Ford will be pleased to learn my wife despised every minute she spent behind the wheel of their new super-duper Focus. “That car has no redeeming qualities,” she blurted on entering the house. “The ride is horrible, it’s noisy, the clutch feels like it’s out of a tractor, the steering is stiff and I can’t move in those seats. And that colour!”
At this point she was lashing out like a cornered cat. Nonetheless, here’s living proof that this highly… er, focused Focus will not be mistaken for anything other than what it is – the ultimate expression of hot hatch-ness, rocketing into our lives with 350 hp, Brembo brakes, a six-speed manual transmission and a brainy all-wheel-drive system that gives what was once a front-drive family hatch a pretty awesome rear-drive demeanour.
“What’s that car for, anyway?” she asked.
“Well, it’s for guys who want to go really fast and possibly sideways.”
“That’s illegal, right?”
And so starts the conundrum. I’ve read the gushing reviews and seen all the sexy shots of the 2016 Focus RS (are they all blue?) crossed up on a Spanish race track, drifting around a bend with the front wheels pointing the wrong way and white whiffs of vapourized Michelin Pilots decorating the rear. Oh yeah baby. Gimme some of that.
Problem is, I will have no track time in this protected press car, and I will not be putting it in the famous Drift mode and pirouetting around shopping carts in Loblaws parking lot à la Ken Block. The best I can do is head to my trusty back-road warren and see what happens within the (relative) confines of legality.
Up front we have Ford’s 2.3L EcoBoost turbo four lifted out of the Mustang, turned sideways and boosted from 315 to 350 horsepower. There’s also 350 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm. The AWD system was co-developed with British engineering firm GKN, and its Torque Vectoring Rear Drive Module features a pair of clutch packs that distribute torque from side to side – up to 100 percent of available torque can be sent to either rear wheel. It will lock the rear axle solid for launch control, or decouple the axle altogether for extended highway cruising. Nonetheless, the Focus RS operates mostly as a rear-drive car, unlike the Golf R with its (albeit very quick) Haldex slip ‘n’ grip system that can send only fifty percent of the torque aft.
Developed in Cologne, Germany, the 2016 Focus RS was designed to sustain thirty minutes of hot-lapping without any deterioration to its performance parameters. Judging by the effectiveness of these four-piston Brembo brakes, I’m not doubting Ford’s claim.
Sound and (less) fury: 2015 Ford Focus ST vs 2015 Volkswagen GTI
The RS gets electronically controlled variable dampers, with Sport setting being 40 percent stiffer than Normal – which is still pretty pitchy on our less-than-perfect roads. Compared to the front-drive Focus ST, the RS has a quicker steering rack with more heft along with extra structural stiffening.
And all the boy-racer body bits are purely functional. The gaping front air intakes feed the intercooler and brake cooling ducts, and the prominent rear spoiler, front spoiler and rear diffuser contribute to the hatch’s zero lift at elevated velocities.