Wednesday, February 15, 2017



With a couple of exceptions, hatchbacks are generally more known for their utility and practicality than they are for their performance.

One of the most notable of those exceptions, perhaps the most notable, is the Ford Focus RS.

Those two tacked-on letters are almost magical in their effect. It takes the Focus up to a new level higher than even the souped up Focus ST when it comes to fun-to-drive quotient. The magazine Road & Track in a review of the 2017 Focus RS posted on its website a “track car designed as a practical hatchback,” and that about sums it up.

Consider, the numbers for the standard Focus with its 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine are 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. For the turbocharged ST they are 252 hp and 270 lb.-ft.

For the Focus RS and its 2.3-liter turbo-4, the numbers are a whopping 350 hp and 350 lb.-ft., unbelievable for a vehicle of this size and class. That cuts fuel economy to 19 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway and 22 combined using required premium fuel, but oh what you gain in fun.

This is a driver’s car. A six-speed manual is the only transmission offered, all-wheel drive is standard, and the Recaro seats, though perhaps uncomfortable for some with their stiff sides, provide solid support to keep you in position behind the wheel when accelerating through corners. The website clocked a 2016 Focus RS in 4.5 seconds, which is nearly two seconds quicker than the Focus ST and twice as fast as the standard Focus.

Little wonder you’re going to have in-the-know enthusiasts stopping by your house when you have one of these sitting in your driveway.

The power, all-wheel drive and Recaro seats are not the only unique features to the Focus RS over other Focus models. The Focus RS also gets a dual exhaust system, Brembo front brake calipers (hey, you’ve got to be able to harness all that power), launch control, special grille and rear spoiler, a performance shift indicator, and adjustable shocks. Auxiliary gauges at the top of the center stack display oil temperature and pressure as well as turbo boost, and the shift indicator flashes when approaching the engine speed limiter.

Don’t get too excited its all-wheel drive. The Focus RS isn’t intended for off-road ventures but for street use. The company warns that anything more than a gravel road could result in damage not covered by the three-year, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.

You can set the Focus RS to one of four driving modes with the push of a button on the center console. At startup, settings are in Normal mode for street driving. Pushing the button once programs it for Sport mode and more enhanced street performance. The other two settings are for Track and Drift modes and are for track-use only. You also can firm up the suspension by pushing and holding a button at the end of the turn signal stalk until the appropriate icon — it’s obvious which one — shows up in the instrumental panel next to the S for Sport.

Inside, Ford has not forgotten all about creature comforts. Dual-zone climate control, leather-wrapped, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, push-button start, 10-speaker Sony sound system with HD and satellite radio, a rear-view camera, and cruise control are among standard features. Many of the controls are operated via buttons on the steering wheel spokes.

Also, Ford’s Sync3 system for operating infotainment features has been fine-tuned and responds readily to voice commands. You can zoom in on the navigation map by pinching your fingers on the screen like operating functions on a Smart phone. 

An optional RS2 package (navigation, heated exterior mirrors, heated steering wheel, heated front seats, power-adjustable leather seats with suede inserts and RS markings, six-way power adjustable seats with two-way lumbar support and leather upholstery with suede inserts plus optional forged aluminum 19-inch wheels over standard 19-inch alloy and the $875 destination and delivery charge ran the total cost of my test vehicle to $41,550, over the base MSRP of $35,900.

That’s a pretty good jump over the mid-$20K that the basic Focus runs. A well-equipped Focus ST stays under the $30K mark, and a fully-loaded ST just inches past it. It would be a nice alternative if the RS is out of your budget range.

What I liked about the 2017 Ford Focus RS: There’s a good bit of space for cargo behind the second row, and you can gain a lot more by folding those seats. Having four doors makes getting into those rear seats nice and easy. The Sync3 system is intuitive to operate, though to me the ability to make adjustments by swiping or pinching your fingers on the screen falls into the just-showing-off category. The map display clearly shows plus or minus to change the scale.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Ford Focus RS: The backseat isn’t what you would call cramped, but it is snug. I wouldn’t want to be one of three passengers back there.

Would I buy the 2017 Ford Focus RS: A $40,000 price tag (for a Focus?) would give me some pause. I might take a longer look at the Focus ST and pocket the difference. But if you’re looking for the ultimate hot hatchback, the RS is it.

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