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NickD
NickD PowerDork
10/24/19 11:22 a.m.

So, it seems like no car creates as much controversy on this board as the Ford Focus RS. After having the recent opportunity to autocross one, I figured I'd throw a little fuel on that fire with my own review. So, here goes.

Recently, one of the local SCCA regions decided to have a non-points team event. Basically, 3 people to a team, no two can be in the same class, points down to 5th position in your class. My friend Scott, owner of the RS, was looking for a team, and seeing as how my Miata is essentially parked for the winter, I asked if I could co-drive his RS. He was running in Pro class and I would run it in D/Street. We picked up our third teammate, our friend Joe, in an "STH" Focus ST (it's all stock except for stock-size RE71Rs and an upgraded rear motor mount, which bumps him to STH) to round out Team Sole Focus (later renamed Team UnFocused, after we failed to score a single point)

My steed for the day. As far as cosmetics go, I used to find the FoRS a bit too boy racer for me, but it's grown on me. As the owner of a Mariner Blue Miata, I loooove the blue on these cars, and almost want to have my car repainted in that color, except for the part where it's a hideously expensive quad-coat. These stocks wheels though are a tad horrendous though. They look like they were cribbed off a Fusion and fogged black for RS use. The purple outline numbers of mine that I use on my Miata are a good look though.

Interior is a modern car interior. Not too much to say about it. They all tend to blur together after a while, but it does have a couple RS badges here and there to remind you you're in something special. The steering wheel was good and chunky. Shifter fell right to hand and operated pretty pleasantly, never any guessing what gear it was in or worrying about missing a gear. The Recaro seats held me in place well enough, but I would have to ride in them for a while on the highway before I gave a final verdict on them. They seemed like they might be a bit uncomfortable in the long haul. Also, would have have preferred them an inch or so lower, as my helmet was against the headliner, but I'm 6'3", so that's on me.

The engine was a pretty solid piece. Not as much lag as I was expecting, certainly not as much as Scott's old Abarth Fiat that he had before this. It has a nice broad powerband and pretty much at any RPM it would have solid pull. The 350hp estimate does seem to be a bit off on my butt dyno though. I drove our teammate's stock Focus ST later in the day, and the RS did not feel 80hp stronger than that car. If you said 30 or 40hp, I'd believe it, but not 80hp. In retrospect, after driving the FoST, I probably should have gotten back in the FoRS and compared power again, but the FoRS was parked by then. The engine note was pretty good, although the pops from the exhaust seem kind of fake and contrived.

As I said above, I liked the steering wheel itself, and the steering had the right amount of heft to it and seemed fairly communicative. Again, much better than Scott's old Abarth, where I had no clue what the car was doing. Brakes on this thing are borderline too good. I'd want to take a touch of speed off and instead they'd give me huge whoa. The clutch though, I was not a big fan of, but I don't think that's a FoRS-specific complaint, or even a Ford-specific gripe. Seems like most new cars have clutches that suck. They're way too light and have no feel. This really bit me when I, trying not to fry his clutch, instead managed to stall it on the start line and lurch forward into the timing lights and start the clock while I was restarting it. Also, weird note: Nowhere have I seen or heard mention of these cars having auto-stop/start, and I've never seen it on a manual transmission car before, so when I came back into grid and the car randomly shut off on me, I thought I'd broken it. There is a switch to turn it off, but it you have to press it every time you power cycle the car. 

So, the handling is the one area where I feel like I can't really give an honest review of this car. See, Scott is normally a K/Mod shifter kart driver, and then this was supposed to be his bad-weather backup car, but we had an amazing season for karting as far as weather, so this car was on the stock Michelin tires and hadn't been autocrossed yet. Between them being not a great tire, Seneca Army Depot's notoriously low-grip surface and ambient temps in the lower 40s, terminal understeer was the phrase of the day. I know that course workers heard me screaming "Turn dammit!" as I plowed my way to Understeer Nationals. It had brief moments of business and then the front end would wash out. Even when temps came up, it didn't really get better, and later in the day Scott ended up throwing it in Drift Mode to try and induce some rotation, but it still just pushed the front around. Scott said the cheapskate in him didn't want to throw out tires that still had tread, so he was glad to see that by the end of the day they were coming apart. RE71Rs on the way for next year.

