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2017 Ford Focus RS Overview
Riding a wave of awards and accolades following its U.S. debut late in the 2016 model year, the Ford Focus RS high-performance sport hatchback enters 2017 with the wind at its back and plenty of open road ahead. Developed by Team RS (Rallye Sport), Ford's in-house specialty tuning shop, and officially the 30th vehicle to carry the RS nomenclature, the Focus RS has been available to European buyers for more than a decade, through its first two generations. Now, with the debut of its third generation, the Focus RS has been designated as the automaker's first global RS vehicle, and finally makes its way to U.S. showrooms, giving American automotive enthusiasts the long-awaited chance to get behind the wheel of a competitive street racer with plenty of motorsports DNA in its hardware and design.
Although it receives no significant updates for 2017, the Focus RS still delivers plenty of bang for the buck. Essentially Ford's answer to such hot hatches as the Volkswagen Golf R and Subaru WRX STI, the Focus RS beats both of them in the sprint from 0-60 mph, making the run in 4.7 seconds, compared to 4.9 seconds for the Golf R and 5.1 seconds for the WRX STI, while remaining comparably priced.
The Focus RS gets its sprint-happy power from a new 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine, which it borrows from the Mustang (it's one of several engines available for the pony car). In the Mustang, the EcoBoost engine develops 310 hp, but for the Focus RS, Ford has boosted output to 350 hp, thanks to a number of design changes, including revamped air intakes and an upgraded turbocharger with improved air flow. Torque matches horsepower, topping out at a hefty 350 lb-ft, which accounts for that lightning-quick acceleration. Those horsepower and torque numbers make the Focus RS not only the most powerful Focus ever, with 98 more hp than its closest stablemate, the Focus ST, but they also make it more powerful than some Mustang trims, setting up an in-house competition of sorts.
All that power generates heat, and Ford has equipped the Focus RS with a number of features designed to ensure optimal engine cooling, including a larger radiator and a new cylinder head made of an alloy material. Ford pairs the EcoBoost engine with a 6-speed manual shifter, which is the only transmission available. No automatic needed here. A short shift lever ensures quick gear changes, while the clutch has been upgraded to handle the increased torque output. An auto start/stop feature comes standard, and helps keep fuel-economy numbers for the turbocharged powerplant fairly reasonable, at 19 mpg city/25 highway/22 combined.
Ford channels all that power to 19-inch wheels through a performance all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. A first for a Focus trim, the AWD system was developed with motorsports in mind and draws on a history of RS performance AWD systems, designed to push the hatchback's handling and cornering characteristics to new levels. It incorporates a dynamic torque vectoring system, which adjusts the front/rear torque split, as well as the side-to-side distribution of torque for the rear axle. The AWD system can send up to 70% of torque to the rear axle, and up to 100% of rear-axle torque to each side, making the shift in as little as .06 seconds. Under aggressive cornering, the system sends additional torque to the outer rear wheel, which improves stability and helps to eliminate understeer.
The AWD system works in conjunction with the electronic stability control system, as well as the Focus RS's sports suspension, which features upgraded bushings and antiroll bars, as well as adjusted spring rates, designed to provide a stiffer, sportier ride. The switchable dampers offer two modes, including a firmer mode for the track. The electric power-assisted steering system has also been adjusted to provide better responsiveness and road feel.
To manage all those mechanics and systems, drivers can choose from four driving modes, which make adjustments to settings and power distribution to create different types of rides. The Normal mode provides a balanced distribution for everyday driving, while drivers who want to push the Focus RS should select the Sport mode. The two other modes, Track and Drift, are designed for track use only, with the Drift mode enabling controlled oversteer drifts.
The quest for optimal air flow, engine cooling, and brake cooling extends to the Focus RS's exterior design, which emphasizes function and aerodynamics, as well as aesthetics. Overall, the Focus RS looks better from the front than from the back, due in part to its oversized rear roof spoiler, which throws off some of the rear-end balance. Still, it's an eye-catching design, matching its level of performance.
At the front, the widemouthed grille and lower air splitter give the car an aggressive look, while the lower front side ducts with integrated foglights channel cooling air to the Brembo performance brakes. Along the sides, design elements include lower rocker panels and oversized wheel wells to accommodate larger tires, while at the rear, a large diffuser and twin high-performance tailpipes, as well as RS badging, complete the look. The front grille, rear diffuser, and rear spoiler, along with the optimized aerodynamics, work together to ensure zero lift during high-speed maneuvers.
For 2017, Ford continues to offer the Focus RS with a choice of four exterior colors, including RS-exclusive metallic Nitrous Blue, as well as Absolute Black, Stealth Gray, and Frozen White. Power heated side mirrors are among the exterior options.
Inside, the performance RS theme continues with such features as Recaro sport seats with partial-leather upholstery and heavy bolstering, a leather-wrapped flat-bottomed sport steering wheel, alloy pedals, and unique instrument graphics and gauges, including displays for oil temperature, oil pressure, and turbo boost pressure. Ford also includes its SYNC 3 infotainment and communications system, which integrates audio, climate control, and Bluetooth, all displayed on an 8-inch touchscreen. Buyers can add navigation, a rear-view camera, and a premium 10-speaker Sony audio system as optional features. Optional packages also add full leather seats, an 8-way power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, and a power moonroof.
Test drivers who have put the Focus RS through its paces vouch for the hot hatch's performance, especially on the track, where its Drift and Track modes were tested to their limits. The Focus RS responded well in all maneuvers, the testers say, and they give it high marks for handling, stability, and performance.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in California.
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