Oakville Drives: 2017 Focus RS: a serious and incredibly fun machine

Ford Focus RS 2017
Oakville Drives: 2017 Focus RS: a serious and incredibly fun machine

About the Author

R. G. Beltzner

R. G. Beltzner

A long time automobile enthusiast, and competitive race driver, Rainer Beltzner provides performance driving and racing instruction for Porsche, BMW, and Ferrari owners and clubs. He's been doing this for over 25 years. Often, Rainer is found driving/teaching on one of the Canadian Tire Motorsport, Shannonville or Watkins Glen tracks. During the “off-season”, Rainer spends his spare time driving and evaluating a broad range of vehicles. Follow Rainer on Twitter @redy2rol.

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I have been waiting since this summer to try out the new Focus RS. Upbeat write-ups and reviews started appearing, heralding the coming of a serious competitor to the Volkswagen Golf R and Subaru WRX STI. Finally, I got my hands on a 2017 Focus RS for a full week of driving and a chance to compare it to its competitors. I was not disappointed! This is one serious and incredibly fun machine that will do very well as your every day drive, as well as your track or rally car. But, is it worth the $50,000 price tag for a Focus? Read my review and judge for yourself.

Instrument Panel

Photo Credit: R.G. Beltzner

The Focus RS dates back to 2007 when it was introduced in Europe (not available in Canada). The closest thing that Ford had in Canada satisfying the wants of more performance in the Focus line-up was the ST model that sells today fully equipped for roughly $15,000 less. However, there is no comparison when it comes to handling and reliability on the track. Even after spending an additional $10,000 – $15,000 upgrading the ST for improved track use with an aftermarket larger radiator; better brake calipers, pads and rotors; modified air intake; and suspension adjustments – you still don’t get the power, reliability and four wheel drive handling of the RS. A competitor to the Focus RS is the Volkswagen Golf R that properly equipped, sells for roughly $6,000 – $9,000 less depending on options. Even the other major competitor, the front wheel drive Subaru WRX STI model will set you back anywhere from $39,000 – $48,000 depending on options, before taxes.

Technical Details

Gauges

Photo Credit: R.G. Beltzner

The 2017 Focus RS is only available one way – which makes choosing very simple. The engine is Ford’s 2.3L twin turbo (EcoBoost) turning out 350 hp @ 6000 rpm and peak torque of 350 @ 3200 rpm. Transmission is six-speed manual. The rear differential comes from GKN Driveline. Front suspension consists of independent MacPherson struts with reverse-L lower control arms; coil springs and integral strut, gas-charged hydraulic shock absorbers. Rear suspension consists of independent short and long arm SLA system with one upper and two lower control arms; coil springs and gas-charged hydraulic shock absorbers. Steering is electric power-assisted rack & pinion with torque steer compensation. Brakes consist of four-wheel discs, Brembo calipers and ABS. Curb weight is 1569.5 kg or 3,460 lb.

Driving and handling characteristics

Front Exterior

Photo Credit: R. G. Beltzner

Even before getting into the car, you definitely sense that this is not just an ordinary Focus. The nitrous blue metallic colour (the only option – $995), front chin splitter combined with the aggressive high mounted rear spoiler, 19” forged alloy wheels with superb Michelin Cup 2 Track summer tires showing off the blue Brembo calipers all combine to tell you – this is special. Once inside, you are treated to a fairly “regular” Focus interior (average) except for the incredibly comfortable and aggressively bolstered Recaro driver and passenger seats. Some reviewers have commented on whether these seats are too small for larger folks – which is a myth, dispelled by my own girth and that of an even larger fellow trackie that sat with me for a test run to compare the ST model to the RS. It turns out that his Focus ST seats are definitely smaller.

