Focus RS Track Review

My introduction to the Focus RS happened in 2010 at the PRI (Performance Racing Industry) show. Sitting by itself in the lobby was a flat black hot hatch unlike anything that I had ever seen. A wide body, winged, turbocharged hot hatch – in sinister flat back – had me intrigued. I had not seen anything like it, and started my looking onto the Focus RS lineage. Turns out Ford had been keeping something from us in the states for some time, dating back to the Cosworth Escort RS’s that was piloted by Malcolm Wilson and formed the groundwork to the WRC Focus piloted by Colin McRae. Even legendary Mitsubishi driver Tommi Makinen got his first WRC win in a Ford Escort RS. This mean little black hatchback I was eye humping had a ton of lineage behind it – but was not available to us in the United States. We were not ready.

Fast forward to 2015, and the announcement that Ford would release the face lifted MK3 Focus as a world wide RS model. AWD, 2.3L turbo, Recaro seats, adjustable suspension – DRIFT MODE – and the exit of Mitsubishi from the sport compact world, made the Ford Focus RS a must have. I placed my order with Tasca Ford in September of 2015. The wait was excruciating, as it always is with a highly anticipate model.

We took delivery in June 2016 and immediately put the car on our DynoJet 424xLC2. This was the first US Focus RS on a dyno on US soil. The first pull was very promising at 293hp and 320tq, but the next bunch of pulls dropped the hp and tq significantly. As further research was done, it turned out the torque vectoring system without a center diff was causing issues on the dyno. Of course we have questions when it comes to dyno tuning this car in FWD mode, when it will be using load like an AWD car. But we know that answers will come as more and more of these cars are dyno’ed across the country.

Outside of dyno testing we wanted to get this car on the track as soon as possible, its natural environment. With less than 33 miles on the odometer, we headed to Thompson Motor Speedway in Thompson CT. This is a tight 1.7 mile 11 turn course that offers a little bit of everything and a great place to test a new car. Ambient temp was around 93 degrees and high humidity – typical for the north east. The car was left 100% stock for this time out on the track, with stock Pilot Super Sports, stock brake fluids and no modifications.

On track, I drove the car in Race Mode. I am very familiar with Thompson, and have about 2500 laps here in a variety of cars – Z06, GTR, STi, Evo X, and 350Z. The first thing you realize in this car on track is it stops surprisingly well! The brake feel on a stock pads is the best out of any sport compact that I have had the chance to drive. Initial bite on the brakes is a bit soft, in comparison to pads I’m used to with Carbotech or Hawk, but the stock pads did not fade. This was a huge surprise to me, as other cars I have driven at the track on stock pads have faded very quickly. These have great bite for a stock car. As you can see later – I would upgrade the fluid still.

Kaizen Tuning's Ford Focus RS - Exterior

Turn in on this car is very well set up. It does not turn in like a 2wd car, nor does it have the steering feel that a good 2wd car has, but it does give reasonable feedback. This is a trait that is inherent on many AWD cars from the factory. This car turns in differently, however, than almost every AWD car I have driven. It does feel sharper, and has less under steer. It does push, but I think that can be dialed in with a half a degree of camber. Grip was very good – the torque vectoring works very well. I’d recommend driving this car on PSS’s first as they are very communicative. They range from whisper to full on howl at the edge. This is very useful for finding the car’s edge. Once the car does start to over steer it is very controllable, and easy to recover. It feels very well balanced on track, and you don’t feel that hatch behind you at all. Steering inputs are small, and immediate. You get a great feel with the thick sport style wheel that comes with the Focus RS. You do feel the hatch on the straights, as the aero on the car over 100 mph limits top speed on the straights. One thing we quickly found was that the stock PSS’s were set to 45 PSI. On track they went up to 60 PSI! Make sure you keep on top of your tire pressure, as the car was very greasy with the hot tires and high tire PSI. We felt that 42F – 38R PSI hot was the best setting for the PSS.

