Hands on with the 2016 Ford Focus RS

Ford's got another hit with the Focus RS

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Ford’s got another hit on their hands with the Focus RS. They’ve already sold 4-500 of them in Australia and if you want one, you’ll be waiting to at least 2017.

After spending a day behind the wheel, its easy to see why their latest hot hatch is beating expectations. Yesterday I had the opportunity to experience the car on the highway, on a hill climb and on the track.

The car is all-wheel drive, turbocharged 2.3-litre petrol engine, paired with a manual 6 speed gearbox that outputs 257kW and 440Nm of torque and achieves a combined fuel economy of 7.7L/100km. When you’re driving the Focus RS, its unmistakably planted through the bends and its then you realize the numbers don’t matter, its the experience that does. No matter how hard you push the RS, it grips the road thanks to a great chassis design, suspension setup and of course the Michelin wrapped wheels which never complained once.

I’ve driven a number of turbo-charged vehicles and what Ford have done with their twin-scroll turbo charger is a bit of magic, because unless you knew, you’d think this car is naturally aspirated. The power delivery is instant and always on demand, with no hint of lag between burying your right foot and the car responding.

When it comes to raw numbers, the 2016 Focus RS will hit 0-60km/h in 2.2 seconds (I manage 2.8), and the full 0-100km/h in just 4.7 seconds, not bad considering the price of the car. You’ll never do it, but its nice to know the taco goes all the way to 300km/h, that’s because it needs to measure the car’s top speed of 266km/h.

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Drive modes

Drift mode is enabled in Australia which when selected, provides a warning to drivers that this feature is for track use only, however the feature isn’t geolocked to race tracks. While this car makes you feel like a hero, you need to remember you’re not Ken Block.

You can read my detailed thoughts on Drift mode, complete with videos, in a dedicated post.

The RS features driver-selectable sport suspension with adjustable dampers. The engineering team were given strict instructions here, make sure the driver feels the difference. Its safe to say they absolutely achieved that goal. Pressing the button on the end of the indicator stalk stiffens the dampers by 40% and works in both directions, when the spring contracts and reacts to hitting a bump. This translates to the driver (and passengers) in a much harsher ride, but when you’re looking for absolute handling performance, like the mountain road we took, it puts the car on rails. With this option can be enabled in any driving mode, I promise you, you don’t want this on for a commute to work or a trip to the shops, this is for the weekend.

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Vehicle & Engineering Manager at Ford Performance, Tyrone Johnson said,

The function really drove the design.

This means in the long running battle between designers and engineers, the engineers won this time. There’s nothing on the car without purpose and while people will certainly talk a lot about the aggressive front bar and rear wing, these elements help the car achieve its performance numbers and racing feel, not because they look good.

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Infotainment

The Focus RS ships with SYNC 2 which is really unacceptable given the length of time between the announcement of SYNC 3 and the fact many other models are already shipping with SYNC3 globally. The one saving grace is that all 2017 models will come with SYNC 3, which we believe also means support for Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay. If you’re an early buyer of the 2016 Focus RS, there is no way to upgrade from SYNC2, to SYNC3 and that really sucks.

The RS has a high-res 8.0-inch touch screen and Ford will tell you it’ll process natural language voice commands, but its really an expanded set of function calls, rather than anything close to the voice assistants you have in your pocket.

Internal

Inside the office of the Focus RS, you get wrapped in gorgeous Recaro seats which hug you tighter than an enthusiastic grandparent at Christmas. The seats are a combination of Partial leather / Micro-fibre fabric panels and has you positioned relatively high, but even at 190cm, I had plenty of headroom.

Getting into the RS, you’ll certainly notice the side support of the seats as they do impact your entry into the car. As an owner, you’d get used to this pretty quick, so its not an issue, but is worth pointing out. The positive side of this is the way the Recaro’s hold you in place, even while hitting up to 1G in lateral forces through a corner.

As a 4-door, 5 seater, many will promote the Focus RS to their significant other as a ‘family car’ and if that’s at all going to succeed, the back seats need to hold full sized humans and thankfully Ford have included rear seats have a decent amount of room. This also comes with Recaro branding and the dark leather with blue stitching and micro-fibre combination a really nice touch. That stitching is also followed through to the steering wheel.

The one place space really is compromised is the boot. Lifting the lid on the hatch, you’ll notice the shelf sits high, a result of the AWD mechanics necessary to achieve everything we’ve talked about above.

