, especially as the car keeps a respectable tank range.
This car is a future classic. An icon for how much fun it brings to your drive. Every day, the Focus RS will stun you with its insane pace, evocative sonics and BIGGG g-forces. The Focus RS can do stunts on the road.
Its most important trick, though, is how much it worms its way into your heart.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.