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courtesy @KesCoop

2016-Ford-Focus-RS-front-three-quarter-in-motion-58.jpg

by Jason Cammisa, January 26, 2016

It’s a knockout, which is usually a good thing.

“What is the point of a sleeping pill,” she asked, “if it just knocks you out?”

Seems silly, except my grandmother didn’t want a good night’s sleep, she wanted to get a little silly. Instead she got a Lunesta–and eight hours of perfect sleep before a blaring TV, next to a bottle of wine she didn’t even have time to open. She was livid, having been robbed of a fun night thanks to a drug that skipped the journey and jumped straight to the destination.

Before you judge, remember that you don’t drink alcohol for the purpose of obtaining a hangover. And no one buys a fast car to get to work earlier. They’re for fun–though these days, finding a fast car that’s also fun is as tough as finding the Quaalude that Grandma really wanted. Just like modern drugs that put you to sleep almost instantly, today’s cars fly around the Nürburgring faster than ever. Too often, the driver is only marginally involved in the process.

This target-fixated fun-thievery has become an epidemic, but Ford has a pill for it. It’s called the Focus RS, and though it’s been legal in Europe for years, it’s just now coming to the USA. The RS team decided the new RS needed to send power to its rear wheels to go faster than its front-drive predecessors but wasn’t willing to kill the fun in the process.

For this reason, the new Focus RS doesn’t use Haldex-type all-wheel drive like most transverse-engine cars, including chief rival Volkswagen Golf R. That system is a prescription for corner-exit speed, but it comes with the serious side effect of power-on understeer. Ford’s performance division experimented with a Focus RS with a Haldex-type system but had an adverse reaction.

Instead, they turned to supplier GKN’s Twinster arrangement, which uses a permanently rotating driveshaft. The rear diff decides how much power, if any, goes to the rear wheels, and with two independent clutchpacks, it can send everything it receives to one side, the other, or anything in between. This means real torque-vectoring at the rear axle, and to show it off, the Focus RS has a Drift mode. Following the smoky press shots Ford released months ago, it was the first thing we wanted to try. Confirmed: You can do big, smoky donuts in the Ford Focus RS.

Is Drift mode important? Is it even relevant? Was it worth the engineering effort by Michelin to create a bespoke Pilot Super Sport tire that can withstand this perverse use of rubber? You tell me: Was your last trip to Vegas worth it?

Speaking of STIs, that Subaru, with the aforementioned Volkswagen Golf R, are the $36,605 Focus RS’ direct competitors. Motivation for the good fight (and the donuts) comes from a revised version of the Mustang’s direct-injected, 2.3-liter four-cylinder with a larger, twin-scroll turbocharger; upgraded cylinder head and liners; and the biggest intercooler Ford could fit in the car. It’s force-fed 23 psi of air and spits out a big 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, sent to a six-speed manual transmission. If you’d prefer an automatic, you’re out of luck. Also, we recommend you try huffing chloroform instead of sipping that glass of wine.

Braking is accomplished via fixed, four-piston Brembos up front and single-piston sliders at the rear, each of which can be actuated individually to help turn the car. Crucial parts of the chassis have been reinforced, but the suspension is upgraded Focus stuff, with stiffer springs (+33% in front, +38% in the rear) and electronically adjustable shocks. In standard mode, they help give the RS a taut but surprisingly civilized ride. In Sport mode, the shocks act like they’re filled with TNT, causing the car to buck, bounce, and heave over bumps you can’t even see. This mode is solely for smooth racetracks; anyone using it on the road is a certifiable masochist.

The RS has four drive modes, starting with Normal. Sport adds more rear bias to the AWD system, boosts the throttle curve, reduces steering assistance, opens the exhaust, and instructs the computer to send multiple explosions down the tailpipe every time you lift your foot off the gas. Track mode adds suspension misery and relaxes the stability control. Finally, Drift mode sends as much power as possible to the rear and instructs the stability control to help you hold a slide.