I did like all the different settings that the car had. In the morning I ran it in the Sport mode so that I had a bit of a safety net while I got used to the car and the course. Then in the afternoon, as my confidence increased and I started getting the traction control to kick in, I swapped to Track Mode. Much nicer than my Miata, which has one drive mode: Kill. Again, another new car rant, why can't cars stay in the drive mode they were in when you shut them off? The launch control was not advantageous on this particular course, but I did try it out because I it was there. It throws you back in the seat pretty hard. And then you overshoot the first cone in the slalom and are late on every other cone in the slalom. But still cool. Although I wish it was a little easier to access, like a thumb button on the steering wheel that you hold in. Instead you navigate through a menu and select it, and the screen that it is on only stays active for a few seconds before it backs out. Cool tech, just a little cumbersome to use when you are on the start line of a course that requires a very specific start interval to make work. 

Final verdict, the car definitely has performance potential and I'd really like to try it again with some better tires (There was another D/Street FoRS there with 275-width RE71Rs on stock-width RPF1s that was laying waste to pretty much everyone before I pass final judgement on it. Would I buy one? Not sure. They're pretty pricey and I much prefer my cars to be more analog and less electronic wizardy, although it was pretty cool wizardry at work here. I also would have long-term concerns over how many parts are unique or bespoke to the RS. In 8 or 10 years, when you accidentally explode that crazy hand-laid front bumper in quad-coat blue, are you going to be able to get another one? Or if you have some sort of RDU failure, will they be available? I did drove our teammate's FoST as well, which had the advantage of good tires, and I fell in love with that car immediately and am considering one to replace my DD Baja. Pity Ford discontinued these cars because there are good bones underneath.

The Ford Boost Brigade in formation.

Saron81
Saron81 Reader
10/24/19 11:48 a.m.

Nice write up! True that the stock PSSs aren't great auto-x tires.... and they do not like cold temps! IMO the forged wheels look so much better. I have no complaints with mine though. Currently at 55k miles. All stock. 
 


 

NickD
NickD PowerDork
10/24/19 12:11 p.m.

In reply to Saron81 :

He's enjoyed it so far. Certainly more than his Abarth, which was always either broken or in the process of breaking. This one has 36k miles on it, he bought it used at 24k, and it either had the head gasket recall performed or came with the correct gasket, I can't remember which. His only mechanical troubles have been it had an exhaust mode valve stick, which threw a CEL and locked it out of the fun modes and was fixed with WD-40, and it had a clutch pedal break off and had to get towed to a Ford dealer. Then while the only RS-trained tech was replacing said clutch pedal, the tech sliced his hand to the bone on a bracket under the dash and was out of work for 2 weeks, so it sat apart at the dealer until the tech healed up.

Rodulrich
Rodulrich New Reader
10/24/19 12:36 p.m.

Thanks for the write up and impressions!  I've always considered buying one.  I have a 2017 FoST and have autocrossed it a couple times, no mods done to it.  I found it a handful, often pushing in tight quick corners or having the rear end step out in long sweepers.  The FoRS guys always dominated, until the Civic Type Rs started showing up!

NickD
NickD PowerDork
10/24/19 3:16 p.m.

In reply to Rodulrich :

I really liked the Focus ST I took out for 3 fun runs. I enjoyed the tail-happiness of it, but I'm primarily a RWD guy. It was fun to get the back end to slide out, rotate the car to where I want it and then punch it and claw my way out. Its a pity that Ford didn't put a mechanical LSD in the FoST for it's last year like they did the RS.

The fun runs in the Focus ST really drove home the importance of good tires. It was running stock-size RE71Rs on TRM wheels, and my first run was 0.8 seconds faster than I ever managed in the FoRS on stock tires. It was also a second faster than the owner's best time.

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
10/24/19 4:18 p.m.

I thought the "drift mode" didn't induce oversteer so much as it would not fight it if you induced it by normal means.

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
10/24/19 4:22 p.m.

Thanks for the review!

I really wanted to buy one of these when they came out. But for me there were a few factors that stopped it:

1. Dealer markup
2. No test drives (at least with my local dealers)
3. The interior seems pretty low rent (I know it's all based off an economy car) for a car that was north of $40k.
4. I was surprised how little space in the back there was with the rear seats up. 
5. Lots of reviews about how even on the soft setting, the suspension would still rattle your teeth out as a DD. 

Add in the head gasket issue, and that's killed my desire to try to find a used one. And like NickD mentioned, there are so many unique parts to the RS.......and the production was so low........future parts availability could be a problem for lots of parts. 

