Everything You Need to Know About the 2016 Ford Focus RS

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Ford confirmed back in February it would finally sell Americans the Focus RS, and this month Ford revealed pricing and option packaging for the much-anticipated hot hatch. As usual, the press release didn't do enough to sate our appetite for details, so I began digging deeper into the new car.

Every American-market Ford Focus is built in Detroit, except the RS, which will come from Saarlouis, Germany. This gave me hope that the U.S.-market Focus RS would have pretty much the same spec it has worldwide. It turns out that's not the case. Here are some of the key differences between European and U.S. versions of the 2016 Ford Focus RS:

The front seats

The base Recaro seats on the U.S. Focus RS seats are stolen from the U.S. Focus ST with the ST2 package, covered in slightly different style leather and cloth. They use the same manual controls and lack lumbar adjustment. They are polarizing, because they don't fit all body types. They don't fit me and, after reading through the Focus ST forums, it's clear I'm not alone.

Both the base and optional Recaro seats in the U.S. Focus RS are built in America and will be shipped to Germany for installation, because the European-sourced RS seat doesn't meet U.S. regulations. European Focus RS models get German-built Recaro seats. On the U.S.-spec RS, we also won't get the standard passenger-seat height adjustment used in other markets.

The key to comfort for U.S. Focus RS buyers will surely be paying the extra $2,785 for the RS2 package, which adds power leather/Dinamica (similar to Alcantara) Recaro seats with adjustable lumbar support. These seats are shared with the U.S. Focus ST's ST3 package, but they use different covers. The RS2 package also adds heated seats and a heated steering wheel, handy for those wanting to rally their Focus RS in the dead of winter. Based upon my experience with the Recaro seats in the Focus ST, the adjustable lumbar support will be essential for seating comfort. Still, I wish our Focus RS came with the slightly different European Recaro seats. We also miss out on the optional Recaro "race style" shell seats available on the European RS.

The rear seats

The Focus RS once again mimics the ST in regards to the rear seats. Our RS lacks the European "sculptured" three-place rear-seat setup with headrests fixed on the top of the rear seat, versus Europe's nicer flush-mounted configuration.

The infotainment system

Here is one area where the U.S. wins big. Euro cars are stuck with the old, slow, and outdated Sync 2 version of the MyFord Touch system. We get the much-improved new Sync 3 system on the Focus RS. Ford also says that Sync 3 will eventually support both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We reached out to Ford on the timing of this enhancement, but they wouldn't confirm when it would happen, only that it will happen. Ford also would not confirm whether Sync 3 will support the new wireless CarPlay connection setup added to the latest Apple operating system, iOS 9. Navigation is available on Sync 3 if you spec the RS2 package. U.S. cars also feature a standard 10-speaker Sony audio system. That system is optional in Europe, where a nine-speaker system is their base radio setup (see notes on cargo room below).

Fuel economy and tank size

Luckily, U.S. buyers finally get a Focus with a decent-size fuel tank. All other versions of the U.S. Focus (aside from the electric) come with a tiny 12.4-gallon tank in the U.S., but our Focus RS gets the same 13.9-gallon fuel tank fitted to the car overseas.

Based on European figures, I estimate EPA fuel economy numbers for the 2016 Ford Focus RS will fall somewhere around 21 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined, versus 23/32/26 mpg for the Focus ST.

The Focus RS gets stop/start fuel-saving technology worldwide, a feature also offered in the European Focus ST. There is a button near the shifter that disables the feature, and rumors are that dealers can program the Focus RS so the system is off at start-up (the opposite of the default setting).

Cargo room

The U.S. Focus ST gives up cargo capacity to a full-size spare, while the Euro Focus ST comes with a tire repair kit, instead. The Focus RS, in all markets, including ours, also forgoes the spare for a tire repair kit. The difference is that the RS's new all-wheel-drive system takes up space under the trunk, which eliminates the spare-tire well. In its place is a spacer beneath the cargo floor that contains the tire repair kit, tools, stereo amplifier, subwoofer and a very small storage area, under 0.5 cubic-feet for U.S.-spec cars, because we get the 10-speaker Sony stereo as standard equipment. The Focus RS loses about one-third of its storage space under the rear cargo cover versus a Euro Focus ST, according to data supplied by a Ford PR contact in the United Kingdom. We'll see how final U.S. cargo numbers play out, but I think our Focus RS, with its AWD, will have about equal luggage space with our front-wheel-drive ST and its standard spare tire.

Features not fitted to U.S.-market cars

Some of the standard and optional features available elsewhere that won't be coming to the U.S. market: standard swiveling bi-xenon headlights with headlight washers (we get fixed bi-xenon headlights without washers, as on the U.S. Focus ST), rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, heated washer nozzles, and a heated windshield. Euro buyers can also pay extra for parking sensors, rear privacy glass, power-fold side mirrors, forward collision braking, and cool door edge protectors that automatically pop out when you open a door.

