Reviews

2016 Ford Focus RS: The Ownership Experience, Part 1

First impressions of Ford’s hot-hatch are good, minus the seats

Long-Term 2016 Ford Focus Update: Summer 2016 Array Miles to date: 0

The Ford Focus RS is a nameplate I’ve long wanted to own. Ever since the first Ford Focus RS launched in 2002, I’ve hoped the iconic-in-Europe hot-hatch would eventually touch American soil. Ford historically sets the Focus RS a level or two above cars such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI, and even a performance-shelf above the top-spec Golf R.

The Blue Oval tends to tune its turbocharged RS hatchback to be a bit more manic, a bit more, well, focused. Fuel consumption and a stiff ride are compromises that come along with this engineering direction. Euro buyers traditionally understand and embrace these traits. And now, Ford finally decided the Focus RS is ripe for North American buyers with the introduction of the third-generation version. The long wait is over. More importantly, my long wait is over.

2016 Ford Focus RS side profile

The anticipation began in earnest when the all-wheel drive Focus RS reveal took place at the Geneva show in March 2015. I quickly wrote a story with my preliminary thoughts and made a beeline to my local Ford dealer. I was able to secure the store’s first Focus RS allocation. Full pricing and specs were released in September and I worked with my dealer to finalize my Frozen White 2016 Ford Focus RS when the order banks opened on October 1.

Unfortunate delays began shortly thereafter. My car’s initial build date was set for January 4, 2016, then quickly pushed to January 29. February arrived without a build confirmation. I learned that production of all Focus RS orders worldwide was kicked back. All the bolts and screws finally started to become a complete car at Ford’s plant in Saarlouis, Germany, on March 4. More delays meant my Focus RS finally set sail on the ship, Grand Legacy, to Port Newark, New Jersey, on April 18. A handful of small updates to the car at U.S. port postponed everything once again. My RS didn’t arrive at the dealer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, until the middle of June, some 15 months after the Geneva reveal. Still, my car was one of the first to touch customer hands in the States.

2016 Ford Focus RS wheel 1

I added quite a few options to the 350-horsepower hatchback but passed on two items—the track-oriented Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires and the headroom-stealing sunroof. I plan to use my car as a daily driver so I stuck with the standard Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires but upgraded to the $1,395 forged 19-inch wheels. The more street-focused tires will no doubt offer superior wet weather grip as well as longer tread life. I also added the not inexpensive $1,995 factory 18-inch winter wheel and tire package. I can’t wait to run the Focus RS and its trick torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system in snow late this year. And bravo to Ford for fitting the RS with a proper handbrake. Volkswagen Golf R owners will be mighty jealous come winter. The VW’s electric parking brake is like the dinner bell to a child on a warm summer evening. Come on, mom, I was just about to have so much fun!

2016 Ford Focus RS emergency brake

Another pricey but welcomed option for year-around use in Michigan is the $2,785 RS2 package, which brought the total price of my Focus RS to $42,950. The driver’s side Recaro seat gains power controls and lumbar adjustment, while heating elements are added to both front perches with the package upgrade. Also, the leather and cloth seating material used on the base car is replaced with a leather and faux-suede mix. A heated steering wheel and side mirrors as well as navigation also join the RS2 party. The latest SYNC 3 infotainment system is head and shoulders above the lackluster MyFord Touch setup fitted to my old Focus ST. I look forward to playing with SYNC 3 further as I get more seat time but it’s impressive so far.

2016 Ford Focus RS front three quarter 02

Early days with the RS have exposed a few faults. Just like with my old Focus ST, the U.S-spec Recaro seats simply don’t fit me. For reference, I’m 6 feet tall, weigh just less than 190 pounds and wear a 44 jacket. I was hoping the power controls and the addition of lumbar adjustment would help the comfort issue but the seats feature too much default lumbar on your middle back and really need separate front and rear height adjustment instead of just overall height movement. Hopefully the seats will break-in a bit or I’ll get used to them. Additionally, cargo room is less than a standard Focus—and, crucially, the Golf R. Finally—and this is not really a fault, but more of a grievance—I’m not a big fan of black wheels or blue brake calipers. I wish Ford offered the optional forged wheels painted either silver or the same matte anthracite grey color as found on the show car in Geneva. Regarding the bright blue Brembo calipers, European cars come standard with subtler grey calipers. Why can’t U.S. buyers have the same choice?

2016 Ford Focus RS drive mode setting button

Initial driving impressions reveal no such grumbles. The hooligan-like drift mode will have to wait as I work to accumulate the recommended 1,000 break-in miles but the RS feels special and rewards even at a more sedate pace. The 6-speed manual gearbox is positive and nicely weighted while the sport mode adds a welcome mix of pops and burbles from the dual-outlet exhaust. I’m not sure my neighbors appreciate the adolescent echoes but I love the aural feedback. Even keeping the revs below 5,000 rpm and using less than 3/4 throttle can’t stop the RS from being a very quick car. It’s ability to effortlessly cover ground at a rapid rate is amazing. The ride is stiff, even in the softer of the two suspension modes, but nicely dampened. Grip is plentiful no matter what the road surface. I can’t wait to unleash the full spectrum of performance.

I expect to keep the RS for at least a year—well, assuming I come to terms with those Recaro seats. I have a good friend with a 6-speed manual 2016 Golf R and it will be valuable for us to run both cars back-to-back. My initial impressions based upon past drives in the VW are that the Focus is more fun and has that welcomed edge that the Golf R lacks, both dynamically and aesthetically. But I also find the VW more comfortable—yes, one more dig at the seats in the RS—and the VW’s interior is a step up from the Ford. We’ll see how the top-spec Focus works as a day-to-day driver through Michigan’s varying seasons. Welcome to America, Ford Focus RS. Hopefully you were indeed worth the long, 14-year wait.

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