The Ford Focus RS Is Terrible, and I Desperately Want One!

We are a fickle bunch, journalists, and it’s not hard to become a bit jaded and lose sight of what’s actually special. On a warm November morning, however, I was experiencing a sense of excitement I hadn’t felt in some time. The Ford Focus RS was coming. Eight in the morning was the target delivery time and we quickly blew past it. Nine, ten and eleven a.m. came and went. No car. I was pacing now, staring out the window, looking for a ridiculously blue car to majestically drift around the bend.

Sometime after noon it finally arrived, and even though it was calmly driven by a staid delivery driver and not Ken Block, I could no longer contain my enthusiasm. I was out the door like a shot. And after a week with the car, I’m here to tell you that the Ford Focus RS delivers everything you want. Almost.

(Full Disclosure: Ford (finally) dropped off a Nitrous Blue Focus RS to my house in DC with a full tank of gas and some worn tires. I spent a week putting the RS through all the paces you, our dear reader would; commuting, grocery getting, voting, and doing donuts in a field.  We already published our First Drive Video, take a look.)

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You may find yourself pining for a supercar. Even something like McLaren’s “entry level” car is amazing. Even if you can afford it, it’s not a very practical daily driver. If that makes you feel better. So you may set your sights lower, maybe the new M2. But hell, that’s $60,000 once you add some options. Plus, let’s face it, if you have to haul other people, or stuff, the M2 is only a bit more practical than that McLaren.

So what’s left for the enthusiast who needs something fast and practical? It could be the Focus RS.

Inside Out

Sure, I’ll get this bit out of the way up front, inside it’s a Focus. That doesn’t really matter from my perspective; this is a new era for Ford, and the fit and finish of their materials is pretty solid. To get a good look at the “just a Focus” interior, you’ll first need to climb over the substantial side bolster of the incredible heated black leather Recaros with “Miko®-Dinamica Insert” (whatever the hell that is, I don’t know if I want a Miko insertion. Maybe I do, I don’t know…).

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While similar to the Recaros you’ll find in a more pedestrian ST, the RS features even more substantial bolsters. I’m 6 foot, 190…ish and felt like the seats were literally built from a mold of my body. “Perfect” is about as good an adjective as I can come up with; to describe the seats, not my body. They even have blue stitching to match the paintwork. Squeee!

I used the RS as a family hauler, adding yet another Recaro seat to the rear to haul around my toddler. It fit well, he had plenty of legroom. On our way to Cars & Coffee, his jogging stroller failed to fit into the rear hatch. Had it not been six a.m., perhaps I would have taken the time to remove the cargo cover, but I didn’t, just cramming it onto the back seat next to him. He gave me that “It’s like you don’t even care” look. Kids. Oh, and my two older offspring seemed to think it was pretty cool as well; as much as pre-teens think anything is cool. I got a <3 on InstaGram from my 12-year-old son.

I’ll take the parental victories where I can get them.

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Like the ST, you get some gauges on top of the dashboard to keep an eye on various things and the SYNC 3 system is fine, we’ve already beaten to death how bad it used to be. It’s not that bad anymore. Moving on. The RS doesn’t feature the “track apps” that you find as an option on a Mustang, but do give you some, well “an”, option to maximize performance. Teaser!

With most RS models likely optioned to eclipse the $40,000 mark (starting MSRP is $35,900) the rest of the interior will just pass the “you spent how much on this” test from your significant other. Let’s face it, the $40,255 sticker price on our test is a lot. Yet, almost every other $40,000 car, used or new, still won’t be nearly as much fun as the RS.

Insert cliché about buying a $35,000 drivetrain with an interior thrown in for free.

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Aggressive But Purposeful

Outside, the RS is no shrinking violet, particularly in this amazing shade of blue. At Cars & Coffee, this got easily as much (or more) attention as the R32 GT-R that parked next to me. I got a lot of questions such as “this is All Wheel Drive, right”, “how much is it” and “that’s a really cool Focus”. The resounding sentiment was “OK, I want one.”

You can choose between four colors, with three of them being no-charge: Shadow Black, Frozen White, and Stealth Grey, all of those colors obviously named after popular movies (oh, and Stealth). The fourth, our test car’s Nitrous Blue, will cost you another $695. Even if it feels a bit overexposed (are they all this color?) it’s spectacular in person, and on camera.

My only critique is that the flakes baked into the paint look a bit like a bass boat in direct sunlight. America!

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The standard 19″ 20-spoke alloys work, but Ford offers another $1,395 10-spoke wheel option, also black; or $1,990 for those same wheels shod with Michelin Pilot Cup Sport 2 Track tires which are known for obscene levels of grip with a compound that doesn’t fade on track.

