Review of: 2017 Ford Focus 5dr HB RS
2017 Ford Focus RS: The FoRS is with you
By Dan Heyman
Nov. 10, 2016
I’ve been waiting for the Focus RS for what seems like eons. Heck, I’ve been waiting for any Ford with an “RS” badge on its rear deck for eons. But of course I would be. I’m a car nut – a fast hatch nut, in particular – and any bonafide hatch nut worth his salt understands just what those two letters mean. Don’t agree with me? Fine. Look me up, and we can have a chat.
All I know is that for years and years, I’ve watched that RS name badge blasting in a blur through the snow in Sweden, the mud in Wales and the ice in Monte Carlo, plastered over any number of World Rally Championship cars surrounded by the red, white and blue of a Martini livery, or the green and yellow of British Petroleum. Then, I’ve watched – with a sunken heart, mind you – as it blasted into videos, magazines and dealerships in Britain and The Continent, blowing the eyebrows off any journo or owner lucky to drive one of these hardly-changed-from-the-competition-version tinboxes. I’d watch with a sunken heart because I knew that Sierra, Escort or Focus would never come here. Oh, sure; we’d get a neutered version called “SVT” or “ST”, but never the full-fat, AWD, homologation special.
And therein, as they say, lies the rub.
While car enthusiasts all over will likely understand the “Rally Sport” behind “RS”, they simply don’t make up that big a buyer population, especially in North America. As long as Ford was building a slightly different Focus for other markets, we likely would never see an RS of any kind here.
Now, however, that has all changed now that the Focus is a world car, meaning what they get in Belgium, in China, in Timbuktu or in Australia is pretty much exactly the same thing we get here in Canada, from the aggressive front splitter on back. Huzzah! We’d finally be getting a proper RS.
The question remains, though: if you aren’t a victim of the eau-de-RS from years gone by, is there enough here to convert you?
Pros & Cons
- + Sharp handling
- + Acceleration
- + Cool standard features for Canada
- - Price
- - Drift mode a bit gimmicky
- - Driving position
Ooohhh, that front splitter. It is just one of the numerous new features that help distinguish the RS from its less-endowed siblings. The changeover is completed with the addition of a sky-high roof-mounted spoiler (with “RS” stenciled into each upright; you’ll see that logo a lot on the RS, both inside and out), rear underbody diffuser, different rocker panels and in Canada, blacked-out 19-inch wheels shrouding blue-painted calipers and wrapped in sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber.
I say “in Canada” because the wheels and tires are not standard in the US. Score one for the good guys, then. Having said that, though, they are summer tires, so if you really want to get your WRC on in the snow – this is Canada, after all, and we do get snow — you’re going to have to change them up.
The overall effect – especially when finished in the Nitrous Blue seen here – is one of pure boy-racer delight. While that may not be so endearing an adjective if you are a BMW M4, it works perfectly here, because that’s really what the Focus RS is all about. I’ll explain more in the driving impressions later on.
Also standard in Canada is a pair of Recaro front seats with body colour-matching inserts, and they are fantastically supportive and grippy thanks to their Alcantara/leather finish. And yes, there are “RS” logos on each seatback, because why shouldn’t there be?
The rest of the interior is pretty much standard Focus fare, actually, with the exception of the flat-bottomed, suede-covered steering wheel. The shift knob is the same as that which is used in the ST, the gauges look the same but see the turquoise needles seen elsewhere in the line-up switched for red ones, and the centre stack is identical to that which every other Focus gets.
The main issue I have with the interior, unfortunately, is a fairly significant one, and that’s that the seating position just doesn’t quite feel right, especially for taller drivers. They’ll inevitably have to push the seat back, and the steering wheel’s angle is such that it’s quite a reach even though it does telescope. It tilts, too, of course, but like the reach, I couldn’t get it just right, and it ended up always feeling like it was tilted too far away from me. The steering wheel itself could be a little smaller, too, but that’s a bit of nitpick.
Luckily, the rest is pretty good; the rear seats fold fairly flat, making for 1,240 of cargo space. It should be noted, however, that’s less than you’ll get from the regular, non-electric Focus hatch, as a second differential had to be fit into the same platform, and you’re going to sacrifice space somewhere when that happens. No rear legroom had to be sacrificed, though, which is great.
