2.3-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
by Gabe Beita Kiser
The reason purchasing a car can sometimes feel like an exercise in futility is that at one time or another, life is going to throw you a curveball. At that point, the parameters you once thought your car would have to exist within are thrown out the window and new responsibilities rush in. Opt for a Mazda MX-5 and suddenly you have a child on the way. Buy the Chrysler Pacifica and soon a mid-life crisis leaves you wishing you'd instead purchased a Ford Edge ST.
In our case, the Ford Focus RS was sent to our offices to patch a gap in the press fleet that opened when a thief broke into our Cadillac CTS V-Sport and left its previously pretty windows peppered all over the Recaro seats. Long story short, we got our Recaro seats back, but this time with stitching that matches a Nitrous Blue paint job, both of which get propelled through time and space by a 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder making 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. Little did we know that the break-in would only be the first of our problems that week, but the way in which the Focus RS tackled each and every curveball with ease made us love it all the more.
A quick glance at the body will tell you there's not much to hate about the RS unless being ostentatious isn't your thing. That blue paint job seems to help the upgraded front fascia, the rear spoiler emblazoned with the letters "RS" on the side, and a set of shoes that include blue Brembo brake calipers framed by 19-inch wheels—all of which are wrapped in Michelin Cup 2 summer rubber—stand out even more. Put simply, there's no way to spot one of these and not be fully confident that it's owner has seen every Fast and Furious movie in the franchise. Our driveway even turned into a frequently geotagged location for Instagram car spotters while the Focus RS was parked there.
That's not to say that the little hot hatch doesn't have treats in store for the driver. Constricting as the Recaros can be, they'll seat the two front occupants comfortably for hours and allow enough room to toy around with the unergonomic interior or admire the boost, oil pressure, and oil temperature gauges when SYNC 3 isn't the object of distraction. On the road, the manual transmission (a standard feature) rows through all six gears with ease while the intrusive but fuel-saving start/stop system powers down the engine at every stoplight and resumes when the clutch is pressed. If it proves too annoying, the off button sits accessibly to the left of the shifter, coincidentally right next to the traction control and drive mode buttons.
The latter of those conspicuous pieces of plastic is responsible for manipulating six systems on the RS to get the most out of Normal, Sport, Track, or Drift modes. The main card in this deck is the performance all-wheel drive unit that includes a torque-vectoring system. It's capable of clawing around corners of a rally stage or your local mountain road by juggling horsepower between all four wheels and reserving the ability to send up to 70% of output to the rear when it's needed. Along with that, the drive mode button toggles the dampers, steering, throttle response, ESC, and exhaust valve—each adjustable variable allowing the Focus RS to better take advantage of its greatest asset: versatility.
That's not a concept that gets a lot of attention when the spitfire exhaust is burbling and belching its incomprehensible rage at the car it just overtook. But versatility must be considered because the Focus RS is marvelous at it, even if only in attempt to justify its $42,245 price tag. Yes, that's a lot of cash, but this is a lot of car. Friends disappointed the CTS V-Sport was gone regained their grins when our Focus RS pulled up. And then a cascade of housing emergencies took place all at once, forcing the Focus to double as a moving truck and a hardware store shuttle where it swallowed appliances and personal goods without a complaint from the taut track-ready suspension.
As a daily driver, the Focus RS succeeds simply because there aren't many better ways to empty a tank of gas than to spend a day in it doing errands and loading the large greenhouse with supplies larger than an Impala could swallow, right after etching a figure-eight into the pavement of your local patch of abusable concrete in drift mode. In fact, it's in drift mode that the genius of the Focus RS comes into, ahem, focus. Instead of forcing drivers to yank on the handbrake like it's Tokyo Drift (though Ford does sell an aftermarket accessory that'll satisfy that craving), the Focus RS breaks traction by sending maximum torque to the outside rear wheel.
Once that tire has been convinced to release its grip on the pavement, the clever torque-vectoring system splits power between both of the rear wheels so the controlled slide can continue. Talk is cheap, though, and even the sound of screaming Michelins doesn't do the sensation of total control any justice. The combined effect of Drift mode and the Focus RS' natural agility means that going sideways feels like an art, as if you were Picasso with a brush and not a construction worker with a sledgehammer. Though the Focus RS has its downfalls, a cheap-feeling interior and less than 20 mpg of fuel economy in the city being two, that's a price we'd be willing to pay for a car that can do it all.