2016 Ford Focus RS: The Ownership Experience, Part 3

November 26, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ HOME

My kids regularly ask, “Dad, can we go for a ride in the Focus RS and drive over some juice boxes?” It’s a frequent request, especially for my car-geek son. Activating sport mode and shifting the six-speed manual gearbox during heavy acceleration produces a lovely pop from the exhaust, hence the boxed liquid-crushing nickname. It’s fitting, really. The Focus RS is turning me into a child and I’m starting to worry that my driver’s license may gain some points as a result.

The near-absence of understeer also makes me want to push the RS harder and harder. Aggressive inputs are welcomed and the Ford takes them in stride. You can turn the car into a corner like it’s an ultra-grippy, front-wheel drive car — think Fiesta ST or Focus ST — but get back on the power so much earlier due to the all-wheel drive. The RS rotates beautifully on trailing throttle and trail braking as well as under heavy throttle, the latter due to the trick torque-vectoring rear differential. Strong brakes and steering that, overall, give excellent feedback that adds to the confidence level in corners.

These positive traits really came to light at a wet day at Grattan Raceway in West Michigan. I wasn’t actually in my Focus RS; I was in a friend’s identically optioned car, only sprayed in battleship-grey paint instead of white. The skies opened up and the whole day at the track was a wash-out for the race cars we intended to test, so the road cars came out to play.

My first run of the day was behind the wheel of a Mercedes-AMG GT S. The dead steering and lack of traction meant that the 503-hp, rear-drive German really struggled. The lackluster feel at the helm of the Benz gave me little confidence when it came to sensing how much grip was actually available.

2016 Ford Focus RS rear three quarter in motion 01

2016 Ford Focus RS rear three quarter in motion 01

I quickly switched to the Focus RS, which was a night and day change. The steering wheel told me exactly how much traction there was on the circuit, and I had a riot reeling in another friend in his new Golf R. As he battled understeer in the VW, the Focus RS rocketed out of each corner with just the right amount of understeer-mitigating yaw. I ran the Ford in sport mode with the stability control manually set to its more relaxed sport mode. The whole day was an absolute riot, likely helped — not hindered — by the track-drenching weather.

My Focus RS was safely sitting in my garage at home while I was playing at Grattan. The hatchback had developed an increasingly annoying “chirp” from the front end under acceleration that I wanted to get checked out before thrashing it around the track. I booked the RS into the local dealer to investigate. Additionally, the SYNC 3 traffic and fuel prices quirk I noted in an earlier update was still present, and I wanted to get the alignment checked. I felt the car was hunting too much under braking and very sensitive to road imperfections and truck ruts. The storage tray in the center console storage compartment also fits very poorly.

I was able to get the Focus into the service department quickly. They lubed the driver’s-side front halfshaft, which seems to have sorted the chirp. It may only be temporary, as the dealer informed me that Ford is actively looking into a permanent fix. The SYNC 3 fuel prices issue is a known problem and, again, Ford is working on a fix, but the dealer couldn’t do anything at this time. The future update may sort the traffic issue as well.

An alignment was indeed needed as the car was out of spec. The Focus seems better as far as tracking and hunting after the tweak, but it’s not perfect. A new storage tray has been ordered for the center console. The only item I forgot to talk with the dealer about is an inaccurate speedometer. It reads roughly 2 mph low, as confirmed by GPS. If I set the cruise to my usual 79 mph in a 70 mph zone on the highway, I’m actually traveling at 81 mph. It’s something I have to always remember. I’ll see about having the dealer take a look at it in the future, maybe when I pick up the new storage tray. In the meantime, I was happy to have the RS back in my hands, as I was eager to put on some more miles before old man Michigan winter hit.

2016 Ford Focus RS front three quarter in motion 02

2016 Ford Focus RS front three quarter in motion 02

Luckily, I’m fully prepared for the cold and slippery weather. In addition to the heated seats and steering wheel and the $1,995, factory 18-inch winter wheel and tire package, I purchased a set of rally mud flaps from Rokblokz in Orem, Utah. I ran a set on my old Scion FR-S, and the pricing ($95 a set), quality, customer service, custom options, and ease of install (and subsequent removal in the spring) are all impressive. The plan is to spend just as much time sideways in the Focus RS as going straight this coming winter, and the mud flaps should keep the wear and tear from salt and sand splatter to a minimum. Playing a bit in the rain in drift mode with the stability control fully disabled confirms that there will be no lack of fun-inducing oversteer this winter.

I continue to enjoy my time in the Focus RS. Again, the grip is amazing — both on wet and dry pavement. The cooler autumn temps are also helping the RS feel that much more powerful, which is nice. I also sense that Ford tuned the ECU to add power once you get out of second gear. Midrange punch in third gear is particularly impressive. Ride quality is far less impressive, even in the “soft” (read: far from soft) suspension setting. At least the stiff default setup means the body control and general composure is fantastic when you really push the car. I still don’t love the aggressive Recaro seats, but the homemade seat cushion mentioned in my last update helps a ton and the heavily bolstered perches give excellent lateral support when driving quickly. Plus, the seats do feel like they’ve broken in a bit compared to when new.

As expected, my fuel economy has dropped even further now that the RS is fully broken in and I’m using all the boost pressure and revs. I’m regularly seeing an indicated 17 to 18 mpg, so the RS sucks down the 93 octane fuel at a rather rapid rate. Mind you, most of my driving is in the city, and as soon as I see proper oil temperature on the welcomed analog gauge I drive Ford’s hot-rod hatchback as intended. It just begs you to give it a good thrashing at any and all opportunities, and the four-door takes it in stride. And that’s what really makes the Focus RS special. That’s also what makes me nervous in regards to my driver’s license.

2016 Ford Focus RS Specifications

  • On Sale: Spring
  • Price: $36,605 (base)
  • Engine: 2.3L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4/350 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 350 lb-ft @ 2,000-4,500 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual
  • Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD hatchback
  • EPA Mileage: 21/29 mpg (city/hwy) (est)
  • L x W x H: 172.8 x 71.8 x 58.0 in
  • Wheelbase: 104.3 in
  • Weight: 3,525 lb (est)
  • 0-60 mph: 4.4 sec
  • Top Speed: 165 mph

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