The long wait is over. At an an event at its European headquarters in Cologne, Germany, on Tuesday, Ford unveiled the 2016 Ford Focus RS, a 300-plus horsepower all-wheel drive beast equally at home on a rally course, track, or everyday commute. After 12 years of being forbidden fruit to American performance car buyers, the Focus RS will finally reach U.S. shores for 2016. Ford Performance has been on a tear lately, with a formidable lineup ranging from the diminutive Fiesta ST to the street-legal racecar Ford GT. With the unveiling of the RS just a month after the GT and the 2017 Ford Raptor, it shows that Ford is serious when it says it will bring more than 12 Performance-badged cars to the global market by 2020.
The Focus RS has been the jewel in Ford’s European lineup since its debut in 2002, but Ford never seriously entertained plans to bring the car to the U.S. market until very recently. When Ford began testing the third-generation car in Europe, American enthusiasts were tantalized with a stream of “will they or won’t they” rumors until Ford finally confirmed in December. After pining for the European corner-carver for more than a dozen years, it looks like the American market will be treated to the best RS yet — a car that immediately puts the Volkswagen Golf R, Subaru WRX STI, and Honda Civic Type-R on notice.
The Focus RS is the Swiss Army Knife of performance cars. It’s a five-door hatchback based on the best-selling Ford Focus, and because of this, Ford assures that this RS is a comfortable and reliable daily driver. And who wouldn’t want the RS as his or her everyday car? Its 2.3-liter inline four is borrowed from the Ford Mustang EcoBoost, which Ford claims will have “well in excess of 315 horsepower,” and will only be available with a six-speed manual transmission. It gets an aggressive front end with a unique diffuser, revised body kit, wheel choices exclusive to the RS, revised suspension, and a massive rear wing to provide much-needed downforce should buyers opt to take their cars to the track.
While the Mustang-derived power plant will give the car plenty of speed, the real story is Ford’s new torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, which debuts on the RS. Unlike standard all-wheel drive, Ford’s new system is an intuitive dual-clutch system able to transfer all power to individual wheels, like on professional rally cars. The RS’s rally connection is unmistakable — Ford has taken on rally driver Ken Block to consult on the RS’s handling characteristics. Block knows a thing or two about modifying Fords for performance: He recently made headlines with his “Hoonicorn,” an 845 horsepower all-wheel drive 1965 Mustang that he designed and built.
This all adds up to a car that instantly shakes up the venerable hot hatch segment. The Volkswagen Golf R, the 292-horsepower all-wheel drive, track-inspired five-door long considered to be the baddest of the hot hatches could face stiff competition from the new Ford. The front-wheel drive Honda Civic Type-R is expected to reach U.S. shores with 290 horsepower; it’s the fastest front-wheel drive car to ever lap the Nürburgring, but could be outgunned by the Ford’s bigger engine and all-wheel drive power. Perhaps the car facing the strongest challenge from the RS is the 305-horsepower all-wheel drive Subaru WRX STI. Long considered to be the closest thing Americans can buy to a factory rally car, the Subaru could be seriously threatened by the Ford’s state-of-the-art, new all-wheel drive system and instant rally credibility.
From here, it looks like the American-spec Ford Focus RS could be the hottest hatch the U.S. market has seen in a long time. Details like performance numbers and pricing are still murky, but from what we know now, the car will pose a serious threat to the Golf R, STI, and Type-R. With the car definitely coming to U.S. shores, a new and even more uncomfortable waiting game begins. We know what it looks like and we know what it can do; now we have to wait until we can get our hands on one.
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