It's as if Ford sent their R&D team into my brain, then built a car just for me.
I will try to approach this objectively, but even now, just over a year and 15,000 miles later, I very much still have stars in my eyes with this car. I still get excited when I see one on the road, and every time I fire mine up I leave the door open to listen to the cold start. And yes, it's even a stock exhaust.
For reference, I purchased my 2017 Focus RS in Stealth Grey February of 2019 with 1285 miles as a manufacturer buyback vehicle. The first owner complained about several occurrences of loss of power under heavy acceleration, so Ford just gave them a different car and took what would become my car back to their team who found nothing wrong with it. My guess is that the first owner was experiencing the various protective modes the car has built in and did not recognize them.
The MKIII Ford Focus RS is, in my opinion, one of the very best cars ever built. Now, when I say "car" I mean an object that primarily exists to convey humans from point "A" to point "B". In this manner, the RS excels. There are other cars that are more comfortable, faster, cooler looking, quicker, handle better, cost more, cost less, or get better fuel economy. However, you will be hard pressed to find a car that is such a perfect intersection of performance and practicality as the MKIII RS.
First, the car has, per FoMoCo, 350BHP and 350 FT-LBS of torque at the crank. It achieves these numbers within a 2.3L I-4 engine by way of a Honeywell twin-scroll fixed geometry turbocharger capable of up to 23.1 psi of boost. For those of you that haven't operated a turbocharged vehicle built in the modern era, boost lag is now extinct thanks to modern turbochargers. The Honeywell begins building pressure almost immediately and it's operation is nearly seamless in conjunction with the engine itself. Power is delivered smoothly and consistently for a very exhilarating and predictable 0-60 charge of 4.7 seconds.
Most of the RS Focus' magic, if not nearly all of it, is certainly attributable to the AWD system Ford developed for this car. The car is primarily operated as a FWD vehicle, but when deemed necessary the drivetrain can send up to 70% of the power to the rear wheels, and, via the Rear Drive Unit (RDU) which uses magnetically operated clutches, up to 100% of that power to either rear wheel as the situation requires. The stability and traction systems continually monitor the AWD and vehicle telemetry and provide immediate input to keep the car under control and safe; these systems can be easily and completely turned off by holding down the STS/TCS button for 5 seconds.
This AWD system means that the RS leaps off the line like almost nothing else. Many reviews I have seen compare it to the savage launch of the Nissan GT-R. While I have never driven a GT-R, I was fortunate enough to drive a Model 3 Performance, which can sprint from a dead stop to 60 MPH in 3.2 seconds; while the overall 0-60 of the Model 3 is significantly quicker, the initial jump feels more aggressive in the RS.
The Focus RS does include Launch Control (LC) and is able to Flat-Foot Shift (FFS) from 1st-2nd gear with LC engaged, which means anybody at all is capable of maximizing the 0-60 capabilities of the car. Engage LC via the Driver Aids screen on the instrument cluster while stopped and in 1st gear, then right foot flat on the throttle, dump the clutch. Redline 1st gear, right foot stays full down while the clutch pedal is pressed, 2nd gear is selected then clutch pedal out. Ride first gear until redline again and all of a sudden that guy next to you in his '90s NSX has something better to do with his day.
Oh, Drift Mode is cool too. I don't use it on dry pavement because I'm not made of tires, but I have a set of Michelin PA-4s for the winter and on a snowy road the RS in Drift Mode is the funnest thing that there is. I've heard it best described as "having cheat codes". I don't want to get much into Drift Mode since it's kind of a bonus, not the point of the car. Mostly it is cool to tell people about. Feel free to look up YouTube videos of the system in use.
The specs and handling are impressive, but the car is a bit of a pig. Ford claims a curb weight of just over 3400 lbs but the truck scale near my house had the car reading closer to 4600 lbs. Still, the car handles light and is very easy to throw in and out of corners and is easy to strip down if necessary.
My '17 RS is equipped with the RS2 package, the forged aluminum 19" wheels wrapped in Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires, and also has the Winter Comfort package, an absolute must in the Midwest. If you have never driven with a heated steering wheel, don't until you are ready to buy another car because it's something you can never not have again. The onboard navigation is very responsive, as is the Sync 3 system overall. The 10-speaker Sony sound system is good for the vehicle's price point, though many people find the subwoofer to be lacking. It meets my needs so it will stay.
The fuel economy is poor for being a 4-cylinder car but just fine for a hot hatch or comparable sports cars.
