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2017 Ford Focus RS Review It’s Great on theTrack. How about everyday?

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2017 Ford Focus RS
It’s great on the track. How about everyday?

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

My first experience piloting the very hot, high-performance Ford Focus RS did not start out the way each test drive of a new vehicle usually does.

That’s because I wasn’t at home in Chicago. I was participating in the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) Spring Rally in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. We were at the storied Road America racing facility. This legendary four-mile, 14-turn road circuit has challenged the world’s best racers for over 60 years. Today Road America hosts IndyCar, IMSA and NASCAR race series and numerous others.

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Ford’s Focus RS has already well established itself as a high performer with overall top-notch racing ability. It certainly wasn’t my task to judge that. I wanted to experience the RS for myself. Taking it around Road America first before any driving on public roads at least minimized my temptation for spirited driving on some desolate public road.

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I’m an okay track driver with varied experience as well as some training by professional race instructors. Road America is a challenging track with changing elevations, two long straights that can, depending on the car, put you well into the 130 to140 mph range in a street legal car and corners that really tax the brakes for proper entry. Road America eats brakes.

Happily, the Focus RS is well equipped for the challenges of Road America with its combination of a 350 HP 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine, 6-speed manual transmission, innovative Ford Performance all-wheel drive with Dynamic Torque Vectoring, powerful Brembo brakes and unique Michelin performance tires.

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The Focus RS will do zero to 100km/h (62 mph) in 4.7 seconds and top out at 165 mph. That’s quite impressive for a 3400 lb., 5-passnger compact hatchback.

Its Ford Performance all-wheel drive with Dynamic Torque Vectoring can actively shift an average of 70 percent of available torque to the rear axle (I’m sure you know that the everyday-Focus is front-wheel drive) and distribute 100 percent of available torque to either rear wheel.

A drive mode switch lets you configure the RS to deliver optimum performance in road or circuit driving conditions –normal, sport, track or drift mode (a Ford-first.)

Ford worked with Michelin to develop the unique Michelin Super Sport summer tire for everyday use and, for the first time on Focus RS, an optional Pilot Sport Cup 2 tire for enhanced vehicle dynamics on the track. The RS I drove at RA and the one I drove on the street where two different cars, but both were equipped the same, including the Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.

The overall impression of the RS on the track is that it’s notably quick, it stops really well, it handles corners very nicely balanced especially with its all-wheel drive system and is a really fun car to drive with good feedback and an overall feeling of confidence. I never felt on the ragged edge pushing through corners.

So the question is: Could this $35,900 pocket-rocket be someone’s daily driver?

After living with the RS for about week around the streets of Chicago along with a few congested highway drives, I think the answer is: it depends on where you live and your usual driving pattern. The issue comes down to what level of ride comfort are you willing to experience all the time.

With the RS’ short wheelbase, firm springing and damping, along with the hard-compound Sport Cup 2 tires there’s frequent pitch-motion and you feel all the road imperfections. The ride is really busy and pock-marked city streets are no joy. Plus, I was continually on the lookout for potholes as well as street-repaving related harsh edges and steel plates lest I blow a tire or bend a wheel.

Out on a smooth open highway the RS is basically okay in terms of an acceptable level of ride comfort for what that car is. Living in a crowded city like Chicago I wouldn’t want to dive the RS everyday to my workplace or as primary family transportation. However, if I lived in the suburbs and my daily commute was from home along some relatively open highway to an office complex I may be very happy with this daily dose of fun. Better yet would be a commute with some nice twisty-windy roads.


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In the cockpit, the Recaro seats real hug your upper body. Controls are easily at your fingertips and the transmission shift-mechanism is smooth with easy and positive gear changes.

As for winter, Ford thought of that and it’s the first OEM to offer a winter tire package that you can order with the RS. It costs $1995 and includes 18-inch Unique-RS Sparkle Silver Alloy Wheels and 225/40R18 Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 Tires. The wheels and tires are shipped separately to the dealer for winter to come along.

I certainly would opt for the winter tires in snowy and cold climate areas. Actually, Ford recommends that the summer tires not be used at temperatures below 45ºF. And warns that below 19ºF they may develop surface cracks. I didn’t have any rain during my street driving, so I can’t speak to the Sport Cup 2 tires under those conditions. While I was at Road America I drove the RS on a dry track but earlier that day it was raining lightly and colleagues of mine had no difficulties in those conditions, although speed was modulated a bit.

I could seriously see having all three sets of tires Ford offers for the RS. Along with that a membership in an auto enthusiast club such as Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, IL or Monticello Motor Club in Monticello, NY probably would be in order.

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The RS I drove was actually a 2016 model, but is carried over unchanged for 2017. Options included Nitrous Blue Quad-coat for $695, the Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires and 19-inch forged wheels for $1,990 and the $2,785 RS2 option package with heated front seats and steering wheel, power/heated outside mirrors and navigation. The total hit $42,245.

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This generation of the Focus is winding down and 2018 is the final model year for the RS. Ford is building only 1,000 Limited Editions for the U.S. with unique features including black mirror caps and black spoiler with new RS decal, interior carbon fiber accents, improved performance with front axle limited slip differential, RS wheel center caps with standard forged wheels, and the now standard RS2 package. Colors will be only Nitrous Blue and, in response to popular demand, the RS is now available in Race Red---or is that arrest-me red. Official pricing isn’t yet released.

I expect we’ll see more from Ford Performance going forward. Ford has about a 60-year high-performance history tracing its roots to Team RS of the mid-1960s, then Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE) of the 1980s and 90s, eventually to the Special Vehicle Team (SVT) established in 1991, to 2015 when Ford Racing and SVT/RS combined into Ford Performance.

The Focus RS performance hatchback has one clear mission: to drive fast very well.

© 2017 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy

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