By Kristen Lee and Travis Okulski, Nov 17, 2015
We rode in the Focus RS with Ford Performance engineers. We learned many things. Here are those things.
We were able to join Ford in a 2016 Focus RS ride along at Willow Springs International Raceway this week. That's right, ride. Not drive. There isn't too much you can learn from just riding in the Focus RS. However, there is much you can learn from cornering the engineers and making them talk to you.
That's exactly what we did.
First off, it wasn't "dumbed down" for the North American market, as Ford Performance Chief Engineer Jamal Hameedi assured us. That might sound like a given, but in the past tuning for performance cars, not only from Ford, have become softer for the US market. That's not the case with the Focus RS.
When we asked Hameedi if there was any consideration for a dual clutch or automatic in the RS when development started, we received a blank stare in return. "No," we were told after a pause. "Never." It also has a hill holder function, but that can be turned off, thankfully.
It's refreshing that Ford didn't even consider a two pedal setup for the RS, especially with almost every other automaker putting some kind of dual clutch gearbox in nearly every car. We're thankful that Ford sees driver involvement as an important part of the experience.
A real point of confusion that we've had with the Focus RS is how the all-wheel drive system works. There has been a lot out there about the system, but almost all of it has been baffling. Here's what we found out after forcing Ford's AWD engineer Jim Fritz to drive us around the track.
First, there is no center diff, just two drive units, one at the front and one at the back. There is no set torque split, meaning that there isn't always at least 10 percent of power going to the rear wheels, it's constantly variable. When you set off from a standstill, it automatically transfers power to the rear depending on the level of grip available. If the front tires have no grip, 100 percent of the available torque can go to the rear wheels.
It also has torque vectoring on both axles. In the front, it's brake based while the rear end can actually overspeed the outside rear wheel to mitigate understeer. We were told that the vectoring on the front wheels is rarely used, it's really only there to assist in a moment when the car is extremely upset, mostly from the driver being too aggressive.
Riding in the RS, you can actually feel the rear come around if you get on the power mid-corner. The vectoring actually works. There's only so much you can tell from the passenger seat, but we're hopeful for when we drive it.
Another piece of the AWD puzzle is that this car isn't necessarily full time all-wheel drive. Fritz told us that there is a "steady state" mode that stops sending drive to the rear-wheels, leaving it in front-wheel drive only. This is more for highway cruising at steady throttle to reduce mechanical drag. Light accelerations will stay front-wheel drive, but if you really get on it it'll instantly go back to powering the rear wheels.
The packaging of the all-wheel drive system was one of the biggest challenges for the Ford guys. In order to make it fit they had to reprofile the fuel tank and lose the spare tire. Looking back there now, there's basically no room to spare. Compared to a Focus ST, the RS has gained about 100 pounds with the addition of all-wheel drive, but the trade-off has been totally worth it from a performance standpoint.
There's also a huge accomplishment with aerodynamics: The Focus RS has zero lift. For a hot hatch that's a major deal, Hameedi tells us. It does have more drag, but the stability at higher speeds should be markedly better than most cars in the class. It's also the lowest priced car where you can get a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, tires that are typically reserved for supercars that cost nearly $100,000. That's a bigger deal than you think it is.
Finally, Hameedi said that making the RS a global car is what really made development of the complex all-wheel drive system possible. Opening it up to markets like North America increased the sales potential, which then increased the budget they had to build the car. The best news? Every future Ford Performance car is being developed with global sales in mind, so if/when that Fiesta RS comes, it won't be a Euro-only car. We'll get it too.
Ford Focus RS Ride Along