First Ride: 2016 Focus RS

00 2016 Focus RS First Ride

Balanced Attack

Riding shotgun in Ford Performance’s hottest hatch is as fun as it sounds

By Steve Turner
Photos by Steve Turner and courtesy of Ford Motor Company

As we pull onto the Streets of Willow at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, California, the gifts of the 2016 Focus RS are immediately apparent. Its potent 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine offers far more thrust than its Focus ST cousin, and entering the corner the wonders of the car’s all-wheel drive immediately shows its benefits—and we hadn’t even gotten up to speed yet.

The 2016 Focus RS is packed with performance, but aside from the obvious upgrades like the engine and the all-wheel drive system, it’s the little upgrades that set this car apart. Its steering rack features a unique EPAS calibration and a quicker ratio than the Focus ST (13.7:1 vs. 13:1). Even the shape of the Focus RS’ hexagonal metal front grille is designed for higher porosity to deliver more cooling air to the heat exchangers.
The 2016 Focus RS is packed with performance, but aside from the obvious upgrades like the engine and the all-wheel drive system, it’s the little upgrades that set this car apart. Its steering rack features a unique EPAS calibration and a quicker ratio than the Focus ST (13.7:1 vs. 13:1). Even the shape of the Focus RS’ hexagonal metal front grille is designed for higher porosity to deliver more cooling air to the heat exchangers.

Regular readers of the Front Page know that we have eagerly anticipated getting behind the wheel of this hot hatch. That hasn’t happened yet, but we when we were offered the opportunity to ride shotgun in this car on a racetrack, we couldn’t say yes fast enough.

North American customers have long wanted to sample the forbidden RS fruit, and the Focus RS is the first RS model set for sale on this continent, and Ford Performance’s Chief Engineer Jamal Hameedi promises his team did not “dumb the car down” for those of us across the pond. This car is said to get the same chassis tune as the European model, and that’s not hard to believe as they are all being built together in Saarlouis, Germany.

The 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine in the Focus RS includes numerous improvements over its 2.3-liter cousin in the Mustang In addition to the higher-flowing cylinder head and bigger cams, this engine is fed by a high-output twin-scroll turbocharger with a unique housing and compressor wheel. Moving to a larger turbo meant that Ford Performance engineers worked tirelessly on the calibration to mitigate turbo lag.
The 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine in the Focus RS includes numerous improvements over its 2.3-liter cousin in the Mustang In addition to the higher-flowing cylinder head and bigger cams, this engine is fed by a high-output twin-scroll turbocharger with a unique housing and compressor wheel. Moving to a larger turbo meant that Ford Performance engineers worked tirelessly on the calibration to mitigate turbo lag.

While the new Focus RS is loaded with performance, features, and tech, it is the Dynamic Torque Vectoring offered by its all-wheel drive system that sets it apart from its competitors. Offering the kind of performance heretofore only available in far more expensive vehicles, it can infinitely vary the torque split between the front and rear wheels to keep the Focus RS on its path.

During our brief, three-lap ride around the track, we were able to experience the car in track mode with the dampers tuned to normal to compensate for the track’s rough surface. Right away we could feel the grip offered by the all-wheel drive system, and as our driver—Ford’s All-Wheel Drive Engineer, Jim Fritz—approached the edge, we could feel the results of the system biasing the torque to the outer wheels and pulling the car through the corners. You can see our laps with Jim right here…

The more he pushed, the more tossable the Focus RS became. It glided through the tight corners, and if the tail twitched out a bit, it came back into line in an instant. As the track straightened it put down the power and pulled to the braking zone. The brakes were more than capable, and if there’s one word to describe this car from the passenger seat, it is “balance.”

As much as the engineers worked at adding in personality to the Focus RS, it still seemed pretty tame inside the car, even with the engine at full song. The NVH is so low in new cars and turbos are such good noise dampeners, it’s hard to make the car to raucous and still meeting government noise requirements. So, we can’t wait to hear one with an aftermarket exhaust.
As much as the engineers worked at adding in personality to the Focus RS, it still seemed pretty tame inside the car, even with the engine at full song. The NVH is so low in new cars and turbos are such good noise dampeners, it’s hard to make the car to raucous and still meeting government noise requirements. So, we can’t wait to hear one with an aftermarket exhaust.

While you might assume that with 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque that this car might seem overpowered. In Drift Mode it might, but in Track Mode, it exuded control. It’s the kind of car your scribe loves to drive because its handling a braking capabilities are more than up to the task of corralling the available power, which inspires confidence in even mortal drivers.

Much of that confidence comes from the all-wheel drive system, but it is all the detail improvements supporting this system that make the difference. From the bigger, lighter brakes to a much stiffer chassis and the stickier tires and improved steering, it’s the total package that gives Ford Performance’s hottest hatch such a balanced attack.

