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2016 Ford Focus RS: The Ownership Experience, Part 2

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Marc NoordeloosWriter, PhotographerJoel NickersonPhotographer

The miles keep accumulating on the 2016 Ford Focus RS, but not to the level I had hoped. AUTOMOBILE's Four Seasons 2016 Nissan Maxima SR graced my presence for a couple of weeks, I spent an extended stint behind the wheel of the new 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300 4Matic, and I jetted off to England for nearly three weeks. At least time away from the all-wheel-drive, 350-hp Focus RS confirms that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I truly missed the manic Ford. I'm now playing with the drive modes, pushing the RS harder through the corners. Quite simply, the car is amazing. Activating sport mode and tapping the stability control button to loosen up its level of involvement transforms the hatchback. It's amazing how naturally the active rear differential juggles torque. I was expecting a bit of a contrived, video-game feel given all that's going on underneath, but that's definitely not the case. The standard Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires offer loads of grip, but are progressive at the limit. You can really power out of corners and the pace of the Ford Focus RS is amazing. On a particularly challenging highway on-ramp not far from my house, the RS is astonishing in its ability to counter understeer and carry enormous speed. In most other cars, understeer would rear its ugly head and you'd be forced to lift to restore front-end grip. With the Focus RS, you can just keep pushing and the trick rear diff keeps rotating the car.

Still, I wish there was a separate, user configurable drive mode and, ideally, a stand-alone sport exhaust button. Ford runs this type of setup on the Shelby GT350, so you can play with the settings outside of the set drive modes. The Volkswagen Golf R also has an individual mode. I'd like to adjust the steering, throttle map and exhaust separately on my Focus RS instead of having to rely on four pre-programmed drive modes.

My ideal setup for brisk road driving would be normal throttle, so it's not too aggressive and more linear. I'd then set the all-wheel drive system into sport mode to get the rear diff to rotate the car. The exhaust also needs to be in sport mode, for the lovely pops and bangs—which surely aren't helping the fuel economy (more on that below). Stability control is best in sport mode too. Steering is best in normal mode, as the helm is a touch too heavy in sport.

In my intro story on the Focus RS, I complained about the Recaro seats. These have been tempered somewhat by a homemade seat cushion, which added much needed lower lumbar support. I'm still not in love with the aggressive bucket seats but they no longer cause my back agony. Additionally, the bulk of the Recaros means the outside of the side bolsters rub on the center armrest, causing an annoying squeak, especially when someone is seated in the passenger seat. My trip to England put me in a Volkswagen Golf R for a couple of hours and I sure wish I could install those perches in the Focus RS.

Not that I'm able to spend a ton of time in the Ford before needing to stop for a refill of premium unleaded fuel. The U.S. Focus ST is cursed with a small, 12.4-gallon fuel tank. The Focus RS is a bit better at 13.9 gallons, but the faster sibling is also the thirstier one. I've been averaging between 19 and 20 mpg in mostly city driving, causing the fuel light to ignite after only around 200 miles or less. And I'm still very much respecting the engine as I continue to obtain more clicks on the odometer before properly thrashing the RS. I'm sure my average will go down even further when I start pushing the throttle hard against the carpet, but I also foresee decent highway fuel economy if I keep my speed in check. We will see.

Speaking of keeping all in check, I'm disappointed that Ford North America fails to supply U.S. buyers with the full story on tire pressures for the Focus RS. Cars that come to our shores only note the full-load tire pressures—46 psi front, 46 psi rear. European RS buyers are given further information including part-load pressures—41 psi front, 38 psi rear. Unless you're loading down your RS with 4 or 5 people and/or a ton of luggage, you really want to run the part-load numbers for the best handling and ride quality. I tracked down the UK Focus RS owner's manual online, so I'm running the part-load pressures. We'll see if this causes any issues with the U.S. tire pressure monitoring system. It hasn't so far, but I'm militant about checking tire pressures regularly. I tried to have my local Ford dealer reprogram the TPMS system to fully jive with the part-load pressures—like some Ford F-150 owners are doing—but the lead tech could not find a way to sort the RS with the Ford computer.

The only other notable quirks with the Focus RS thus far are the dreadfully large turning circle and some SYNC 3 infotainment foibles. It's nice that the Focus RS comes with 5 years of free SiriusXM Travel Link including traffic, fuel prices, weather, ski conditions, movie listing and sports info. Unfortunately, not all works so well. A few times, the traffic feature didn't function when leaving my office at 5:30 pm. I tried refreshing the traffic list but had no luck—rather frustrating when trying to get around busy roads. Also, the Travel Link weather and ski conditions are functioning but the fuel prices are not. I've confirmed all aspects of the Travel Link subscription are active in the SYNC 3 system and on my account, and have sent a signal refresh. I may need to visit the dealer and see what they have to say. Also, using the touch screen to search for music on a USB drive isn't exactly smooth. You can't go back via each level of music folder easily. Other manufacturers have a better setup in this regard, but at least Ford's voice search works very well. SYNC 3 is a good system overall and a giant leap ahead of the dreadful MyFord Touch.

My goal now is to finally pile some much needed miles on the RS. While doing just that, I'll be keeping an eye on the recently-released, Ford-approved Mountune engine upgrade offered to European buyers. Ford North America won't comment on any timing for the upgrade to be released in the States or confirm that it's indeed going to be offered here, but I'd love to play with the bump of roughly 25 hp and 30 lb-ft of torque. (Mountune says the kit is awaiting CARB approval and Ford's final say-so, but all should be a go by the end of the year.) While 25 hp may not be a huge jump in power, the similar upgrade to the Focus ST doesn't affect your factory warranty if installed by a Ford dealership. That's key in my mind, and I love Ford's direct involvement versus random aftermarket ECU flashes that don't live up to the hype. In truth, it's not as if the Focus RS feels like it needs a ton more power so I'm not that desperate to make the change. I just want to spend more time in the car.

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