Stick Shift: 2017 Ford Focus RS

Stick Shift: 2017 Ford Focus RS

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In Hollywood, any rising star is expected to excel at more than just one thing. It’s hardly enough to only sing, or dance. If you can manage both, and toss in a little acting talent for good measure, your star should shine brighter than the competitions. Curtain up on Fords newest star, the 2017 Ford Focus RS. Like any good Hollywood hopeful, it comes with more than just one trick up its sleeve. This ballistic, blue oval wearing bombshell is a tantalizing mix of rally car and hot hatch road warrior. What’s more is that it comes from outstanding stock, with famous family members like the RS200, Sierra Cosworth, Escort RS and others. Dating all the way back into the early 70’s. For decades, we could only read and dream about these exotic overseas creations. Now, finally, the special RS line has come to our shores in the form of the Focus, and high as the expectations are, this car measures up in practically every way.

Getting right to it, the 2017 Ford Focus RS looks like a matchbox car that starred in at least two of the Fast and Furious films. As aggressively styled as it is, it’s managed to stay within the realm of tasteful, an impressive accomplishment considering it could’ve all too easily gone to the side of gaudy and over-the-top. LED signature headlights are perched over large fog lamps that flank a gaping wide black grille. No design feature is there for pure cosmetic enhancement. Each vent functions to cool the big brake rotors or feed air into the oversized intercooler. A combination of the front spoiler, lower diffuser and beautifully shaped roof spoiler in the back help create plenty of downforce, pushing the RS down into the tarmac at higher speeds. Dark grey alloy wheels pair beautifully against the Nitrous blue paint. I especially loved how the big Brembo brake calipers were sprayed the same blue to match.

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A design highlight, both in form and function, is the brightly tipped dual exhaust. Painstakingly engineered to eliminate the center muffler and be as straight as possible. With so little back pressure and that big turbo, each time you lift off the gas for a quick gear change you’re greeted to the feral raspiness and popping back-fire you’d expect to hear from a well-tuned rally car. This effect is the result of a clever design, activated in every mode besides Normal, that opens a valve on the driver’s side tailpipe, letting the exhaust out early. This symphony of combustion is why I never listened to a second of the radio. Though I did count 10 speakers scattered around the cabin with the word Sony on them, so audio must be pretty good too.

On the inside, we find an attractively designed interior, built to keep you safe and firmly pined in place while doing hot laps at your local track. Recaro sport seats are a comfortable but expectedly a snug fit. The steering wheel comes leather wrapped and flat bottomed to add that race-inspired flourish. Everything is black and charcoal, with materials held together  by matching blue stitching, neatly tying in the cabin with the striking exterior color. Sadly, some of the plastics used on the interior door panels and elsewhere look and feel a little cheap, likewise with switches and knobs. Turbo boost and oil pressure gauges sit above the bright infotainment display, acting as important monitoring tools when pushing the Focus RS to its limits, but these could also use a little polishing up, as the colors and overall gauge style feel a little marked down.

Enough of how it looks and how comfortable it is to sit in, lets get down to how it drives. The Ford Focus RS isn’t a comfortable daily commuter. Especially when wearing those extra sticky  Cup 2 tires. Every deep crack in the road will pull you into its path. Every bump will cause the stiff chassis to bounce and shake, transferring the abuse straight through to your spine. Even in its softest ‘Normal’ mode, daily commutes around town might inspire your friends to take a taxi instead. Much of this is understandable given the firm suspension and many strut-tower braces, designed more to corner hard and keep body roll in check, and less to cross long stretches of country-side in soft squishy comfort. In the ideal environment of a smooth racetrack, this set-up is any weekend racers dream come true. But in the day to day, it can take a toll.

Image via Ford.

Image via Ford.

An interesting personality quirk of the Focus RS is that only after reaching speeds above 70mph does it really settle down and become more tolerable to drive. The wheel calms under your hands, letting you feel more in control instead of at the mercy of the road surfaces topography. The suspension does a better job of absorbing the impact of bumps as well. It’s a tall order when the Ford Focus RS only offers up its best at higher speeds, forcing owners off the craggy back-roads and onto the highways. Regardless, it’s a constant challenge to stay within the speed limit, when driving above it proves to be so much more rewarding.

As my blunt lead-up would suggest, it’s only when the RS is allowed to do what it was engineered and built for, that the result becomes truly inspiring! No matter what you throw at it, or how hot you dive into a corner, this hot hatch holds its line with an iron grip. The brakes are excellent in every sense too. They work exceptionally well in a straight line, as anyone would expect given the size of the big Brembo’s. More importantly though is that they keep you on track while braking hard in a corner, where all the weight wants to shift to the outside and throw you off your line. No matter when you decide to mash the ‘stop pedal,’ the RS refuses to loose its composure, always staying pointed exactly where it needs to go.

With 350 hp coming from a fast reving 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost engine, paired to a snappy 6-speed manual transmission, and managed by a very sophisticated all-wheel-drive system and torque-vectoring rear differential, its clear from the first use of the launch control that this Focus means serious business. According to tests performed by Car and Driver, the RS can accelerate from zero to 60 in 4.6 seconds, run the quarter mile in a mere 13.4 seconds and decelerate from 70 to a dead stop in only 154 feet. Again, wearing the optional but awesome Cup 2 tires.

Driving modes come in four flavors, with even more customization available considering you can adjust the shocks and drive modes separately from each other. The modes range from Normal, to Sport, Track and Drift. Each brings a unique set of driving mannerisms, and are far more aggressive than the standard “sport” button you find on most cars. Unlike many manufacturers that allow the stability control to be turned off, only to have it snap back on if it senses that you’ve lost control, to keep you from crash landing all that sheet metal into a saguaro cactus, the Focus RS never interferes. This intentional design is a nod to a car clearly built for the driving enthusiast who wants to fully unleash and get wild from time to time.

Even with electronic steering, feedback is predictable and plentiful. The engine makes plenty of torque at low rpm’s, allowing for generous acceleration in almost any gear. Leave it in sixth gear and you’ll still pass slow highway traffic with ease.

After my time with the 2017 Ford Focus RS, two things were crystal clear. One being that the U.S. market has been missing out with the RS line being unavailable to us until now. Two, that I desperately needed a track day to fully discover everything this capable little Focus was itching to show me. Lucky for you and I, the RS line is finally ours to enjoy, and has put its best foot forward with the new Focus. This amazing machine brings the best of everything Ford has learned over these many long decades of racing and developing. With a little extra consultation help from famed Rally car driver Ken Block, this Focus is savage, a little unhinged, and an absolute riot!

Price as tested: $42,245.00

By: Brandon Randall

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