WASHINGTON — The U.S. car market misses out on some cool cars. In Europe, Ford has cool high-performance hatch compacts that we usually only get to read about and wish for. Last year that changed; Ford finally gave us their hottest performance hatch, the $39,500 Focus RS, a pricey but potent machine. Ford is famous for turning its compact cars into seriously high-performing cars that can still be a commuter car when needed.
I know what you’re saying: $39,500 for a 2017 or closer to $42,000 for a 2018 Focus! While that seems like big pile of cash, you are basically getting a rally car that’s ready to hit the track. The 2.3L turbo with 350 horsepower engine puts out plenty of power. There’s some turbo lag, but once it’s spinning this is one potent power plant. It really pulls all the way to redline and there is only a slick shifting six-speed manual transmission for the Focus RS. The ride is tuned toward performance driving with a stiff but connected-to-the-road feel.
This is a very good dual-purpose car that can go from street to racetrack easily as the AWD system and power would make this a fun yet rewarding car on the track, punching above its price tag. I’m not sure everyone would like to drive it all the time but for people like me this is an everyday driver. The Focus RS handles back roads like no other hot hatch. With great grip and high limits, this car is a speeding ticket waiting to happen. Fuel economy was 21.5 mpg of premium near the 22 mpg mixed score. I could’ve done better but this was too much fun to putter along.
The Focus RS has a look that screams that it’s a hot hatch right from its unique and standout stealth gray color. It’s a shame it’s not around for 2018, but the new nitrous blue will have the same effect. The Focus RS has special styling to set it apart from the regular Focus models. There is a unique front grill that looks racy; the fog lights are placed into vents.
The car looks lower to the ground when you look at it from the side. Large 19-inch wheels with large, blue brake calipers complete the look. Out back, there is a huge rear wing on top of the hatch and rear diffuser under the rear bumper that house two large protruding exhaust pipes. The styling says high performance with some glitz but it isn’t over-the-top like some other hot hatches out now.
The Focus RS can do more than just go fast; it can be used as a regular car would be. There is seating for five, but four adults would fit more comfortably. Up front, there are Recaro bucket seats that hug and keep you in place, although it might not be comfortable for all body types and sizes. The rear seats are good for most adults, but leg room for taller riders is tight. Storage in this hatch is plentiful, especially if you fold down the rear seats.
Controls, knobs and buttons are logically placed. The materials are nice to the touch but perhaps fall a bit short of the $40,000 price tag. When it comes to the tech, the Sync 3 system is a big leap forward for Ford. The voice recognition is much more reliable for NAV input than before. The interior looks more like a regular Focus than a hot hatch. Some people find it disappointing while others enjoy its more normal looks inside.
The hottest Ford hot hatch is finally in America, and it’s a potent performer. Still it can be a regular car that has the ability to be a ripsnorting hooligan with the press of the gas pedal. If you want to buy a future collectible that’s fun and useful, the Ford Focus RS is ready.
Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by STI, FMI or Event Solutions for the purpose of this review.
© 2017 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.