I guess the main problem, here, is that the RS is always going to be put up against the VW Golf R, and that car cleans the Ford’s clock in the interior quality department and for less money, although the Ford does have more room up front.
A year ago, I would have said the Golf R does away with the RS in this department, too, but that’s simply no longer the case.
The Focus was one of the first Ford models to finally do away with the Blue Oval’s MyFord Touch infotainment system, whose outdated graphics and clunky quadrant-based interface was good when it was new about a million years ago (in computer years, anyway), but was being outclassed by pretty much everyone else.
The RS comes standard with SYNC 3, an infotainment interface which has skyrocketed up to the top echelon of infotainment systems. The graphics are modern and clear, the touch screen is responsive, the buttons are huge and the way all the submenus are strung across the bottom of the screen is right on. There’s also support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and you can easily switch between one of those interfaces or the standard SYNC interface.
If you want more, then a TFT screen mounted between the gauges offers all sorts of tech and performance displays, including your drive mode selection, of which there are four: normal, sport, track and drift. The various modes adjust all sorts of parameters, from exhaust baffling, to stability control and dampers. Or, you can go ahead and adjust the dampers all by themselves by pressing a button on the end of the left-hand stalk.
In a nutshell, this is what the RS is all about, and the bottom line is this: no amount of strange steering wheel angle talk or tech talk will detract from the fact that this is probably the best driver’s fast hatch in Canada today. It’s got more power (350 hp, 350 lb-ft) than the Golf R (292, 280) or the Mini Cooper JCW, more than a Subaru WRX STI (which you can’t even get in hatch form right now) and the AWD system is well-equipped to properly dispatch all that oomph, even though it’s not a full-time system but, rather, a part-time torque-vectoring set-up.
As we found both on the road and track, however, that suits us – and the RS — just fine. The Focus RS remains agile on the track, and planted as the going gets slicker on the open road, or as you need to power out of that bend as quickly as possible.
Activate track mode and the transformation is a marked one; the dampers are firm both on bump and rebound, anchoring the body back down to the chassis lickety-split over even small bumps. It’s called “Track” for a reason, to be sure, as it’s little more than a roll-cage short of being a race day-ready car when in this mode.
It’s all done with such panache, too; the burble through the twin exhausts is immensely satisfying, as is the pop-bang-pop you get when downshifting. The power from the turbo four comes on strong and with a mighty push into your chest at around 3,200 rpm – it should be noted that the Golf arrives at its hp and torque peaks a little earlier than the RS does, however – and has no problem keeping you in the power as you row the gears.
It never stops, that feeling like there’s very little that can keep up with the Focus RS, even in the hands of less experienced drivers. That’s a testament to just how accessible this car is.
Right. Drift mode. Cool that it’s here, I guess, but like the “burnout” setting on the Mustang, I just don’t see it being used as anything more than a one-time gimmick. All it really does is keep the dampers in normal and relaxes the traction control, allowing for a little more body roll so the car can swivel more easily on its axis. I didn’t notice a huge difference as the car is so grippy; perhaps if we had the less-sticky tires that come as standard on US market cars, things would be different. I tried it once and left it off from that point on, even when on the track.
No matter which way you slice this whole thing, however, Ford is venturing into uncharted waters with the Focus RS. A cynic may say that you’re crazy for spending almost $50,000 on a Ford Focus, a nameplate that has been associated with the go-to entry-level Ford for quite some time now. It will be an even tougher pill to swallow for some when they realize the Golf R starts at less than 40 grand.
You do get a whole lot for your money, however. We talked about the special seating and wheels that come as standard, which are the obvious punch list items. The intangibles aren’t quite so easy to quantify, and those simply revolve around how absolutely fantastic the RS is to drive. It absolutely, unequivocally, 100 per cent does not disappoint in this regard.
Will that be enough, though? Will it be able to woo fence-sitting Golf buyers – or even those considering a replacement for their older Golf R, or upgrading from their GTI – enough that they’ll seriously consider the RS? I absolutely think it will, not to mention how it will finally satiate those that have been watching the evolution of the RS nameplate through the years and have been waiting to get a piece of that pie. They will love the ’17 Focus RS; I have no doubts about that. I’m also certain that the perch the Golf R has occupied for all these years will no longer be quite so unattainable for someone else. It’s a good time to be a hot hatch fan.