2017 Ford Focus RS: Hot Performance Hatch

By Frank A. Aukofer, November 19th, 2016

The 2017 Ford Focus RS epitomizes the ongoing revolution in the world-wide automobile industry. First, it's a four-door hatchback; a body style that American buyers originally rejected, but now the hatchback is getting new respect because of the way manufacturers reconfigured and renamed hatchbacks as crossovers.

A crossover generally is defined as a tall utility vehicle that is built with a unit body like a car, instead of a body-on-frame truck.

The biggest current change in consumer preferences is away from traditional sedans and toward compact and midsize crossover sport utility vehicles. Many crossovers are little more than jacked-up four-door hatchbacks with all-wheel drive.

The Focus RS also has all-wheel drive, though it's more of a performance feature than a utilitarian, all-weather enhancement. That, too, is a trend with no end in sight.

Most of all, however, the revolution is under the hood as manufacturers, thanks to creative computer software, extract ever more power from smaller engines.

Four-cylinder engines, including the one in the new Focus RS, are becoming the norm. Often with turbocharging, they deliver sporty horsepower and torque along with fuel economy that only could be imagined even a decade ago.

The RS four-banger has a displacement -- the total volume inside the cylinders -- of 2.3 liters. That's not much more than that two-liter soft drink bottle at the supermarket. Yet it delivers a whopping 350 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. With its six-speed manual gearbox and curb weight of 3,460 pounds, it can rocket to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds.

That sort of performance doesn't come cheap. Basically, the Ford Focus is a compact economy car with a starting price of about $18,000. The RS, with its high-zoot power, all-wheel drive, and handling refinements starts at $36,995. The test car, with options, had a suggested retail price at $40,475.

Base equipment includes Brembo high-performance brakes, selectable drive modes, pushbutton starting, launch control, satellite radio with Ford's Sync system, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights, and a rear spoiler.

An options package on the test car included a navigation system, performance summer tires on painted alloy wheels, heated front seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, and heated outside mirrors.

Except for the custom 19-inch wheels and a few other styling fillips, the Focus RS does not betray its economy compact origin, which makes it something of a stealth bomber on the highway.

Even the interior does not depart much from the base car except for the aftermarket Recaro bucket seats with their generous side bolsters and high-friction cloth upholstery with leather trim to grip the torso in spirited driving. They feel terrific but take a bit of extra effort to settle into.

The RS's standard launch control minimizes wheel spin in acceleration runs. It also comes with four different drive modes: normal, sport, track, and drift.

The last is a bit questionable because the motor sport of drifting involves busting the rear end loose around a corner in a display of tire burning smoke. The RS all-wheel-drive mitigates the drift. It features a standard torque vectoring system that can send about 70 percent of the power to the rear wheels.

The sport, track and drift modes deliver a rock-hard ride so most owners likely will engage normal for everyday driving. The different modes adjust the suspension system.

The operative description of the Focus RS is "tight." The steering, shifter, clutch, ride, and seating -- everything about this so-called "hot hatch" is tight and stiff. It's a characteristic well loved by enthusiasts but not endearing to commuters. Despite that, however, the shift linkage is direct and intuitive.

This obviously is not a casual car. Many drivers likely would reject it out of hand after one test drive. The Focus RS requires skill and effort to bring out its considerable qualities. But over time it can deliver the automotive equivalent of a teenage crush.

Specifications

Base price $36,995 (as tested: $40,475)
Curb weight 3,460 lbs.
Displacement 2.3-liter
Engine type turbocharged EcoBoost 4-cylinder w/DI
Epa mileage rating 19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 12.4 gal.
Horsepower (net) 350 at 6000 rpm
Overall length 172.8 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 350 at 3200 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Vehicle type 5-passenger AWD hatchback
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