I used to have this friend from work, and he looked exactly like every other mid-career IT guy. We’d all go out to the bar every once in a while, and everything was fine from beers zero to three. But as soon as beer number four happened, well, you’ve got bail money, right? These shenanigans continued until one night when I saw that same switch flip in his eyes and thought, “this is no longer fun.” Welcome, everyone, to the exhilarating and utterly exhausting 2016 Ford Focus RS.
I rented this car from Turo and lived with it for 24 hours. I drove around town, put my very excited toddler in the back (his review begins and ends with “BIG WING!”), and even sneaked in an early morning blast on mountain roads. In each of these scenarios, I expected a new facet of the car’s personality to show itself. But that’s not what this car is about; there’s no transformational montage in the movie about its life. You’re busy all the time (although, to be fair, the winter tires probably played a part in that feeling) – “BIG WING” is what you get all the time, and it’s glorious and fast and manic.
Let’s start with the obvious: this thing is quick. At 350 horsepower, it’s not a supercar, and the power in and of itself is manageable. Even on city streets, you can have fun poking it before you go screaming into imminent death/imprisonment territory. The only problem is that it wants to do it all the time – like when you throw your nephew into the air thinking “this will be a fun one time thing,” it’s not over until your arms are falling off. That theme extends into every aspect of driving this car – it gets you to do something fun once, but after a while the pops and bangs coming from the exhaust will start to sound exactly like a toddler saying “again! AGAIN! AGAIN!!!”
The brakes are the same way. They’re are amazing, and I’m still having dreams about how good that pedal felt against my foot. But the harder you push the car, the better they feel, and it even extends to the placement of the actual pedal. Like most performance cars, the brake and gas pedals are set up for heel-toe shifting. But in this one, you have to get really deep into the pedal before it all works in a rewarding way. Which means if you’re like me and receive an endorphin hit from executing such a maneuver, the car is pushing you to brake at ridiculously short distances.
In Denver, where we have roads that wouldn’t look out of place in an advertisement for cluster bombs, you realize immediately the suspension is very firm. Then you realize it’s in comfort mode, get curious enough to hit the damper button on the turn signal stalk, and promptly disintegrate from how over-the-top stiff it is. That damper button brings us to the source of all the hype and an inescapable part of this car: the driving modes. There are four modes: normal, sport, track and drift. These modes affect the throttle, exhaust, steering feel, suspension, traction control and AWD systems. The sweet spot for me was to put it in drift mode but turn traction control back on. That left me with the glorious exhaust, and sport everything else except steering and suspension. And the loud exhaust. Did I mention the exhaust? It’s intoxicating and loud and ridiculous and oh god I’m driving too fast again.
I don’t want to leave you with the idea that I didn’t enjoy this car, or that it doesn’t deserve a mention in the discussion of GOAT hot hatches. Truth be told, I haven’t stopped thinking about this car since I drove it. The RS will worm its way under your skin until it’s an obsession. You’ll lay awake at night replaying exactly what you did to provoke the snap-crackle-pop overrun. You’ll end a short blast through the canyons physically exhausted and sore. The hot water in your shower will run out as you stare into middle distance, in awe of how fun a hatchback can be while also trying to figure out if it’s actually enjoyable. But if your friend described their new relationship to you in similar terms, you’d be a bad friend if you said “sounds fun!”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to spend just one more night with the Focus RS. We’ll both behave ourselves, I promise.
You can rent the very same Focus RS as I did via Turo here. You should do it.
Also, you can listen to our first impression of this car via episode 83 of the podcast.