Frustratingly, there is no custom mode where you can select the settings you like, though the RS does, mercifully, allow you to override suspension and ESP settings in any mode. Launch control locks the rear clutches, limits the engine to 5,000 rpm, and helps build boost before you dump the clutch. We recommend trying this at your dealership. It’s a violent way to start a relationship with your salesman, but you can ask him to time the run for you. If he says no, know that Ford claims 0-62 mph takes 4.7 seconds and that we’ll be testing a U.S.-spec RS as soon as we can.

Inside the cabin, about a third of the engine sound you hear is noise played through the stereo speakers. It sounds good–an inoffensive, muffled moo–but the music coming from the exhaust pipes is deep, aggressive, and awesome. In other words, the engine sounds nothing like it does in the Mustang. This is a good thing. At engine speeds over 2,000 rpm, lag is insignificant enough that it never gets on your nerves, and the open-filter air cleaner up front lets delicious turbo noises out from the engine compartment. The cabin itself is very quiet, and the Recaro seats (at least the base European-spec ones we sampled) are superbly comfortable.

At 2.0 turns lock to lock, the steering is very fast, but it’s also entirely devoid of feel. Unless you count torque steer, which seems to show up at strange times when the electric power steering gets a half-beat behind in canceling the lateral forces on the front wheels. The cable-actuated shifter is precise enough that you’ll never miss a shift, but it has long, ropy throws, and like other Focuses, the engine hangs onto revs during shifts to “help” you shift more smoothly into the next gear. I wish it could be switched off, as it just makes the whole experience inconsistent.

But the dominant impression is that the AWD system delivers speed, not stupidity. The RS is very fast–but in that modern-car deceiving way. It’s shocking how civilized 350 hp feels in what is effectively a factory-tuned economy car. A 155-hp Mazda Miata is much slower but feels more on the ragged edge. The RS delivers plenty of speed but not quite the visceral, tail-out, you’d-better-be-on-your-game thrill that lunatics like me find so intoxicating.

Then again, any disappointment there might just be a matter of high expectations set high by the presence of that Drift mode. Drift mode, it turns out, is a singular tool–a spectacularly awesome gimmick, mind you–for doing parking-lot donuts, not a handling philosophy that permeates the RS. Out on the road, this is a car that’s refined, composed, and very fast. But also fairly sober.

That means it’s less fun than the ST–a car that’s admittedly an outlier. In a world where most cars have no personality whatsoever, the ST has enough of one to have a personality disorder. It could probably use a dose of Prozac, but then the Focus ST wouldn’t be the same wheel-spinning, torque-steering, snap-oversteering psychopath we love so much.

After a few hours in the RS, I was prepared to compare the RS to Lunesta, in the destination-taking-priority-over-the-journey way. But then we made it to the racetrack. Here, the RS goes all Ambien on you–that drug that sometimes knocks you out but sometimes leaves you awake and very silly indeed.

Pull out on track on a fresh, cold set of the optional Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tires, and any accidental comparisons to a sedative are immediately vaporized. Steering response is instantaneous, and the RS flings itself sideways into each corner, maintaining the slide with power on the way out. As the tires heat up, the RS becomes more neutral, but the Ford remains an absolute laugh-out-loud riot on the track.

The brakes are unfadeable, and we experienced none of the engine overheating problems that plague the Focus ST on track. Basically, the only demerit is significant body roll that you notice when the RS snaps back at the end of a drift. Yep, a drift–the RS is that rare front-drive-based car that can actually hold its own on a racetrack. It’s not quite as throttle-adjustable as a Mitsubishi Evo or a Subaru WRX STI, but it’s very fast, capable, and predictable.

Torque-vectoring or not, the RS’ front tires are doing most of the work. They get hot more quickly than the rears, inducing understeer and revealing the limitations of this particular torque-vectoring system: it can only fix the understeer when you’re on power. Alas, that requires a simple workaround–enter the corner slowly so you can get back on the gas sooner to let the rear end turn the car. And then the smile returns.

Requiring a workaround means that means you, the driver, are actively involved in the process of driving this hot hatchback. Sure, much of the RS’ handling is guided by a computer, but it’s not a simulation; it’s an interactive game with you as an integral part. This is a car with hardware and software that want to dance with you, not eliminate you, even if they do occasionally step on your toes.

