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2016 Ford Focus RS Review and First Drive

The 2016 Ford Focus RS is the latest addition to the HM Garage. Ever since the Focus RS was announced last March, we’ve wanted to get behind the wheel of one of these compact titans. With all the hoopla surrounding the car, we wanted to see if it really lived up to the hype. With that in mind, we spent several days putting the Focus RS through its paces on a variety of different road conditions. Everywhere from our daily commute to some winding country back roads. Our mission was to see how the new Focus RS stacked up against other sport compacts such as the Subaru WRX STI.


What Is This??!!

Some may roll their eyes and think this is just a gussied-up Focus hatchback with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and all-wheel-drive and that’s the end of story. Au contraire! In reality, the Focus name is really the only thing shared with its other stablemates within the Focus lineup. It’s definitely the black sheep of the family. First off, it hails from Germany where the Focus RS has been delighting Europeans since 2002. Second, it features standard technology and performance features you’d expect to find in performance cars costing thousands more.


A review of the window sticker reveals a cauldron of black magic designed to give the Focus RS an upper hand on its competition. Firepower such as launch control, selectable driving modes, and multi-mode suspension comes standard with this pint-sized hellion. Our Focus RS was also equipped with the RS2 Package which adds 8-way, leather-trimmed Recaro seats, voice-activated navigation, and heated exterior mirrors, front seats, and steering wheel. Granted, this package adds a few creature comforts but tacks on a whopping $2,785! Overall sticker price for this 2016 Focus RS is $39,560.


A quick walkaround of our Stealth Gray Focus RS reveals plenty of sport styling and equipment. A split grille with wire mesh, 19-inch gray-scale wheels, and a high-mount liftgate spoiler are just a few of the styling cues of the Focus RS. A contrasting black adorns the headlamp bezels, foglamps, and grille. Peeking through the wheels, we see blue Brembo brake calipers attached to large rotors. The Focus RS certainly sports an aggressive posture without going over the top like other sport compacts you see. This Teutonic terror looks like it means business!


Road Manners

Squeezing 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque from a 2.3-liter EcoBoost I4 engine doesn’t go unnoticed. Except for a bit of turbo lag, once you press the accelerator, it’s time to sit down, hold on, and shut up. In the straightaways, we could accelerate from 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds and sprint the quarter mile in 13.6 seconds. There’s no torque steer or much tire spin at all. But we soon discover that where the Focus RS really shines is on the twisty, curvy back roads. Switch on Sport mode and the suspension gets firmer, steering gets tighter, and the throttle is more responsive. The car practically drives like it’s on rails. The Michelin Super Sport tires grab hold of the road as if they’re coated with Gorilla Glue. There’s little to no fishtailing and it’s as if the car is daring you to push it even harder. Shifts are smooth as butter with the six-speed manual and the light clutch just adds to the driving excitement. There’s also plenty of snap, crackle, and pop courtesy of the large-bore high performance exhaust. Its tone is also somewhat deeper and more robust than other 4-cylinder turbos we’ve driven.


All this power is laid to the ground by the Ford Performance All-Wheel-Drive System with Dynamic Torque Vectoring. The great thing about this system is the behind-the-scenes way it operates. The system distributes power for maximum performance. It can actually shift up to 100 percent of available torque to the rear axle and distribute 100 percent of available torque to either wheel. After driving the Focus RS through a few hairpin turns, we came to appreciate how well this system works.


The Focus RS conjures up 45 more horsepower and 60 more foot pounds of torque than the Subaru WRX STI. With this in mind, we expected it to have more of a leg up over the WRX STI. The Focus RS is roughly 0.2 seconds quicker from 0 to 60 and 0.1 seconds quicker in the quarter mile. However, aftermarket tuners like Hennessey have a cure for this with their $700 HPE400 package which bumps power up to 388 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque.


The interior is pretty basic but functional. Other than our test car’s navigation, there’s not a lot of fluff. The suede-covered Recaros are tight and heavily bolstered but definitely keep you firmly planted in the seat. Other nice touches include a gauge cluster mounted on top of the dashboard and a flat-bottom steering wheel. We also aren’t used to seeing auto start/stop on a manual car either.


Bottom Line

The German vocabulary has a word called blitzkrieg. In English, it translates to lightning war. By definition, it’s sudden, swift, large-scale offensive warfare intended to win a quick victory. The 2016 Ford Focus RS definitely won us over, too. It’s undoubtedly the best compact sports car we’ve ever driven. It has better road manners and is a significantly more refined driver than the Subaru WRX STI. Yes, it’s really that good! We believe the Focus RS sets a standard on what a sport compact car can and should be. That’s not to say it’s perfect, but we definitely were amazed with its performance and overall drivability.

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