Ford’s Focus RS: A 345 Horsepower Punch and a Case for Hot Hatches
“More than 315 horsepower,” is what we were promised when Ford issued its initial press blast for the new Focus RS, the range-topping hot-hatch that for the first time would be available in the United States. That initial estimate was already enough to put the car atop the small heap of hot-hatches and budget sports sedans here in America, but Ford has one-upped itself and everyone’s expectations. It’ll come packing 345 horsepower.
That handily outpaces the Volkswagen Golf R’s 292 horses, and trumps the Subaru STI by 40. It’s nearly 100 horsepower more than Ford’s own Focus ST, it blitzes the Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works by a multitude. It’s 10 horsepower shy of playing with Mercedes-AMG’s loony CLA45 AMG. In other words, it’s in a class by itself, and that’s going to make these cars a much harder sell.
That power — and it’s accompanying 325 pound-feet of torque — will be shuttled to all four wheels, through a six-speed manual transmission. The all-wheel drive system — which is new for the RS — will have clutch packs on each rear half shaft, in order to offer dynamic torque vectoring. As much as 70% of its torque can be delivered to the rear axle, and up to 100% of that amount can be routed to the outside rear wheel, Car and Driver noted.
When the pedal is on the proverbial metal, Ford has included an overboost function that pushes the twist maximum to 347 pound-feet for up to 15 seconds. “For further comparison,” Car and Driver says, “the Golf R peaks at 280 [pound-feet] and the STI at 290.”
The focus RS, then, doesn’t really have any natural competitors, at least just yet. But it is building the case for them; automakers have been wary of America’s lack of interest in hot hatches, and as a result, most offerings don’t make it to our shores. But with the RS, Volkswagen has a case for its 400 horsepower Golf, Audi has a foothold for it’s RS3, and Subaru might finally be able to justify a hatchback variant of the WRX and STI.
Of course, that’s all depending on how well the Focus RS will sell. It’s largely an experiment still, venturing into unproven territory of $40,000-plus for a compact (which is a lot, with or without 345 horsepower), and outside of some dedicated enthusiast circles, it’s a complete crapshoot as to whether Ford can sell enough units to warrant keeping the RS here. But if the success of the STs is any indication, it shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
The Focus RS is going to be an interesting business case. It outperforms (and likely will out-spend) the EcoBoost-powered Mustang, which uses the same engine, though is tuned for 310 horsepower. Asking America to choose between a traditional muscle car or a Euro-style hot-hatch is going to be a closely watched development as more millennials exercise their buying power.
The Focus RS, though, is a gauntlet thrown down before many others — VW in the U.S., and others like Renault or Peugeot abroad. When Honda gets around to bringing the Civic Type-R around, and it’s purported 300 or so horsepower, the time of reckoning may finally be here for the American hot-hatch industry.