Power delivery in the car was smooth and consistent all day on 93 octane pump fuel. We did eight 30 minute track sessions on day 1, and power delivery was consistent. I did not feel the car pulling timing or misfiring at all in the heat. We did remove the sticker on the FMIC before we dyno’ed the car. I know this was a hot topic on many boards, and I would recommend getting rid of that sticker before you get the car on the track, as extra cooling will be a plus. I do feel the car could use more power on the top end. More pull in 4th gear would lower track times significantly, and pull the car through the air above 100 mph. We will be experimenting with this soon, as soon as the Cobb AccessPort becomes available and we can start adding power.

We were back at the track again for round 2, just 4 days later. We performed an oil service before heading to the track and used the stock Motorcraft 5w50 oil and a Motorcraft filter. We sent the oil out of our friends at Blackstone Labs for an oil analysis. We always recommend this after an oil service as many times they will see an issue well before something catastrophic happens. This time we did make some changes. We added Torque 700 brake fluid, as even though the brakes performed well, I feel safer with a high temp brake fluid in the car. We also installed a Cobb rear motor mount in the car. Under hard acceleration in 2nd gear and making a hard shift 3rd, you could feel a hard bang from the soft motor mounts moving around. Shift felt sloppy under power. All of that changed with the addition of the Cobb RMM. This little modification enhanced the angry, pissed off feel of this little hot hatch. Under idle you can feel the extra vibration. But under hard acceleration and under power is were this RMM really shines and eliminates any slop, or banging under load. We feel that anyone tracking or autocrossing this car will want this mod without a doubt. With the RMM installed, the shifter feels very good for a transverse mounted motor and trans. It is crisp, short and direct with a good weight.

The brakes continued to stop well with another round of eight 30 min sessions. They didn’t give up, fade or do anything but be predictable. As I became more comfortable with the car I was able to brake later and later, throwing the car into turn 1 predictably every time. I feel very confident that those looking to do a few track days a year will be ok with stock pads to start out with. Obviously these don’t stop like aftermarket pads, but at this time, we are a few weeks away from receiving a steady supply of aftermarket pads. Once they are available I’d recommend a set once you get a few track days under your belt.

After track day 3 – we got the car home and inspected it. Everything looked good, and scheduled track day 3 just 4 days later! For this track day we made just one modification and added the Pilot Sport Cup tires that you can get from the factory. We were familiar with these tires from the Z06 and knew that they would increase the mechanical grip significantly. We mounted and balanced the tires and headed to the track. These tires added SIGNIFICANT grip. If the Focus RS is going to be your track toy these tires are for you! Grip was increased over the PSS tires, however the communicativeness of the tire is significantly less than the PSS. It makes far less noise at the edge before the tire loses grip. These tires were good for a 1 second reduction of lap times. It was wet in the morning, and we got to experience this tire and the Focus RS in less than ideal grip conditions. The car remained very predictable, even when the car was breaking loose. You can correct with steering input and the gas peddle and sort the car out. With time and confidence, sliding this car around on a wet track day will be predictable, and quick.

All is not perfect with the Focus RS however. I really feel with the price tag of this car, the interior needs to feel more special. I want to know this is not a car I can rent at Hertz. I want more microsuede, I want more carbon in the interior. I want a better quality head liner. I was disappointed with this aspect of the car. Another issue is wheel size. With the rear swingarm suspension in this car, anything larger than a 255 is going to be hard to get under the car. For us track guys that like max grip, I was hoping to at least run a 265 Hoosier on a 18” wheel. However – overall this car is a huge amount of fun for the dollars you spend on it. Smiles per dollar is very high with the Focus RS and I don’t think that those of you who autoX or track the car regularly will be disappointed after a few tweaks.

Conclusion:

Pro’s
Torque Vectoring AWD grip – A
Great tire selection from the factory – A
Shifter feel for a transverse motor – B+
Recaro seats from the factory – B+
Turn-in feel and steering communication – B
Brakes and brake feel – B
Suspension and suspension tuning – B-

Con’s
DATA – gauges are inadequate for a track car – D
Interior – does not feel special enough. – C
Wheel size – Max tire width will be 255’s. Wider would be better. – C
Motor mounts – did not fix the 1-2 sift bang from the ST – C
Exhaust Note – needs to be louder. Can barely hear it with helmet on – C+
Track Aero – Hatchback is a disadvantage on track over 100 mph – C+

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