The front and rear styling does an admirable job differentiating the RS from the ST, with a much more aggressive lower fascia in the front—including a front splitter and integrated brake cooling ducts—and the big wing around back with rear diffuser and bazooka-sized dual exhaust. It all looks purposeful, like even the layperson would look at an RS and notice something special compared to a run of the mill hatchback.

Push the Start Button and Hang On

The RS does an almost passable job of just “being a car” for those days where you don’t have time to gymkhana your way to work. Keep it in “normal mode” and the suspension is, well…it’s terrible.

Seriously, God awful.

Supposedly, in normal mode the suspension is softer, exhaust quieter, steering lighter, and so forth. I didn’t really notice any of those things. The ride is absolutely punishing in every setting. Plus the start-stop feature is annoying, even if it does improve MPG. You can disable it with a button. Every time you start the car.

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But this is a performance car, and as I alluded to earlier, everything you have heard—from a performance standpoint at least—is true. The RS is the next level beyond just “quick”. With 350 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque from the 2.3-liter EcoBoost, and a curb weight around 3,500 pounds, it has about 10 pounds for every horsepower to haul. That’s a better power to weight ratio than the ST iterations of the both the Focus and Fiesta.

From a standstill, the RS launches like an actual rally car. Thumb through the controls on the heated, flat bottom wheel and you’ll find the “launch control” option under the “Driver Assist” menu. Rev to 4000 RPMs, or until you hear the brap brap brap repeat of the exhaust, and sidestep the clutch. Without a lot of drama, the RS remains stationary for a moment as the wheels turn a fraction of a rotation without traction and then is on its way. Rapidly. Clutch, shift, and repeat, the RS just keeps building speed. It wants to do 90 MPH as often as possible, be wary of that before you get into trouble.

Especially in Virginia, where I drove my test car…right Patrick?

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While the ST is known for torque steer, the RS stays incredibly straight as it blasts off the line. At around 40 mph, drop it into third and put your foot into it and the car will actually pull to the left, something that is a bit unnerving at times—OK, every time. What is completely nerving is how the RS handles the twisty bits. It’s otherworldly, the car changes direction like a mosquito looking for its next meal, a bloodlust for finding an apex and blasting forward towards the next turn. It’s intoxicating.

It’s hard to describe how confident the RS makes you feel, even in “race mode” with the traction control turned off, the RS just scampers through corners like a cat being chased by a Rottweiler across a hardwood floor. Is that too many similes in one section? Sorry. Not sorry, it’s faster than Middle America making terrible voting decisions. It’s faster than celebs moving to Canada. Where many AWD systems apply braking to the wheel that’s losing traction, the uber-Focus feeds more power to wheels that do have traction. As much as 100% to one wheel in a fury of engineering-enabled-hooning.

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I didn’t try “drift” mode on public roads. I’m not crazy. I don’t need to become famous on the internet for drifting an RS into a jersey barrier, or into a canyon wall. However, I may have gotten incredibly sideways and very spinny out in a big grassy field. It will literally rotate on itself as you’ve seen Mr. Block do on YouTube. “Good fun” is an understatement, this thing is ridiculous.

When you need to slow your roll, the middle pedal clamps down the standard front ventilated Brembo discs and you stop with substantial g-force, your seatbelt tightening to catch your body’s forward momentum. The ducts up front feed underbody tunnels and airflow guides on the lower suspension arms to keep the brakes cool. Ford clearly wants you to go to the track.

Which you should, regardless of whether you buy an RS.

So What?

Which brings me to that final, ever important question. Should you buy one?

Yes, the answer here is a resounding yes. This is one of the few press loaners that I actually considered buying. Even so, there remains a gaping hole in my initial theory that this could be the ultimate practical fun car.

Practicality is more than just four doors and a hatch. The ride in the RS is absolutely punishing, there is no way around it. I don’t care what mode you have selected, you are going to bounce your way to your destination in an RS. Plus, like its summer-tire shod cousin the ST, you’ll need a second set of tires for winter (Ford will sell you a set of 18” Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 tires on silver alloys for an additional $1,995) so that’s something to factor into any purchase decision in you live somewhere it snows.

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I’m sure that a new set of aftermarket shocks and springs are, or will be, available that dial back the harsh ride, but still give you an excellent handling experience. But that’s even more money to invest to an already expensive car.

And perhaps you don’t care about those things. Maybe you are much less of a coward than I am and live somewhere warm with nice roads. Then there is not really any other valid reasons not to buy one, save for the $40,000 price tag, and potential availability issues. As of this writing, there seems to be a standard $5,000 markup at Ford dealers but we already explained how to try to avoid that. Part of what currently makes this car so special is rarity, so how special it continues to feel over time will really be determined by how many Ford decides to build.  Speaking of special, see that other RS above, the one that says “Mountune” on it?  Yeah, we’ll have that on RFD soon, keep watching for more!

In the end, it’s a bit ridiculous, a bit amazing, a bit practical, and a bit terrible. I desperately want one in my driveway.