You expect insanity with the Focus RS, and you get it, but what’s unexpected is just how usable this car is as a daily driver.
What is it?
The Ford Focus RS is a return of a true rally-inspired hatchback for Ford. Yes, the Focus ST is rally-inspired, too, but the RS will convince you that you’re a modern-day Colin McRae. First off, it’s got 350hp to the ST’s 252. Secondly, it’s got all-wheel drive. Finally: Drift Mode. We’ll get to that in a minute.
In colors like Stealth Gray in the top image, the Focus RS is everything that a Euro-centric rally clone should be: fast, a tenacious handler, and subtle enough to fly under the radar despite the rear wing.
Pricing and trims
The Focus RS is a decided step up in price from the base Focus, which hovers around $17,250. Yet at $35,900, the Focus RS is the kind of attainable car that most people with a full-time job could put a little money aside for to afford. It’s not like you’re buying a Porsche, but you’ll get just as much attention.
The price is especially attractive when you consider that the Titanium trim — once the top of the line in the Focus family — is $23,000 and change, and the ST is $24,400, without the extra power, the all-wheel drive and the ability to wipe that smug look off the face of every Subaru WRX STi driver in town. The RS’s fully loaded price tag is right in the same ballpark as both the WRX STi and the fabulous Volkswagen Golf R.
Our test RS came with a “NOT FOR SALE” Monroney sticker, so we’re not 100 percent sure what the official, out-the-door pricetag is, but using the online calculator at Ford to equip a similar car, we’re looking at $35,960 plus $875 in destination charges, which accounted for the RS2 package which includes heated seats.
About the only other option we’d consider is the winter wheel and tire package. At $1,995, you can definitely save some dough buying a package from Tire Rack, but consider this:
- You can fold the price of wheels and tires into your financed price
- The wheels and tires will be protected by your Ford bumper-to-bumper warranty
- If you’re insane about having OEM only accessories, aftermarket wheels won’t do
Nobody’s crash tested a Focus RS specifically, so there’s no data on how this particular trim does on either NHTSA or IIHS crash tests. The Focus in general missed a Top Safety Pick rating by scoring Average on the IIHS’s small overlap crash test.
It achieved five-star crash test ratings from NHTSA, with the exception of a four-star rating on the rollover portion of the test. If you can manage to roll a Focus RS over, you might consider whether you should operate a motor vehicle ever again.
It’s got a full panoply of safety equipment like side curtain airbags, stability control and a backup camera, but if you’re looking for advanced safety equipment like lane keeping and automatic braking, look elsewhere. This is the kind of car you’re expected to drive yourself, like a big girl. The absence of that equipment means that even if it scored perfectly on all of IIHS’s crash tests, it would never attain a Top Safety Pick+ rating.
There’s 350 horsepower on tap here, which gets the Focus RS to 60 miles per hour in the high four-second range. It’s got matching torque, too, thanks to a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder. That makes all the difference between this car and either of its natural competitors. The WRX STi peaks at 290-lb.ft., and the Volkswagen Golf R poops out at 280-lb.ft. Neither of those figures are bad, but the RS is in another league.
In what would be considered “normal” driving, the RS delivers 325 lb.ft. of torque between 2,000 and 4,500 RPM. The RS’s overboost function gives you the whole 350 lb.ft. Magilla for 15 seconds when you have your foot mashed right to the floormat.
Note that this is one of the 485 cars that require premium fuel, so your fuel bill is going to be that much more expensive.
Ride and handling
There are four drive modes that uncork varying degrees of power, suspension and steering tuning and exhaust, and shoves the cork back into traction and stability control. In daily commuting traffic, the Normal Mode is a godsend, taking the edge off of throttle inputs and softening the suspension to avoid regular trips to a kidney specialist. Sport Mode keeps the suspension compliant but gives you back more aggressive engine tuning and exhaust note. Track Mode dials everything up to 11, giving the RS its best opportunity to get around a track as quickly as possible.
