This may be the final age of the commuter automobile. Government CAFE regulations are choking out interesting vehicles by the dozen. Laziness and fear have formed a rare partnership, hiring technology to eliminate driving. Lane drift alarms, blind spot monitors, and adaptive cruise control have been at this for years, and the self-driving car is at our gates. Soon Skynet-backed robots will be ferrying their meatbag owners to work in endless, anonymous road trains, a dense clog in the colon of the American highway.
But if we truly live in the death throes of the hand-driven commuter vehicle, it isn’t dying in a nursing home. It’s going down in a blaze of turbocharged glory. Yes, the drivers’ car can use technology, too. Perhaps no new car has lead this charge like the new Ford Focus RS, revealed just last week in Germany.
Ford has been busy with the black rubber stamp lately. Just last month in Detroit we met not only the new Mustang GT350R, with its silly wing, flat plane V8, and rumored ‘Ring record; but also the surprise, breathtaking reincarnation of the Ford GT. Yet I believe purpose-built performance cars like this will always be around. If you don’t believe me, think back to the last time you saw someone riding a horse.
Now try to remember the last time you saw someone riding a horse to the bank or the barber shop. When was your last multistate road trip in the saddle? Enthusiast cars won’t be the first to go, but the last. It’s the normal enthusiast cars, those shaped around cargo capacity and child safety, that will go first.
That’s why it’s so exciting to see this latest Focus RS. It’s a raging against the dying of the light. It’s a thick, old, calloused middle finger to a culture trying to usher fun cars off the stage. It didn’t start as a performance car, but it became one. In spades.
Perhaps a little background before we get to the details. The last Focus RS showed up in 2009 with a turbocharged 2.5 liter 5 cylinder capable of over 300 horsepower. Unless we’re talking about the RS 500, which produced nearly 350. All of that power spun out through the front wheels, because Balloon Boy was a hoax and torque steer was just a part of life. If this all sounds a little foreign, it was. Because we saw neither belt nor bolt of the RS here in America, where the hottest Focus you could get was called the “Sport,” like what you call your stepson when you want him to get you a beer.
Clearly Ford had big shoes to fill when they decided to exhume the RS badge, but they also had something else: a competitor. Ford already makes a hot hatch version of the Focus here in the States: the 250 hp Focus ST.
So the new RS, also, finally, headed stateside, had to be a different animal altogether. The ST is cool, flashy, and certainly quick, but it remains a front-driver, relying on a clever torque vectoring system, which chews through your brake pads on a single track day, to banish that pesky understeer.
The RS is all-wheel-drive. Like a Subaru WRX and not a whole lot else. Because it also makes 320 horsepower from its turbocharged 2.3 liter four. Does that heartbeat sound familiar? It will if you’ve been following Mustang news. This is the very same mill from the brand new Mustang Ecoboost.
Hang on, though. That turbo Mustang only makes 310 horsepower. And it likely weighs more than the RS will (though Dearborn hasn’t released a curb weight for the RS yet). Here’s a Focus that will likely outperform a Mustang. Here’s a family hatchback, an economy car, a daily commuter with room in the bed for that toilet you need to pick up from Home Depot, that’s been transmutated into an honest competitor for the WRXs and Golf R32s of the world.
We love our muscle cars. We adore the idea of an exotic supercars. But give us something to take on vacation with the kids in the back, smoking all four tires in the Disneyland parking lot, and you’ve won us over. That’s the real dream. We’ll always have our Shelbys for the weekends, but now we’ll have something to take to soccer practice that could singlehandedly turn that overpriced public field into a rallycross course.
This isn’t to say it will be cheap, unfortunately. If you want an STi fighter, you’ll pay STi prices. But you might find the practicality and stealth of a 320 hp hatchback worth the extra scratch.
The Ford GT. The Corvette Z06. The Hellcat twins. The Big Three have been churning out performance lately with the reckless abandon of a regiment surrounded. The RS is here to bolster the ranks, bringing a weapon that no other Ford/GM/FCA vehicle has, and this may just be a longer fight than expected.
Here’s living, firebreathing proof that the current 2014 Focus S is a solid performance platform. Do you already have your own base model Focus that you’d like to upgrade? Check out this mad cold air intake from K&N, which is guaranteed to increase your horsepower and installs quick.
And you don’t need to drop 40 grand on a new RS just for an exhaust note. You can make yours growl with this affordable cat-back exhaust from Magnaflow. And if you already have an ST, but want more sound, here’s a killer Borla system, specifically designed to sound good inside and out, with zero drone.
Your Focus has one of three different engines, so please check exact year/make/model fitment on all parts before ordering, and give us a call at 1.877.787.8989 to talk with our experienced, American techs if you have any questions. Happy modding!
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.