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Watch Us Go for Hot Laps in the 2016 Ford Focus RS

Lapping Streets of Willow Raceway in the 350-hp Focus RS.

I can hear the 2016 Ford Focus RS before I can see it. I'm getting sandblasted in the face by 50-mph winds, standing trackside at the Streets of Willow Raceway in Rosamond, California, but even over the wind I can hear the turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four burbling like the engine in a purpose-built rally car. A nitrous blue 2016 Ford Focus RS suddenly comes to a stop in front of me, so I pull on my helmet and slide into the passenger seat, a heavily bolstered Recaro wrapped in cloth and leather.

We don't make it to the end of the first straight before something becomes clear: this isn't the Focus we know. Its engine bounces off the rev limiter as the optional Michelin Pilot Cup Sport 2 tires work with the torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system to hold grip—hard—and pull us into a turn. I look at the driver as he grabs second gear, and two, new buttons get my attention: a drive mode button to the left of the shifter that cycles through normal, sport, track, and drift modes, and a suspension dampening button that allows the driver to jump between normal and sport settings independently from the drive modes. We hit the right-hand apex, and the car rotates through the turn onto a short straight. Ford claims the 165-mph Focus RS is capable of going from zero to 62 mph in 4.7 seconds, and its 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque quickly get us to another braking zone. The four-pot Brembo calipers shrug off speed with ease, and we're immediately back on the throttle.

After a few laps, we pull into the pits, where I take a step back to admire this hot hatch's aggressive exterior. The Focus RS receives more aero-focused front and rear fascias as well as a rear spoiler that reduces lift, and the factory-built rally car look is topped off with blue brake calipers with white lettering that really pop against the optional 19-inch black forged aluminum wheels.

The 2016 Ford Focus RS feels fantastic from the passenger seat, but we'll have to wait to get behind the wheel before we can see how this turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Focus stacks up to the likes of the rally-bred Subaru WRX STI.