So though the RS doesn’t quite match the ST’s smiles-on-the-road factor, it’s a perma-grin machine on track, and that’s something special indeed. As long as you’re not popping pills or drinking alcohol before getting in, we wouldn’t judge you for indulging in either of these Ford-branded hallucinogens.

2016 Ford Focus RS First Drive Review - Motor Trend
 

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First review a little negative. (I think Motortrend is still biased having the Golf GTI as MTCOY in 2015)

Okay the subtle comparison to Golf R's DCC which has configurable "custom Mode" which the reviewer laments the RS doesn't ; big deal - most of the time "normal" and "sport" will do just fine.

Less fun than a ST, what a wimpy slam against the RS because the RS doesn't have the ST's wheel-spinning, torque-steering, snap-oversteering psychopath the Motortrend reviewers love so much.

First to dis Launch Control for only allowing 5,000 RPM and then to make such a irresponsible statement as "Launch control locks the rear clutches, limits the engine to 5,000 rpm, and helps build boost before you dump the clutch. We recommend trying this at your dealership. It’s a violent way to start a relationship with your salesman, but you can ask him to time the run for you."

But, in the end after all their blubbering they really couldn't find anything wrong with the RS except their bias!


YMMV,

MidCow3
 

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First review a little negative. (I think Motortrend is still biased having the Golf GTI as MTCOY in 2015)

But, in the end after all their blubbering they really couldn't find anything wrong with the RS except their bias!
I thought it was one of the better and more objective reviews so far (sans the strained medication analogy). They revealed useful info on handling characteristics not present in the more glowing reviews. As a buyer I appreciate that honesty, so that I can calibrate my expectations.
 

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This is why I read/watch Motor Tend fairly regularly. I know that they're fairly biased for and against certain cars, but they will usually provide more useful objective information about how the car actually feels to drive than most other publications.

I usually look for their description of the car and take their opinion of it with a grain of salt. I also love that they don't waste most of their articles making ridiculous analogies like the British publications. Even the medicine analogy in this assignee was really only limited to the better part of the intro and conclusion, which was okay. This was the good, honest, (mostly) objective and descriptive article I was looking for.
 

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I don't buy it, it doesn't give the smiles that the st can give on the road?
 

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Its good to finally see a mixed, but overall positive review. I was starting to think all the journalists writing these spec sheet recap reviews are just fan boys who think the car can do no wrong. No car is without downsides. Still waiting for a true, classic, Motor Trend non-first impression review :) probably won't be for a while though.
 

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It's only one opinion, and it's an outlier from the statistical norm to date.

Anyone who finds the standard drive modes not lairy enough, as was the case for this drug-obsessed reviewer, very likely has a simple solution at hand: drive the RS in drift mode all the time. Problem solved.
 

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I think Motor Trend is setting us up for a camparo where the Golf R wins the RS is second ahead of the old lady on the road STI
 

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I don't know what to say??? I honestly find my ST lame on the road and I wasn't happy until I replaced all the engine mounts just to liven it up. I can do the same with the RS and honestly I would do a lot more to the ST if not for the RS, full suspension, bushings and all. I know what the writer is saying about driving the RS hard and I think it will really take well to left foot braking to balance it out. I hate rev hang and he is spot on about that, OMFG so annoying. I just don't see how a structurally stiffer, grippier, more powerful vehicle is less exciting then it's lower counterpart. I don't know if the writer has ever driven the ST like he did the RS but you can get very bored at times, with his references to hanging the tail out I think it has been a while since he has driven one in traffic or on a public road. That was Fords goal with the RS to make it a perfect all around vehicle. I like raw, OMG this thing is special as soon as I engage first gear type of vehicles. I will drive the RS for a bit but it looks like I may be changing out a few things if the author is correct, I mean who doesn't like driving around in a vibrator everytime you turn the A/C on :)
 

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First review a little negative. (I think Motortrend is still biased having the Golf GTI as MTCOY in 2015)

Okay the subtle comparison to Golf R's DCC which has configurable "custom Mode" which the reviewer laments the RS doesn't ; big deal - most of the time "normal" and "sport" will do just fine.

