2016 Ford Focus RS: Instant Classic Packs More than $35K’s Worth of Thrills

The 2016 Ford Focus RS is an instant American classic. A pure driver’s car, it offers maximum levels of four-wheeled pleasure and excitement — while remaining within reach of the average gearhead, thanks to a price tag under $40,000.

A beefy sport hatchback version of the Ford Focus delighted Europe for years before manifesting here in the U.S. Proudly wearing classic Ford oval blue, the new Focus RS offered itself for inspection during a recent track testing event at Monticello Motor Club in New York State.

I’ve been lucky enough to do countless track days like the one offered by Ford for its Focus RS. I’ve speed tested hundreds of cars under similar conditions. I’ve rarely wanted to drive a test car home more eagerly than this sporty hatchback. I was lucky I didn’t have my checkbook on me, though I doubt the Ford crew at the track had the means to run my credit check.

Powered by a sport-tuned, 2.3 liter, 350 horsepower, four-cylinder, EcoBoost engine, the Focus RS is quick off the line before offering satisfying, aggressive speed along the straightaways. The turbocharged power plant and its orchestrated exhaust send out an engine note that’s stirring without ever seeming juvenile or intrusive.

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Exquisitely balanced and graced with all-wheel-drive and four-wheel independent suspension, the Focus RS offers just enough technology to enhance the on-road experience without packing an onboard nanny computer to take away all the fun and risk of performance driving. Depending on your drive mode, the onboard brain manipulates power and torque to allow the car to function as all-wheel or as rear-wheel as you prefer.

The most exhilarating and romantic component of the Focus RS is its transmission. The gearbox is a six-speed manual with a pretty short throw. And, that’s it, boys and girls. No automatic option is or will be offered. If you can’t drive a stick, if you’re so feeble you’ve never learned how to drive a car properly and still think a clutch is tiny purse, you are rightly excluded from the joy of driving this beautifully crafted cerulean dream.

I leave you with this detail as a final monument to the spirit of the 2016 Ford Focus RS. Amongst its four possible drive settings, the car offers a drifting mode. A flick of a switch will set up Normal, Sport, Track or Drift. The latter amps the car’s torque to the outer rear wheel in a controlled slide — essentially allowing you to turn donuts until your tires give out, if you choose to keep your toe down long enough.

Now, there’s no sensible, responsible reason to have a Drifting Mode. There’s no sensible, responsible reason to drift. That’s why we do it. We drift because it’s irresponsible and immature. There’s a lot to be said for a car that performs so well while celebrating immaturity.

The fact that Ford’s RS engineers acknowledged the legitimacy of such automotive misbehaving is the best example I can offer as to why this car is a classic for the ages. It’s a life-affirming automobile that embraces and enhances the fun of driving in an era when cars are becoming dull, numb robots that either limit a human’s connection to the road or eliminate the driver altogether.

You can keep your autopilot, your lane departure warnings, and your parallel parking assist. I love driving, and the 2016 Focus RS is a perfect driver’s car.

Photos by John Scott Lewinski