For more on those improvements, you can witness the technical presentation that Ford Performance engineers delivered to a select group of media right here…

Our ride was brief, but the major takeaway from riding in this car at speed is that the Recaros are both comfortable and supportive. We felt securely planted in the passenger chair as All-Wheel-Drive Engineer Jim Fritz showed us the quick way around the Streets of Willow.
Our ride was brief, but the major takeaway from riding in this car at speed is that the Recaros are both comfortable and supportive. We felt securely planted in the passenger chair as All-Wheel-Drive Engineer Jim Fritz showed us the quick way around the Streets of Willow.

As you can see there’s a lot to the 2016 Focus RS. While our ride in the passenger seat definitely let us know this car is the real deal, there are still some questions that can only be answered from behind the wheel.

The car is projected to hit dealers next spring, but until then, we’ll savor our time in the right seat, and if, like us, you can’t get enough of this car you can stoke your RS passion by watching this little video that Ford Performance put together…

If you have followed the Rebirth of a Legend video series, you know that adding some personality into the RS was an ongoing challenge. Turbochargers are not only effective at making power, but at quieting the exhaust. One trick that Ford Performance engineers used to introduce more of that personality into the cabin was to remove some of the sound deadening material and carpet under the rear seat.
If you have followed the Rebirth of a Legend video series, you know that adding some personality into the RS was an ongoing challenge. Turbochargers are not only effective at making power, but at quieting the exhaust. One trick that Ford Performance engineers used to introduce more of that personality into the cabin was to remove some of the sound deadening material and carpet under the rear seat.
The capabilities offered by the all-wheel drive system on the Focus RS took the chassis to places that it hadn’t been before, so Ford Performance engineers had to bolster the rear chassis structure. In fact, the runs wears such a stiff rear sway bar that the mounts had to be engineered to withstand the load. Those mounts are 200-percent stiffer than the standard Focus. Overall the torsional stiffness of the Focus RS chassis is 9 percent better than the Focus ST and 23 percent better than the base Focus. Engineers stressed that the chassis stiffening really enabled the improvement of the car’s handling.
The capabilities offered by the all-wheel drive system on the Focus RS took the chassis to places that it hadn’t been before, so Ford Performance engineers had to bolster the rear chassis structure. In fact, the runs wears such a stiff rear sway bar that the mounts had to be engineered to withstand the load. Those mounts are 200-percent stiffer than the standard Focus. Overall the torsional stiffness of the Focus RS chassis is 9 percent better than the Focus ST and 23 percent better than the base Focus. Engineers stressed that the chassis stiffening really enabled the improvement of the car’s handling.
Not only are the 350mm front brakes on the new model the largest ever offered on an RS, but these brakes are also over 33 pounds lighter than the brakes on the Focus ST. If you opt for the forged wheels, you’ll save a little over 2.09 pounds per wheel. When it comes to tires, you can choose between the Pilot Super Sport and the Pilot Sport Cup 2, which features a unique compound and construction resulting from Ford’s engineering partnership with Michelin. Because of the Focus RS European leanings, this Cup 2 compound is better suited for the cold and rain than the super sticky version found on the Shelby GT350R.
Not only are the 350mm front brakes on the new model the largest ever offered on an RS, but these brakes are also over 33 pounds lighter than the brakes on the Focus ST. If you opt for the forged wheels, you’ll save a little over 2.09 pounds per wheel. When it comes to tires, you can choose between the Pilot Super Sport and the Pilot Sport Cup 2, which features a unique compound and construction resulting from Ford’s engineering partnership with Michelin. Because of the Focus RS European leanings, this Cup 2 compound is better suited for the cold and rain than the super sticky version found on the Shelby GT350R.
We were only able to experience Track Mode, but we are really looking forward to trying out the other—ahem, Drift Mode—settings. Interestingly, both the damping and the electronic stability control settings are adjustable within each mode. And, of course, you can turn them all off if you are that good.
We were only able to experience Track Mode, but we are really looking forward to trying out the other—ahem, Drift Mode—settings. Interestingly, both the damping and the electronic stability control settings are adjustable within each mode. And, of course, you can turn them all off if you are that good.
If you were having a hard time deciding between the two wheel options, one of the test cars at the ride event wore both versions. We’d pick the forged wheels every time, but the choice is yours. Interestingly, Ford Performance plans to offer a dealer winter wheel package for Focus RS owners. These 18-inch wheels will be painted silver and carry RS badging so you can still rock the RS look when you are running on your winter tires.
If you were having a hard time deciding between the two wheel options, one of the test cars at the ride event wore both versions. We’d pick the forged wheels every time, but the choice is yours. Interestingly, Ford Performance plans to offer a dealer winter wheel package for Focus RS owners. These 18-inch wheels will be painted silver and carry RS badging so you can still rock the RS look when you are running on your winter tires.

2016 Focus RS First Ride Gallery

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