Less fun than a ST, what a wimpy slam against the RS because the RS doesn't have the ST's wheel-spinning, torque-steering, snap-oversteering psychopath the Motortrend reviewers love so much.

First to dis Launch Control for only allowing 5,000 RPM and then to make such a irresponsible statement as "Launch control locks the rear clutches, limits the engine to 5,000 rpm, and helps build boost before you dump the clutch. We recommend trying this at your dealership. It’s a violent way to start a relationship with your salesman, but you can ask him to time the run for you."

But, in the end after all their blubbering they really couldn't find anything wrong with the RS except their bias!


YMMV,

MidCow3

The Custom Mode gripe I sorta get... However maybe Ford should have placed a table like this in front of them:
Drive Mode Table.PNG
Kill 'em with kindness and humor.
*If anyone can fill in the blanks so I can fill in the blanks, that would be greaaat*

The ST>RS comment is just asinine. Couldn't agree with you more there.

The launch control thing never sounded like a dis at all to me. I found the dealer thing kinda funny, imagining the salesman holding on for dear life while I catapult us right into the crosshairs of a DPD officer. I also find it funny how it seems all of these publications don't know that the only people who will be able to even drive one are those that have ordered one. The first part though just seems factual, because it does lock the rear clutches, limits engine RPM, and builds boost.

Personally, I didn't find the specific language to be very biased. Now if he went on a tirade about how the interior isn't up to snuff with the Golf R, etc. like so many other journalists have, I'd hold the red flag for ya.

Also, credit goes to @Xicutioner for his incredible avatar
 

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Inside the cabin, about a third of the engine sound you hear is noise played through the stereo speakers.
Seriously? Can it be turned off? I don't need my sound system playing fake engine noise at me. :sour:
 

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I don't know what to say??? I honestly find my ST lame on the road and I wasn't happy until I replaced all the engine mounts just to liven it up. I can do the same with the RS and honestly I would do a lot more to the ST if not for the RS, full suspension, bushings and all. I know what the writer is saying about driving the RS hard and I think it will really take well to left foot braking to balance it out. I hate rev hang and he is spot on about that, OMFG so annoying. I just don't see how a structurally stiffer, grippier, more powerful vehicle is less exciting then it's lower counterpart. I don't know if the writer has ever driven the ST like he did the RS but you can get very bored at times, with his references to hanging the tail out I think it has been a while since he has driven one in traffic or on a public road. That was Fords goal with the RS to make it a perfect all around vehicle. I like raw, OMG this thing is special as soon as I engage first gear type of vehicles. I will drive the RS for a bit but it looks like I may be changing out a few things if the author is correct, I mean who doesn't like driving around in a vibrator everytime you turn the A/C on :)
I don't think this is going to be a raw "because race car" car out of the gate. Sounds like you need a GT350R :)
 

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No overrides for exhaust, throttle, or steering. They were shown in an early 2015 video of the setup options, but have been eliminated (going by the fall 2015 technical presentation).
 

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This is the most concerning part of the review to me:

"At 2.0 turns lock to lock, the steering is very fast, but it’s also entirely devoid of feel. Unless you count torque steer, which seems to show up at strange times when the electric power steering gets a half-beat behind in canceling the lateral forces on the front wheels. The cable-actuated shifter is precise enough that you’ll never miss a shift, but it has long, ropy throws, and like other Focuses, the engine hangs onto revs during shifts to “help” you shift more smoothly into the next gear. I wish it could be switched off, as it just makes the whole experience inconsistent.

But the dominant impression is that the AWD system delivers speed, not stupidity. The RS is very fast–but in that modern-car deceiving way. It’s shocking how civilized 350 hp feels in what is effectively a factory-tuned economy car. A 155-hp Mazda Miata is much slower but feels more on the ragged edge. The RS delivers plenty of speed but not quite the visceral, tail-out, you’d-better-be-on-your-game thrill that lunatics like me find so intoxicating."
 
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