Wheels, brake calipers, and more

Buyers on the other side of the ocean can make their Focus RS look stealthier than our cars. The U.S. Focus RS comes standard with hey-look-at-me blue brake calipers, optional in Europe, where the standard calipers are silver. The Euro-spec 20-spoke, 19-inch standard wheels are also silver. Our base wheels are the same multi-spoke design, but they're painted dark gray. Both European and U.S. buyers can pay extra for matte black 19-inch wheels that are each 2.2-pounds lighter than the base 19s. Certain markets -- including the U.S. -- also offer super-sticky, track-oriented Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires fitted to those forged wheels instead of the standard Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires.

The Focus RS offers the extra-cost, extroverted Nitrous Blue exterior paint along with three other colors; Frozen White, Stealth Grey, and Shadow Black. The only color of the four that's available on more pedestrian Focus models in the States is Shadow Black. In certain other markets, buyers can also spec a fifth color, a traditional metallic gray called Magnetic. Ford PR tells me the color palette was decided based upon regional differences. Strangely, you can get other Focus models in the States painted in Magnetic, but not a Focus RS.

U.S. cars wear both a Focus badge and an RS badge on the back hatch, while Europe only gets the RS badge. The Euro Focus ST is the same, lacking the Focus badge. Lastly, the rear diffuser on the Euro Focus RS has a centrally mounted fog light. U.S. cars don't get that cool touch.

Suspension adjustment

A 2016 Ford Focus RS press release from earlier this year describes the various drive modes -- Normal, Sport, Track, and Drift -- and refers to a separate button for adjusting the shocks but offered no further detail. My keen eye noticed a suspension button on the left-hand indicator stalk of the Focus RS. Some further research confirmed the function: This button allows you to adjust the stiffness of the Tenneco dual-mode suspension -- Normal or Sport -- independently from the currently selected drive mode. It's a bit like the "bumpy road" button on the steering wheel of many Ferrari models, and could be handy if you're in an aggressive drive mode but you've come upon a rough section of tarmac.

Power output versus the rivals

The Euro Ford Focus RS's 2.3-liter EcoBoost I-4 cranks out 345 hp and 347 lb-ft of torque. Ford projects the U.S. Focus RS will develop 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque once the final North American tune is sorted. For comparison, the Volkswagen Golf R has 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, and the Subaru WRX STI develops 305 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque. Clearly, Ford has them both covered in the power department. Maybe Ford Performance will even offer a Mountune upgrade for the Focus RS as it does for the Focus ST. Imagine a near-400-hp Focus with a factory warranty.

Weight

The U.S.-market Focus ST weighs 3,223 pounds, according to Ford. The all-wheel-drive system on the RS certainly isn't that light, and there are other heavy performance bits including additional cooling elements, larger brakes, bigger wheels, etc. The quoted European weight for the Focus RS is 3,370 pounds. We'll see once we get U.S. numbers and put the Focus RS on the scales but, frankly, 3,370 pounds seems a touch light to me. Volkswagen quotes 3,283 pounds for the Golf R with a six-speed manual (3,340 pounds with the dual-clutch gearbox), but remember that the Golf uses VW's light MQB platform. The Golf GTI four-door hatchback with the six-speed manual comes in at an impressive 3,030 pounds, nearly 200 pounds lighter than the Focus ST. Subaru says its WRX STI weights 3,386 pounds (or 3,429 pounds for the more luxurious Limited model).

When does it go on sale?

Dealers in the U.S. will have the official order guide for the 2016 Ford Focus RS on October 1 and can start placing orders October 12. Production begins in January 2016, and cars will start arriving in the U.S. by the spring. Just keep in mind that production will be very limited -- I'm hearing similar volume to the Shelby GT350 -- so there will surely be far more demand than supply, at least early on.

While you wait, the configurator is live on Ford's website.

Conclusion

There's some disappointing information here. I was really hoping the 2016 Ford Focus RS would be 100-percent a world car -- or as close to 100 percent as U.S. regulations would allow. Instead, the differences between the U.S. and Euro Focus RS are pretty much in line with the differences between the U.S. and Euro Focus ST, two cars built on different continents. Each and every Focus RS for each and every market across the world travels down the same assembly line in Germany. Still, we have to remember that Americans have waited through two generations of Focus RS models before the mega-performance Ford hatchback was ready to hit U.S. roads. It'll be more than 13 years by the time cars reach dealers next year. But the disparities don't even come close to ruining the car, and we're lucky to have the opportunity to purchase the 2016 Ford Focus RS at all.

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