Drift Mode is for idiots. It’s also the greatest invention since the radial tire. Drift Mode puts the steering and suspension in their most compliant settings, but it recalibrates the all-wheel drive to be 70 percent biased toward the rear wheels. Then, it can deliver as much as 100 percent torque laterally to either rear wheel. All the while, the ESC stability control system is monitoring your rate of yaw. If you’re on top of things on your own, the system will let you drift your pants right off. If it senses that you’re heading for the bushes, it’ll reel you in.
It’s hilarious fun on the asphalt. On the dirt, it’ll convince your friends you’re the next Ken Block.
Ironically, we drove a plain Jane Focus S a week before, and aside from a bigger infotainment screen, everything was pretty much the same, except for the Recaros up front. They’re big and grippy, and you’ll notice instantly if you’ve packed on a couple of pounds in the last few months. Larger folks will want to sample these buckets before they decide to buy. You’re not going to fit in there if you’re much past 225 pounds.
The rear seats are standard Focus issue, and that’s where the Focus RS beats the pants off of cars like the Mustang. If you’re a mom or dad that enjoys spirited driving, but still needs a car that’s ready to sit in the car line at the elementary school, this is the car for you. I had my seven-year-old son back there in a booster seat and he had plenty of legroom to move. Even my 12-year-old daughter wasn’t uncomfortable back there, and she’s growing eight inches every time I feed her.
If rear seat room is your main focus, the Golf does offer a surprising amount of room back there, likely the largest in the class. The RS provides 33.2 inches of rear legroom versus the Golf’s 35.2. There’s also another 1.6 inches of shoulder room in the back of the Golf.
Again, an area where the Focus RS outshines your average sports car. With the rear seats in place, the Focus hatch provides 23.3 cubic feet of cargo volume. With the seats down, that space opens up to 43.9. Seats up, it’s got a cubic foot more space than the Golf.
With all-wheel drive and the winter tires in place, this might be the perfect vehicle to equip with a snowboard rack to make your way to your favorite halfpipe. You could easily fit two sets of boots, winter outerwear and a couple of backpacks in the cargo area, and the wing is low enough not to interfere with a rack.
Infotainment and controls
To get Navigation in the RS, you have to select the RS2 package, which — in Ford’s Byzantine ordering scheme — increases the price by $2,785. It includes the 8-Way Power Driver Seat, Black Leather Recaro seats, heated mirrors and front seats, and a heated steering wheel, too.
Regardless of your nav selection, the Focus RS comes with Ford’s vastly improved SYNC3 system, which integrates so much more seamlessly with your smartphone than previous generations.
The RS is equipped with a 10-speaker Sony audio system, which is ostensibly fine, but to be honest, I can’t remember listening to a single song through it because I was having so much fun driving the car.
The Focus RS is what’s been missing from the Ford lineup all this time. I love the Focus ST, too, but the RS is just far and away more fun to drive, and with all-wheel drive, it’s not only got greater performance potential, but in the winter here in New England, equipped with those winter tires, it promises to be a snow- and ice-fighting beast.
The option we’d love to see? A coupon for a session at Team O’Neill’s rally school in New Hampshire. Ford already supports the school with a range of more pedestrian Focus instructor cars. A bit of education time learning what this car would actually do would be a huge benefit to owners.
Test car year/make/trim
Price as tested, $36,775 (not including $875 destination charge) — Note: This is an estimate from Ford’s price calculator.
8-Way Power Driver Seat
Black Leather Recaro® Seats with Miko®-Dinamica inserts with RS Logo
Heated Three Point Steering Wheel
Voice-Activated Touch-Screen Navigation System with SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link®.
option package content
- Exceptional power
- All-wheel drive
- The hilarity of Drift Mode
- $2,785 for nav package
- Donut-free diet required for Recaros
- 91+ Octane requirement