Stefan
Stefan MegaDork
10/24/19 4:42 p.m.
z31maniac said:

Thanks for the review!

I really wanted to buy one of these when they came out. But for me there were a few factors that stopped it:

1. Dealer markup
2. No test drives (at least with my local dealers)
3. The interior seems pretty low rent (I know it's all based off an economy car) for a car that was north of $40k.
4. I was surprised how little space in the back there was with the rear seats up. 
5. Lots of reviews about how even on the soft setting, the suspension would still rattle your teeth out as a DD. 

Add in the head gasket issue, and that's killed my desire to try to find a used one. And like NickD mentioned, there are so many unique parts to the RS.......and the production was so low........future parts availability could be a problem for lots of parts. 

1. yeah, that was BS and there were ways around this.

2. Also stupid policy considering the as fast or faster Mustangs were handed out like skittles to anyone with a pulse.  Though it had to be said that even the sales people couldn't test drive them, so other than the lot monkeys, no one had driven my car before me.

3. I think its better than you think and certainly compared to the base model I drove briefly while mine was getting the recall applied.  The Edge sport I had as a loaner was about the same in quality, just the colors were better.

4. I agree, but that is partially due to the nature of cars these days and for the addition of the rear diff, etc.  You can gain a little space by ditching some of the stuff under the deck, but the dual folding rear seats helps a lot and provides a flat load floor.  I can still fit a folded jogging stroller, a pair of folding camping chairs along with the two rear facing car seats for a day at the track with Dad and the kids.

5. I blew the sidewall on a front tire a few hundred miles into a coastal road trip due to a huge gap in the road that was marked at 45, I hit it at 35.  I drive mine at least twice a week to take my daughter to school and drop my son off at daycare.  Its stiff, but it isn't the end of the world.  Ford revised the damping late in the '17 run and they are straight drop-in for all of them.  Moving to 18" wheels helps as well since you can get those run flats off and add a bit of sidewall/width.  Once the warranty is up on mine and I put a few pennies together, I'll change the dampers out for the later ones along with some 18's to make it a little more comfy.

The headgasket was a manufacturing issue and they handled it pretty well (even totalled cars were hauled in to be updated), so I don't consider it an issue anymore.  They do eventually wear out, just part of life with a iron block/aluminum head, faster if you crank the boost up, so expect that you'll need to do it at some point in its life.

Stefan
Stefan MegaDork
10/24/19 4:45 p.m.
Knurled. said:

I thought the "drift mode" didn't induce oversteer so much as it would not fight it if you induced it by normal means.

It forces the AWD to full 70% of the power transfer and more or less locks the rear diff with some damper changes to help promote sliding.

The driftstick adds some extra programming around the e-brake switch with a fancy way to engage the e-brake switch.

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
10/24/19 5:05 p.m.
Stefan said:
z31maniac said:

Thanks for the review!

I really wanted to buy one of these when they came out. But for me there were a few factors that stopped it:

1. Dealer markup
2. No test drives (at least with my local dealers)
3. The interior seems pretty low rent (I know it's all based off an economy car) for a car that was north of $40k.
4. I was surprised how little space in the back there was with the rear seats up. 
5. Lots of reviews about how even on the soft setting, the suspension would still rattle your teeth out as a DD. 

Add in the head gasket issue, and that's killed my desire to try to find a used one. And like NickD mentioned, there are so many unique parts to the RS.......and the production was so low........future parts availability could be a problem for lots of parts. 

1. yeah, that was BS and there were ways around this.

2. Also stupid policy considering the as fast or faster Mustangs were handed out like skittles to anyone with a pulse.  Though it had to be said that even the sales people couldn't test drive them, so other than the lot monkeys, no one had driven my car before me.

3. I think its better than you think and certainly compared to the base model I drove briefly while mine was getting the recall applied.  The Edge sport I had as a loaner was about the same in quality, just the colors were better.

4. I agree, but that is partially due to the nature of cars these days and for the addition of the rear diff, etc.  You can gain a little space by ditching some of the stuff under the deck, but the dual folding rear seats helps a lot and provides a flat load floor.  I can still fit a folded jogging stroller, a pair of folding camping chairs along with the two rear facing car seats for a day at the track with Dad and the kids.

5. I blew the sidewall on a front tire a few hundred miles into a coastal road trip due to a huge gap in the road that was marked at 45, I hit it at 35.  I drive mine at least twice a week to take my daughter to school and drop my son off at daycare.  Its stiff, but it isn't the end of the world.  Ford revised the damping late in the '17 run and they are straight drop-in for all of them.  Moving to 18" wheels helps as well since you can get those run flats off and add a bit of sidewall/width.  Once the warranty is up on mine and I put a few pennies together, I'll change the dampers out for the later ones along with some 18's to make it a little more comfy.

The headgasket was a manufacturing issue and they handled it pretty well (even totalled cars were hauled in to be updated), so I don't consider it an issue anymore.  They do eventually wear out, just part of life with a iron block/aluminum head, faster if you crank the boost up, so expect that you'll need to do it at some point in its life.

3. I went and sat in one and tried my helmet on. I'm not nearly as tall as NickD, but also found the seat sits way too high and I did lower the seat as much as the stock adjustment would let me. I suspect there are ways around this.

 

I think I'm still mad at myself for ditching my BRZ. I should have just put a non-race setup suspension on it, made the stereo a little better and kept it. The only other car that I've sat in that I loved the ergonomics as much was the '18 Camaro SS 1LE. 

Saron81
Saron81 Reader
10/24/19 5:39 p.m.
Knurled. said:

I thought the "drift mode" didn't induce oversteer so much as it would not fight it if you induced it by normal means.

 

This is true also. You have to be pretty aggressive with the throttle, and steering inputs still. Especially on the sticky tires. 

 

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
10/24/19 5:54 p.m.
Stefan said:
Knurled. said:

I thought the "drift mode" didn't induce oversteer so much as it would not fight it if you induced it by normal means.

It forces the AWD to full 70% of the power transfer and more or less locks the rear diff with some damper changes to help promote sliding.

 

Speaking as someone who has played with that sort of thing (lockable diffs on one AWD car, lots of time driving 100% rear power with tight diffs) that IS a recipe for heavy understeer unless you drive it with less finesse and more pitch-and-throw.  Then those otherwise ill-advised settings make the chassis more predictable to inputs.

 

I think the infamous RS wreck video happened because the driver thought he could push a button and the car would make him look like Keiichi Tsuchiya without having to actually do anything...

NickD
NickD PowerDork
10/24/19 7:22 p.m.
Knurled. said:
Stefan said:
Knurled. said:

I thought the "drift mode" didn't induce oversteer so much as it would not fight it if you induced it by normal means.

It forces the AWD to full 70% of the power transfer and more or less locks the rear diff with some damper changes to help promote sliding.

 

Speaking as someone who has played with that sort of thing (lockable diffs on one AWD car, lots of time driving 100% rear power with tight diffs) that IS a recipe for heavy understeer unless you drive it with less finesse and more pitch-and-throw.  Then those otherwise ill-advised settings make the chassis more predictable to inputs.

 

I think the infamous RS wreck video happened because the driver thought he could push a button and the car would make him look like Keiichi Tsuchiya without having to actually do anything...

Scott's a pretty solid driver, normally drives a CRG Road Rebel, a terrifying little 50hp shifter kart. I think part of it was just a case of "the car isn't working like I want anyways, nothing to lose by trying Drift Mode and maybe it will work some magic"

ProDarwin
ProDarwin UltimaDork
10/24/19 7:39 p.m.

What's the center diff like in the RS?  In a properly setup STi, drift mode is basically just lay on the throttle and let the rear step out.  Its nice that they drive like a rear wheel drive car to some extent.

Saron81
Saron81 Reader
10/25/19 4:41 a.m.
ProDarwin said:

What's the center diff like in the RS?  In a properly setup STi, drift mode is basically just lay on the throttle and let the rear step out.  Its nice that they drive like a rear wheel drive car to some extent.

It doesn't have one. It uses the PTO unit (transfer case basically) and the trick rear differential. 

ProDarwin
ProDarwin UltimaDork
10/25/19 5:45 a.m.
Saron81 said:
ProDarwin said:

What's the center diff like in the RS?  In a properly setup STi, drift mode is basically just lay on the throttle and let the rear step out.  Its nice that they drive like a rear wheel drive car to some extent.

It doesn't have one. It uses the PTO unit (transfer case basically) and the trick rear differential. 

Are you saying there is no diff at all?  Or its an open diff?

fanfoy
fanfoy SuperDork
10/25/19 6:03 a.m.

In reply to ProDarwin :

No differential at all:

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
10/25/19 6:54 a.m.
ProDarwin said:

What's the center diff like in the RS?  In a properly setup STi, drift mode is basically just lay on the throttle and let the rear step out.  Its nice that they drive like a rear wheel drive car to some extent.

That sounds awful.  How do you exit a corner?

ProDarwin
ProDarwin UltimaDork
10/25/19 7:15 a.m.
Knurled. said:
ProDarwin said:

What's the center diff like in the RS?  In a properly setup STi, drift mode is basically just lay on the throttle and let the rear step out.  Its nice that they drive like a rear wheel drive car to some extent.

That sounds awful.  How do you exit a corner?

The same way you do in other cars that have enough power to spin the rear tires?

collinskl1
collinskl1 Reader
10/25/19 7:57 a.m.
Stefan said:

 Moving to 18" wheels helps as well since you can get those run flats off and add a bit of sidewall/width.  Once the warranty is up on mine and I put a few pennies together, I'll change the dampers out for the later ones along with some 18's to make it a little more comfy.

The 19" Michelin Pilot Super Sport or Sport Cup 2 tires that these cars came with are not run flat tires.

I killed three OE tires in the year and a half that I owned my car, and had planned on running an 18" package, but got rid of the car first. I had my eye on 245/40R18.

engiekev
engiekev Reader
10/25/19 8:09 a.m.
Stefan said:

The headgasket was a manufacturing issue and they handled it pretty well (even totalled cars were hauled in to be updated), so I don't consider it an issue anymore.  They do eventually wear out, just part of life with a iron block/aluminum head, faster if you crank the boost up, so expect that you'll need to do it at some point in its life.

Slight correction, the block and head are aluminum.  There shouldn't be any more accelerated wear on the head gasket than any other open deck aluminum block/head engine.  On the 2.3L blocks bore distortion starts becoming an issue at increased power levels, which can definitely cause head sealing issues.

In all conditions, the PTU (or "center diff") is not able to change any torque split front-to-rear, all the torque split (from rear left to rear right wheel) is controlled through the RDU ("rear diff").   The PTU is essentially driving the RDU all the time, and is oversped to drive at a higher effective ratio (the quoted "70%" rear torque).  The RDU clutches can be disengaged to operate in 0% rear torque.  In drift mode the RDU clutch control changes to allow more oversteer ( TSC and ESC also changes).  The RDU clutch control is also unique in Launch Control, the clutches basically lock up briefly during launch.  

The AWD system in the Evo X with AYC behaves very similar to the RDU in the RS (clutches control left-right rear torque split), except the Evo does have an electrically controlled center diff (ACD) and can change front-to-rear torque split.  So in reality the AWD system in the Evo X is more advanced than on the RS. 

http://10evolution.blogspot.com/2016/04/ayc-acd-system.html

 

The STI is an even more traditional AWD system with center diff torque split control electronically (DCCD), but a mechanical LSD rear diff.

https://www.sportsubaru.com/blog/2014/february/28/why-2015-subaru-wrx-sti-uses-a-very-special-awd-hardware.htm

docwyte
docwyte UberDork
10/25/19 8:30 a.m.

I was interested in one but even as late as this past summer dealers weren't allowing test drives on their old (new) Focus RS' plus the pricing was ridiculous for a car that'd been sitting on the lot for 2 years. 

End of the day, I wanted a nicer DD and the Golf R fits that bill.  Much nicer inside, much longer warranty, much better parts supply.  Not as sharp but that's ok, I have my 911 for when I want to go fast and have mega fun.

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
10/25/19 8:58 a.m.

In reply to ProDarwin :

I am genuinely curious.  All my experience with sliding rear and all wheel drive cars says, to stop sliding, apply power, which shifts load to the rear and straightens the car out.

 

Except for that one rear drive converted Impreza, which mostly sucked because applying power did make it spin, which meant you could not enter corners with any aggression.

Stefan
Stefan MegaDork
10/25/19 11:36 a.m.

Thank you for the corrections.  I was incorrect about a few things there, my bad.

Watch Ben Collins play with the different modes, etc.  Especially the "drift" mode and you'll see what he needs to do to initiate a slide:

 

Stefan
Stefan MegaDork
10/25/19 11:46 a.m.

and here's our resident Focus RS autocrosser, Jerry Stein autocrossing his '16 RS at Sebring:

 

So yeah, put some decent tires on that RS and it will do much better.

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