I grew up admiring and desiring the Impreza STI and Lancer Evo and always planned on buying one of these new or nearly new. When Mitsubishi decided to stop making interesting cars it seemed as though the decision was made for me; I would join Subie Nation and then probably buy a pair of Birkenstocks. Soon enough though, FoMoCo announced the 2016 Ford Focus RS and all of a sudden my desires and emotions were all tangled up again. Was about this same time my Mazda P5 decided it no longer wished to live and I found myself in the market for a new car. The RS was still several months from being delivered and was at that time out of my price range so I purchased a 2016 Focus SE with a 1.0l I-4 and a six-speed manual. Immediately I found that the Focus was an absolute home-run for myself, with every feature I wanted and some very clever elements here and there. This pretty much solidified the RS as my next car since my only complaint about my SE is the lack of power and performance.
The ride is very stiff (VERY STIFF!) and Iowa has some very rough roads due to our climate; I, however, have always preferred stiff riding cars. Before my RS I owned a 1988 Celica GT-4 (stiff), a 1988 Mitsubishi Starion (really stiff) and a 2002 Mazda P5 (fairly stiff) so for me this is very desirable. For long highway drives it can get annoying but mostly I like feeling the road. For most people, including my wife, the ride would likely be a deal breaker. Admittedly, I nearly never utilize the Sport setting for the suspension since that is too much even for myself. I usually only engage the Sport suspension for certain sets of curvy road or to amuse my friends.
With that stiff suspension paired with a sticky set of tires the RS is an absolute monster through twisty roads. I have flung my car pretty hard into some good corners and I have never even come close to the limits of my vehicle's handling capabilities. The RS imparts absolute confidence in the driver and with the incredible feedback through the steering wheel encourages the driver to try just a bit harder next time. Backroads and 2-lane highways are what this car is best at and for where I live I can't imagine any other car being more fun.
The overall feel of the car is most comparable to a motorcycle. Responsive and quick, the car just does what you want when you want. You'll find plenty of torque in any gear provided you are over 3k rpm and one of my favorite ways to accelerate isn't to floor the car, but rather start about 2.5k in 3rd and let the engine slowly build until we are screaming at passerby and well over the speed limit. The crackles and pops from the exhaust are nice, though manufactured.
The curb appeal of the RS isn't perhaps as high as the Civic Type-R (CTR) or even the STI. The RS to most people is a Focus with a ricey spoiler and big wheels. Most people won't be turning around to watch you drive by like in some other cars but those that do usually end up being the sort of car people I like best anyway. I enjoy the subtle design of the RS and find it to be gorgeous in it's relative simplicity. It doesn't scream "LOOK AT ME!" and instead lets the performance speak for itself.
The car is certainly not without fault. The onboard monitoring systems are perhaps a bit hyperactive. My car, for example, could hardly go a week for the first 6 months of ownership without slipping into "Limp Mode", wherein all the drive modes are turned off and the car creates a fake stutter in the engine to get you to slow down and pull over. My car was having a common issue where the butterfly valve for the sport side of the exhaust system wasn't opening quite fast enough, causing the computers to decide everything was going wrong and start freaking out. I installed an Exhaust Valve Simulator plug and have not had any Limp Mode issues since.
One of the biggest issues is that many people will see you and decide to try and knock you down a peg, to remind you "It's just a Focus". Generally these people drive V6 Chargers and 3rd Gen Eclipses so I pay them no mind but it can get a bit annoying. We are all well aware it is a Focus, but you'll never hear someone point at an Escort Cosworth and say "It's just an Escort". I've also had random Chargers pull alongside then, without warning, floor it and go racing off feeling very proud and manly. People looking to prove something definitely zero in on the Focus RS but, with proper warning, are usually easily dispatched.
Overall, I've enjoyed every single moment in my RS and have no plans to get rid of the vehicle any time soon. I can fit my 7 MO baby and 4 YO daughter in the back with next to no trouble, I can haul 8' 2X4s and I can fit cabinets in there as well. I am very satisfied with how Ford has set the vehicle up and have no plans for major modifications to the vehicle. The RS has been an absolute joy to own and its existence has made me sad for the future of sports cars in the USA. If I had to trade my RS in today, I can't even begin to imagine what I would want instead. Certainly nothing made by an American car company. The Focus RS is one last look at the traditional concept of a practical performance vehicle before we transition into a market entirely dominated by crossovers and SUVs; I honestly believe it is the best car ever made.
Feel free to check out my RS on my IG page @MW_STEALTH_RS
I gave this a 7 because the MPG is awful and mine did have a lot of Limp Mode issues early on. Technically not anything wrong, but as annoying and made it hard to really enjoy the car for the first few months while I figured out why the car kept stuttering and being pissy.
I recommend this car for people who need practicality, but also want to have fun.