What’s so special about the Ford Focus RS?

2016 Ford Focus RS (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

I was at a PT appointment when my therapist looked out the window, did a double take and asked: “Are you driving that blue thing this week?”

When I said yes, he asked: “What in the heck is it? A crossover?”

I told him it was a Ford Focus RS. He looked at the car, looked back at me, then looked back at the car again.

He finally shrugged and asked one more question: “What’s so special about a Ford Focus?”

Two words, my friend: Rally Sport.

Previously only available overseas, Ford finally brought the performance-oriented Focus RS to the U.S. as a 2016 model.

Here are 5 things that separate it from the rest of the Focus flock.

350 horsepower

The RS is the most powerful production Focus that Ford has created. Ever. It is equipped with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost I-4 engine that delivers 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. Coincidently, this same engine also appears in the Ford Mustang, where it only gets 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque.

The Focus RS is a compact package, so this is just the right amount of power to create fast and fun off-the-line starts as well as aggressive passing maneuvers. In short: This car is fun to drive.

Oh, and 0-to-62-mph times ring in at 4.7 seconds. Max speed is 165 mph.

All-wheel drive

The Focus RS is the only Focus to get all-wheel drive. This is a performance-oriented system, and it continuously varies front-to-rear and side-to-side torque distribution depending on the driving situation.

While this is great for track and clean road driving, what about snow? Yes, with a caveat. The available factory winter tire package ($1,995) is a special wheel and tire set, and it includes 18-inch RS Sparkle Silver Alloy Wheels and Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 Tires.

4 driving modes

Playing to the fact that this is a true enthusiast’s car, Focus RS comes equipped with four drive modes – two of which are meant for the racetrack only. Normal and Sport will be what most people experience on an everyday basis, but the Focus RS adds Track and Drift modes as well – the latter being an industry first.

Drift mode makes it easier for an all-wheel-drive vehicle to drift through corners by modifying the torque distribution to help the driver achieve controlled oversteer.

In Track mode, you can also take advantage of Launch Control, which helps you accelerate as fast as possible.

Recaro seats

If you own a car like the Focus RS, you will likely drive it aggressively from time to time. So, the rib-hugging Recaro seats are a pure necessity. The larger side bolsters were a bit bulky for my petite frame, but they did keep me in my seat with some spirited driving. My 5’9’’ husband weighs around 190, and he said the bolsters suited his wider frame perfectly – though he admitted if he added any weight, they’d probably start to be uncomfortable.

The Recaro seats are an option on the Focus ST trim, but they’re standard on the RS.

Manual transmission only

Finally! The Focus RS is an enthusiast car that is truly meant for, well, the enthusiast. Automatic-transmission-only drivers need not apply. The standard – and ONLY – transmission on the Focus RS is a very tight 6-speed manual.

For a week, I didn’t mind the high clutch point, even when I got stuck in stop-and-go traffic. However, I do wonder if this – along with the clutch stiffness – would get old after a while. To me, this is not an easy everyday driver, but it is a very nice speedster that’s fun on the open road. And a racetrack.

The 2017 Ford Focus RS has a base price of $36,996. If you check every option box, including the Nitrous Blue paint, full leather seats, heated front seats, heated power moonroof and Sport Cup wheels (among other things), you’ll top out around $45K.

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