Can the Focus RS save us from crossover malaise?

Focus RS

This is in no way exclusive, but it’s usually a mom, or someone planning to be a mom sometime soon.  They’re ready to dump the old cars they drove in high school or college, even though they’re extremely reliable OBD1 Hondas or 3800-powered Buicks.  It’s time to get into something more “serious.”  And it’s always a crossover.  Prospective moms want the utility of a minivan, of course, but the minivan is anathema, apparently a sign of surrender to age.  They’re just too momish.  What protoparents fail to realize is that those of us on the leading edge of car culture already view crossovers the same way, and the rest of society won’t be far behind.  Until then, we have to put up with roads packed and clogged with an endless stream of ugly, unwieldy, good-at-nothing crossovers.  It’s depressing.  But our warm salvation from crossover Antarctica could come from an unlikely hero: the Ford Focus RS.

 
 

Okay, probably not.  But hear me out.

First, the Focus RS.  Ford’s RS brand has been around since 1968, cranking out performance versions of mostly normal commuter cars, but only in the rest of the world.  We never got any of them in the States.  Between our shores, Ford couldn’t make up their mind about the initials to use: SVT, SVO, ST, SHO.  But the idea was the same.  Add power and other sporting prowess to cars you would normally use to commute to your middle-management job. The RS division came up with the brilliance of the Escort RS1800, the Sierra RS500 Cosworth, the Focus RS500, the rally-ready RS200 supercar, and many others.  Now we have the 2016 Focus RS, and thanks to the popularity of the Focus and Fiesta STs here in America, we’re finally getting an RS.

Focus RS - Side View

Packing the Mustang EcoBoost’s 2.3 liter turbo four, but cranked up to 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, the RS sends power to all 4 wheels.  It’s the first AWD RS since the 1995 Escort RS2000, and it’s a definite improvement over FWD, since the last RS, the 345 hp Focus RS500, was known for brutal understeer. The Focus RS’s GKN Twinstar AWD system is a complex arrangement of servos, wet clutches, and a three piece driveshaft that allows for torque vectoring, specific power delivery, and my personal favorite, the drift button.  This toggle sends most of the torque to the rear, while softening the dampers and steering.  Early reviews are in, and apparently drifting is now incredibly easy.

The springs are 33 and 38 percent stiffer than the ones in the already impressive Focus ST, the shocks are Tenneco two-stage units, and the shoes are Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s.  In short, it’s a work of genius.  The performance is real, with 60 coming at 4.7 seconds, and it keeps accelerating to 165 mph.  This is a five door hatchback.  Neat details abound, as well.  Seats are by Recaro.  The turbo spools up to 23 psi.  It has launch control.  There are modes for normal street, sport, and track, as well as the drift mode.  Each mode adjusts the dampers electrically, so the driving dynamics change depending on your needs, and you can also adjust the dampers manually via a button on the steering wheel.  Plus, it’s only available with a stick, because this car would be pointless with an automatic.  There’s even a custom exhaust, with a mostly straight pipe heading back to a generously musical muffler.

Focus RS - Front Seat

Hot hatches are not entirely alien in America.  Ford has their ST twins, but even in the high-powered, AWD realm, we’ve seen the Subaru Impreza STi as well as the VW Golf R.  But we’ve never gone as crazy with hot hatches here as they do in Europe.  It’s a phenomenon there.  A major car company without a hot hatch is like Ford or GM without a muscle offering.  But speaking of the Mustang, this family car, this little hatchback, has more power than two whole trim levels of that.  This implies a definite commitment by Ford, and a definite confidence among buyers.  The STs are selling very well, and the RS is projected to do the same when it hits showrooms this spring, even for about $35k.

None of this will sell a hatchback to a soccer mom bent on preserving the “young” image with a crossover.  No one cross-shops an Escape and a Focus RS.  But perhaps they should cross-shop an Escape and a plain old Focus.  They both have five doors and similar capabilities, and though the Escape has slightly more cargo capacity, it isn’t cool.  It’s described all the time as practical or fun or “active,” but never cool.

Focus RS - Back View

And this brings me to the crux of my slavering, fevered hypothesis.  No one wants a minivan because it’s too “dorky” (even though minivans are awesome), but soon the preferred crossovers will share the same status and fall out of vogue.  The crossover will be the new white flag of surrender to age and parenthood.  “Oh, you poor old thing.  You need a crossover so you don’t have to bend over to lift that big, heavy baby out of his seat.  That must be so tough on the back at your age.”  Young parents will flee, as they fled the minivan.  And what will be left to gather up a nation of disenfranchised coolmoms?  The large hatchback.  The base-level Focus.  The Mazda 3.  The hatchback that survived the Age of Crossing Over, that kept its sensible ride height and driving dynamics and sleek looks thanks to cars like the Focus RS. Which were cool from the start.

Like I said, it’s a stretch.  But it’s up to us to keep our roadways from devolving into constipated tubes of grey, CUV sludge.  A brighter future comes.  So buy a Focus RS!  Drive it everywhere!  And not just because it’s an awesome testament to engineering genius and a hallmark of the Fun Preservation Society.  Not just because it looks awesome, has a drift button, and will probably be pretty reliable.  Do it for the kids.  Buy a Focus RS for kids everywhere who won’t be stuck driving crappy, worn out crossovers in high school, twenty years from now.

Focus RS - Drift


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