Once belted in and on the road, you immediately become one with the car – a rare occurrence. The first thing to notice is how smoothly you can move up and down the gears, with lots of rev range and power throughout the six gears. On the highway and with the “normal” drive mode setting, the suspension is definitely stiff, providing a bit of a rhythmic bounce on even a smooth road surface. The “normal” mode also fully enables the traction and stability control systems. Selecting the “sport” mode tunes the vehicle for more performance street driving but still leaves the “nanny” systems fully on. The real fun starts in “track” mode (per Ford – for “track use only”) where the stability control system intervention to the brake system is reduced somewhat and the electronic stability system is set to a reduced mode. The traction control system is also disabled apart from the electronic limited slip differential function. Finally, engine interventions from stability control and traction control systems are also disabled.

Ford Motor Company

Model: 2017 Focus RS Hatchback
Engine: 2.3L twin turbo (EcoBoost)
Base Price: $49,669
Price as Tested: $50,664

For those of us that like to experience the real feel of a car on the track, the ability to turn down or turn off various control systems is key! Finally, there is a “drift” mode that does magic things to allow controlled oversteer drifts. While this may not be attractive to the regular street driver, it certainly provides for additional flexibility and fun on the track.

Another “ride adjustment” feature of the RS comes with selectable suspension damping for normal and sport modes. The RS comes with all wheel drive and dynamic torque vectoring. What this means is that all four wheels are used to power the car while the system independently controls the amount of torque to each rear wheel. The RS includes an enhanced torque vectoring control system that automatically applies brake torque on the inner wheel in a curve to increase traction and reduce understeer. This is great feature for the track, not slowing the car but rather limiting excessive wheel slip providing greater cornering ability.

While I have not driven the RS on the track, I have watched several RS performances during our various driver training track days and debriefed with the drivers. I have however driven the new Golf R on the track and with some aggressive street driving in the RS, I can offer some comparative handling comments.

In my view, the RS has superior cornering ability. I found the Golf R has a tendency towards too much understeer when driving aggressively into corners, despite its Haldex all-wheel drive system that uses brakes to redirect power from wheel to wheel. The RS was much more balanced in similar situations, allowing for greater stability and thus exit speeds. Comparing the two cars for track use, I would definitely lean towards the RS for a more satisfying experience.

Most of us would not have an RS as a dedicated track car and so all around use is also important. The four door and hatchback style is a definite plus for every day use.

Comfort and Styling

Recaro Seat

Photo Credit: R. G. Beltzner

The exterior styling of the Focus RS demonstrates a more aggressive stance than even the ST model. The interior of the RS is good but average – similar to the ST model. Yes, there are some nice touches like the Recaro seats, aluminum pedals, ambient lighting, moonroof, and guages. Apart from that, it is a regular Focus hatchback. I reviewed a Focus SE Hatchback earlier this year the interiors are pretty similar. Yes there are fold down rear seats – good enough for your younger kids. Rear storage in the hatchback was quite adequate and I liked the fact that the hatch opened higher than my head. All of the controls are quite intuitive and as I have commented on in several earlier Ford reviews, the infotainment and navigation systems are now very functional and good quality. Perhaps more important to those looking to have a daily driver is the comfort of the passenger. Despite the harsher suspension, my wife (with the bad back) was very comfortable in the plush Recaro front passenger seat. That was a pleasant surprise!

Safety

Brake Callipers

Photo Credit: R. G. Beltzner

The RS model comes standard (i.e. no options available) with modern stability and traction systems to help keep the vehicle stable and on the road. There is also the usual number of airbags and restraint systems as well as seat and steering wheel adjustment capability to help achieve proper driver position. Finally, rear camera and a variety of alarm systems complete the safety and security features.

Things to consider

The Focus RS is definitely a car to consider if you are a driving enthusiast and you like the sizzling hatchback size and style. The car can be both a top-notch track car while at the same time, an excellent daily driver. In this category, there are really only two serious competitors at the moment – the Volkswagen Golf R and the Subaru WRX STI. Each has features, styling, and options and drive technology that provide sufficient differentiation to the buyer’s needs and wants. Of the three, I like the RS for what I feel are better handling characteristics. Price and “nameplate” is also a factor for some as is resale value. This testosterone-laden hatchback will set you back close to $57,000 to buy. A lease with buy-out option for a couple of years should be a consideration. My fuel consumption was 13.5 L/100KM after a week of spirited city and highway driving.

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