Simply put, Ford’s Focus RS is a street-legal race car.
Not many of those out there, and most that are require you to sell your house in order to make a down payment on said speedster.
So here, for “just” $36,995, Ford will put a scorching hot rod, drifter, rally car in your driveway, enticing neighbors, especially young males, to drool. It’ll also increase your heart rate, something on the order of being a real race driver.
The backstory on the German-made RS is that it, or similar Foci, have been sold in Europe for years and U.S. lead-footers have been itching for it, begging for it, praying for it to hit our shores. Now it has. I don’t know how many will be sold, but the Subaru Impreza WRX now has serious competition. In fact, folks considering a Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang or Dodge Challenger may want to consider saving some dough and going this route for serious performance.
In a nutshell this fast Focus, complete with a big deal rear spoiler, pumps 350 horsepower out of its tiny 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged engine along with a matching torque rating. It’s said to do 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. By comparison, a Mustang GT can do it in 4.4 seconds. That’s pretty close and this handles better!
The Focus RS has the advantage of all-wheel-drive to keep all of its wheels churning on the blacktop boosting its acceleration and grip. The low-profile 19-inch performance tires help too. I pushed this pretty hard on some highway turns and slalom-like back roads and the Focus feels superglued to the road. Grip is superb.
Fantastically Focus also comes with an aggressive 6-speed manual transmission. That’s how you know this is a serious racer as less than 30% of cars are offered with manual tranny’s now and less than 3% of all cars sold in the U.S. are so equipped.
Did I mention the Focus engine has an intercooled turbo, which is the source of its awe-inspiring power. In first gear you can snap your head back and you can run away from anything at a stoplight. Shifting is easy, but with fairly long throws, and the clutch is moderately heavy, which you’d expect.
It’s not wise to say what speeds you can get to, even just on a highway entry ramp, but Car and Driver magazine lists top speed at 165 mph. Suffice it to say this baby is fast, which is why one of the four drive modes is Track. Even in Normal mode this is quick, but Sport and Track firm up the steering to race car levels and give it a bit more juice, as if that’s needed. I kept pressing the drive mode button on the console to slip into Sport just so I could hear the exhaust’s sweet feedback, the gurgles and pops that make it feel like you’re powering the Focus onto a racetrack. Think stock car burble and pop. Sweet!
Note too this is the only production car with a Drift mode programmed in. So if your tire budget is up to it, and you have a parking lot that’ll allow drifting, you can do donuts and spin those tires until you’re riding only on molten-hot rims.
Now for a 60-something guy I gotta tell ya that the suspension, which is perfect for racing is NOT kind to the pelvis and lower back. Ride is ugh, rough. There are struts up front and a short- and long-arm suspension in back. This beast corners great, but you’ll feel a bump from every leaf or worm on the pavement.
There’s a reason young folks love to drive these cars. But anyone could enjoy this, if they have a masseuse at hand to work out the back kinks after a quick drive to work or home.
More good news for this road rocket, its brakes are stellar. There are monster 13.8-inch front brake rotors and 11.9-inch rotors in back. They do some major clamping to stop the RS – boom!
Inside the race theme continues in the tested Nitrous Blue Focus. Here are black cloth and blue-stitched Recaro race seats that provide oodles of kidney, back and hip support. The driver’s seat is powered, the passenger’s is not. It was easy to find a good driving position, although I’d like the seat’s front edge to drop a little lower so my short legs could get a straight-on push on the clutch. Tall folks won’t mind this seating position at all.
Amazingly the seats are heated too, with three levels to choose from, but that’s about it for luxury here. No cooled seats or sunroof.
But the dash is easy to see and gauges simple to read and understand, plus Ford puts three dials atop the dash’s center stack, to measure the oil pressure, oil temp and turbo boost levels. Looks racy, but you’ll likely not be looking at these unless you are racing.
Speaking of which, Focus has a D-shaped, or flat-bottomed steering wheel that looks racy and allows the driver more knee room. That wheel is a manual tilt/telescope number too.
Mid-dash is a fine touchscreen that was easy to see and use. It took only a few minutes to figure out how to find and set a radio station, tune the sound etc. Many pricier cars can’t make that claim, instead hoping you’ll have taken computer programming at night school before trying to adjust the controls.
Beyond the touchscreen are some other interior civilities too, like an inside trunk release, automatic lights, power mirrors and sliding sun visors. Heck, under that hatch with the big spoiler atop is plenty of cargo room too, a full 23.8 cubic feel that grows to 44.8 when the rear seats are folded down.
Beyond the effort needed to crawl out of the Recaro seats when exiting and the tough ride, the only other thing I can ding the Focus for is needing high-octane (91) fuel. Makes sense if you want to create all that power, but you can put lower octane fuel in and just lose a bit off your lap times, if you are turning laps!
I got 23.8 miles per gallon in a raucous week of zipping around suburban Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, and a few points hither and yon. The EPA says to expect 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, as if that matters to us racers. Wink!
FAST STATS: 2017 Ford Focus RS
Hits: It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s fun. Tons of power, race car handling, four drive modes including Drift, excellent grip with AWD, plus heated seats and a 6-speed manual. Good touchscreen that’s easy to use, flat-bottom steering wheel, snug Recaro race seats, and an engine that burbles and pops in Sport mode. An absolute blast!
Misses: Ugh, what a rough ride. This is made for a smooth racing surface. Also drinks premium fuel.
Made in: Germany
Engine: 2.3-liter, EcoBoost turbo, I4, 350 hp
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 3,460 lbs.
Length: 172.9 in.
Wheelbase: 104.3 in.
Cargo: 23.8 cu.ft. (44.8 cu.ft. rear seat down)
MPG: 19/25 (EPA)
MPG: 23.8 (tested)
Base Price: $36,995 (includes delivery)
Invoice: $35,370 (includes delivery)
Major Options: None
Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage