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Does the Ford Focus RS Deserve the Hype?

With the death of the Fusion, Ford only has one passenger car remaining that isn’t a crossover or supercar: the Mustang. And while the pony car offers impressive speed, the automaker used to offer a wider performance selection. Only a few short years ago, Ford offered several hot hatches, like the Fiesta ST and Focus ST. However, of the Blue Oval’s recent hot hatches, many consider the Ford Focus RS to be the greatest. But does it deserve that reputation?

2016-2018 Ford Focus RS: specs and features

The Ford Focus RS released in the US in 2016 wasn’t the first hot hatch with that name, Roadshow reports. Over in Europe, Ford released several models before that, much like Honda did with the Civic Type R. However, like the Fiesta ST and Focus ST, these were all front-wheel-drive cars.

A blue 2016 Ford Focus RS on a tree-lined misty road
2016 Ford Focus RS | Ford

That changed with the 2016 Ford Focus RS, Evo reports. Instead of FWD, the Mk3 Focus RS has AWD, like the Volkswagen Golf R/R32 and Lancia Delta Integrale. It’s linked to a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 350 hp and 350 lb-ft and a 6-speed manual. With all that, the Focus RS can do 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, Motor Trend reports.

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Besides the AWD, the Ford Focus RS also has a number of electronic performance features. It has launch control, Car and Driver reports, as well as multiple driving modes. The most famous of these is Drift Mode, which Road & Track reports does indeed make power-sliding oversteer easier. Though to really make it work, Car and Driver reports you should stability control first.

The Focus RS has a few more upgrades over the FWD Focus ST besides the engine and AWD, Autotrader reports. It has larger brakes, grippier tires, better-bolstered Recaro seats, and adjustable suspension. The 2018 model added a standard limited-slip differential, heated front seats, and carbon trim to that, Car and Driver reports.

The 2016 Ford Focus RS' interior with Recaro sport seats
2016 Ford Focus RS interior | Ford

Being a hot hatch, the Ford Focus RS also has a practical side. Keyless entry is standard, Car and Driver reports. Navigation and a heated steering wheel, previously optional, became standard in 2018, MT reports. An 8” touchscreen, though, is standard on all Mk3 RS cars, as is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. However, it only has one ADAS feature: a backup camera.

What’s the Ford Focus RS like to drive?

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The Ford Focus RS certainly delivers on its rally-inspired looks. It beat out the Volkswagen Golf R and Subaru WRX STI in Car and Driver’s comparison in terms of handling. And in Car and Driver’s Lightning Lap, it holds the same time as the newer Honda Civic Type R.

All this is thanks to a solid performance foundation. The chassis and suspension make for sharp handling, Automobile reports. Combined with the AWD and the optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, and this hot hatch has amazing levels of grip. Especially the 2018 model with the limited-slip differential, MT reports. And the steering is responsive with plenty of feel, Cars.com reports. Plus, with Brembo brakes, the Ford Focus RS stops in a hurry.

However, it’s not perfect. Although its interior has better materials than the Subaru WRX STI’s, the Golf R’s is better still, Car and Driver reports. Plus, those well-bolstered Recaros can be too aggressive for some.

But the biggest issue by far is the ride quality. Even with adjustable dampers, the 2016 and 2017 models were simply far too stiff. And fitting the optional Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires just exacerbated the problem, Car and Driver reports. The dampers were readjusted for 2018, MT reports, which made a drastic improvement.

Blue 2020 Honda Civic Type R driving around a corner
2020 Honda Civic Type R | Honda

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Actually, there is one more problem: the Civic Type R. Its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder makes ‘just’ 306 hp and 295 lb-ft, and it’s a FWD hot hatch. Nevertheless, it tied the Ford Focus RS’ Lightning Lap time. And both Car and Driver and MT found it offered handling on-par with the AWD car but in a much more daily-drivable package. However, the Type R is pricier than a used RS.

Pricing and known issues

The rear of a blue 2016 Ford Focus RS
2016 Ford Focus RS rear | Bring a Trailer

New, the Ford Focus RS retailed for about $40,000. But, although prices have gone down somewhat, the hot hatch retains its value fairly well. A 33,200-mile 207 example recently sold on Cars and Bids for $31,250. That’s roughly the average price seen on Bring a Trailer.

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Given its upgrades, the 2018 Focus RS is the most desirable. And not only because of the limited-slip differential, extra standard features, and improved dampers. It also doesn’t suffer the head gasket failures that plagued the 2016 and 2017 models. The failure was due to the factory mistakenly swapping the Focus RS’ gasket with the one from the 4-cylinder Mustang EcoBoost, The Drive explains. The former’s engine is based on the latter’s, though they’re not identical. Ford issued a recall to install the correct part, PistonHeads reports, but not every RS has been repaired.

Unfortunately, the 2018 model is also the rarest: only 1500 were made for the US. However, apart from the head gasket, the biggest problem with buying a 2016 or 2017 RS is the ride. And that’s fixable, either with aftermarket solutions, Turnology reports, or by fitting the updated OEM parts, which bolt right on, FocusRS.org forum users report.

Should you buy a Ford Focus RS? That depends. If you want an AWD hot hatch that offers better-than-WRX agility with some extra refinement, it’s a great choice. But the latest Civic Type R offers similar thrills with a factory warranty. However, it doesn’t have a Drift Mode.

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