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First Drive: 2016 Ford Focus RS

Ford's flingable Focus RS may be rally ready, but it's built for fun

A beautiful thing happened in December 2014. Ford announced that it planned to unite its disparate performance divisions that were spread across the globe into one. Under the moniker of Ford Performance, cars from Europe’s RallySport division were finally likely to make it to our side of the pond.

Hot hatches don’t get the same love here in the US as they do overseas, and while Ford gave us the ST version of the Focus, the fear of missing out on an RS version was real. Call it FoMoCo FOMO, if you will. Finally, Ford announced the RS we were waiting for and it sounded perfect: more horsepower than the base model Mustang, all-wheel drive, and, at the end of the day, a useful five-door hatchback. If it wasn’t sweet enough, Ford sprinkled even more goodness on top with the promise of a “Drift Mode.” The Focus RS sounded like the dessert as a treat for good behavior, and I couldn’t wait to devour it.

Phenomenal cosmic powers

The 2016 Focus RS is Ford’s stalwart hatchback after its been injected with the Captain America super-soldier serum. A 2.3-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine pumps out 350 horsepower and just as many pounds-feet of torque. Through a six-speed manual transmission, power is delivered to all four wheels, with a dynamic torque vectoring system that can shift 100 percent of the torque to either the front of the back.

The 2016 Focus RS is Ford’s stalwart hatchback after its been injected with the Captain America super-soldier serum.

From the outset, the RS doesn’t depart too wildly from the basic four-door hatch shape of the standard Focus, but there are some obvious tweaks. In the front, several imposing air apertures perform important cooling functions. The large intakes on the side, along with an aero blade under the bodywork, cool the brakes from three different directions.

Brake calipers sport body-matching paint as they peek behind from gloss black 19-inch alloy wheels fitted with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. Along the back, the RS reveals a large air diffuser at the bottom and a hard to miss wing at the top, RS proudly embossed on the pillar.

Itty-bitty living space

The interior seats five, but feels very closed in. Like the outside, you’ll find features tacked on from the standard model, like boost gauges glowing in a specific RS blue tone. Recaro sports seats shod with Alcantara are emblazoned with RS badges, and has Ford Sync 3 fitted for all your entertainment and navigational needs. The RS has track apps that can be accessed through the information screen seated in the gauge cluster, where things like launch control can be accessed. Of course, drive select has two fun-time modes included: Track, and Drift.

Donuts for dessert

Yup, Drift is hard-wired into the Focus RS. The torque vectoring system works with the electronic stability control (ESC) to get the Focus to oversteer, but then helps the driver balance things along. Keep in mind, it’s not push-button drifting: The driver can still muck it up. Getting a car do slide is all about counter-steering and throttle control. It’s not particularly easy, and that’s why the guys who do it are impressive and the guys who can’t ruin “Cars and Coffee” events.  This makes feathering the throttle way easier, so you can concentrate on pointing the Focus to where you want it to go.

On the track, The Focus RS is extremely forgivable when tossed around. Ham fist the inputs, and the RS just be powers through all your mistakes as you scrub violently through corners. A toggle on the indicator stalk allows the dampers to be firmed up or softened, and the difference is quite tangible.

Related: Ford’s 315 HP Focus RS is its hottest hatch yet, and it’s coming to the US

Finesse is rewarded, but not by much. It’s here that you start to suspect that maybe precision track laps aren’t really what this car is built for. I got the sense that the Rally-Sport heritage of this car would really shine on a mixed-surface stage.

Keep in mind, it’s not push-button drifting: the driver can still muck it up.

Indeed, with a 0 to 60 of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 165 mph, this is a serviceable rally car that’s been smuggled into civilian hands. But the numbers are just a front for a car that’s fun to whip around. Like a BMW M2, you could technically drive it for performance, but it’s just too much of a blast to really care how fast your laps are.

Taken for what it is outside of track tomfoolery, the RS feels like, well, a Ford Focus. You get 90 cubic feet of passenger space, but about 20 cubic feet of rear cargo volume, three less than the ST and standard Focus hatchback. The aggressive looks certainly make it stand out, but the limited color palette doesn’t do much to support it. Nitrous Blue has become the RS’s signature look, but if that doesn’t do it for you, then your choices are either black, grey, or white. Kind of a sad collection of cold colors for such an exciting car. I’d take a red one, myself.

Conclusion

For all the waiting we had to do for the hottest hatchback Ford has to offer, the Focus RS certainly satisfies when engaged in fun mode. It starts at $36,605, which is a pretty penny for a half-toy-half-daily-commuter. They’ve been hard to come by, too. Nevertheless, when driving conditions become less than ideal, I’d like to take the Focus RS for another spin and really give it a chance to shine.

Highs

  • Cool, aggressive styling
  • Fun to chuck around and easily controllable
  • Drifting made easier

Lows

  • Few interior updates
  • Limited color options