When it comes to creature comforts, there’s a 9-speaker audio system, USB & RCA inputs, rearview camera to help with parking, dual-zone climate control and push button start. The car will also turn itself off at the lights if you pop it in neutral and take your foot off the clutch. This another effort to help fuel economy and for those concerned with the feature, there’s an easy button to disable it. After trying it through the streets of Brisbane, the startup was instant as soon as you put your foot back on the clutch and really not something to be concerned about.

When it comes to highway driving, there’s cruise control with a speed limiter, but unfortunately the RS does not have adaptive cruise control. Given the car is being sold on its ability to adapt to all types of driving, this is one area that was a real miss. Once you’ve driven a car with Adaptive Cruise Control, you’ll never want to drive one without, its that transformative. If you’re someone who commutes everyday in traffic, it simplifies the driving experience and significantly lowers the mental energy required to get from A to B safely. Without it, RS owners will have to manually adapt to other drivers braking and accelerating, a source of great frustration in city driving.

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Aerodynamics

One of the most dramatic differences between the RS and the standard or even the ST models of the Focus, is the aerodynamics kit. Keeping with the scope of engineering first, every piece plays a critical function in performance. The front bar of the RS hides a massive intercooler, so Ford reduced the thickness of the mesh to increase airflow. There’s also air inlets to pass air through to cool the brakes. From the aggressive styling of the front the front bar, the large rear wing at the top of the hatch and the rear defuser at the bottom of the rear bar.

While you’re cruising around the streets, this body work helps the RS stand out and let everyone know, you’ve got plenty of performance under your right foot. If you ever take the car to the track, then you’ll find these components provide much needed downforce, while finding the delicate balance between performance through the turns while keeping drag to a minimum.

The drag co-efficient of the car is just 0.3555, substantially improved on the last model back in 2009.

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Sound

The unique RS sound is both powerful and sporty and the sound of the crackes and pops as you lift off the gas is more than enough to put a smile on your face and keep you coming back for more and more. Ford spent an ridiculous amount of time tuning the exhaust and during the launch, we heard samples of the original exhaust note which frankly was pretty boring, compared to the final result and the difference is stark, something Ford should absolutely be applauded for.

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Colors

The car comes in just 4 colours to add to the exclusivity of the car, so if you want a different colour, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The colours are known as Frozen White which is included in the base price, or Magnetic, Shadow Black and Nitrous (blue) which are all $450 options.

In a somewhat strange decision, the Brembo monoblock calipers (4x38mm pistons) only come in blue, regardless of your vehicle colour. They look great when paired with the Nitrous blue, but are a little strange on the Magnetic.

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Wheels

The Focus RS rolls on 19-inch forged alloys which are build light and strong. A new global agreement between Ford Performance and Michelin will see all FPV around the globe ship exclusively with Michelin tyres.

After seeing and driving the optional performance wheel package, you should definitely pony up for the extra $2,500 to get the 235/35 R19 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber. These were specifically engineered to enhanced performance on both dry and wet surfaces and road and track driving. Just remember, while drifting around the track is fun, you will be eating through pretty expensive tyres which will need to be replaced at some point.

Pricing and Availability

The Ford Focus RS starts at $50,990, but add the extras like paint and wheels and you’ll land somewhere around the $53,749 which for what you get, is seriously good value. Now the painful part, if you’ve fallen in love with the RS, you won’t be able to get one for at least 6 months. The upside is that 2017 models will ship with SYNC3, so if you want a Focus RS and don’t have to buy right now, then wait.

Continuing Ford’s global production focus to drive efficiency and economies of scale, the Focus is made in Germany and sold in 42 markets. This means Australia’s relatively small market, competes with the rest of the world for cars off the production line.

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Final thoughts

Ford have built one hell of car here, the Focus RS is a massive success in its ability to transform between a road-going grocery runner to a crazy sideways drift car at the track. This really reflects the diverse use cases owners want and demand from a modern car.

The drive modes are really felt by the driver and the difference between modes is stark. If you, like me were wondering about how Ford sliced up the market between the stock Focus, the Focus ST and the Focus RS, then the answer is that the Focus RS was developed to perform and the decisions made in the its development were always taken with this in mind.

Its things like the springs being +33% on the front and 38% on the rear, stiffer than the ST that helps you understand the RS really is a different car. While they all share the same size and basic shape, the design and engineering of the RS was almost a complete rethink from the base Focus and with different goals, different decisions were made to deliver what really is a spectacular car for the money.

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