By their nature, hot hatches are a little juvenile. They start out as economy cars and add turbocharged power, big wings, wide tires, sport suspensions, and all manner of tack-on parts to toughen the look.
The new Ford Focus RS is no exception.
It looks like it just dropped out of the latest Fast & Furious movie. Everything's oversized: the rear wing, the exhaust outlets, the front air intakes that feed the hungry intercooler and brakes.
But that doesn't mean it can't win our Best Car To Buy award. We care about performance here, and fun behind the wheel can trump any issues we have with exterior design.
The Focus RS certainly has the hardware to deliver the type of performance we desire.
The star is the gutsy, slightly crazy drivetrain. With 23 psi of boost from its turbocharger, the 2.0-liter four spins out 350 horsepower. That power is sent to all four wheels via an advanced all-wheel-drive system. The transmission? The purist's choice: a 6-speed, short-throw manual gearbox.
Ford beefed up the rear end structure to handle the forces of the engine and AWD system.
Power comes on hard and strong in the Focus RS. Rev it all the way to the 6,500-rpm redline, and 0-60 mph arrives in just 4.7 seconds. The exhaust pops and crackles just like it would halfway through a rally stage. The shifts are short and positive, even if the clutch is a bit touchy.
The Focus' performance is a simply outstanding, better than you'll get in any of today's hot hatches. Take it to a racetrack and it will either put up fast lap times or perform glorious drifts. Put the car in Track mode, aim for the apexes, and the AWD system will work with you. It can send 70 percent of the available torque to the rear and then funnel it to the outside wheel in a turn to help the car rotate. That lets you get on the power earlier and shorten those corners. The Brembo brakes can handle a lot of punishment, too.
2016 Ford Focus RSEnlarge Photo
On the other hand, you can choose the Drift mode, turn off the stability control, rail on the throttle, and slide this thing around corners, creating big clouds of smoke instead of fast lap times.
The on-road behavior isn't as accomplished. The suspension is a discouraging mix of bouncy and overly firm on the street. If anything on your body can jiggle, it's going to jiggle in the RS.
2016 Ford Focus RSEnlarge Photo
The interior isn't impressive, either. This is a performance car based on an economy car, after all. What you get is the same middling cabin that we've seen in the Focus since 2012. It looks old, and the materials fit a $20,000 price tag. You do, however, get Recaro seats, blue accent stitching, a few more gauges, a sport steering wheel, and metal pedals. You also get all the utility of the hatchback body style. We like the fact that you can move mom's recliner in the morning and go to the track in the afternoon.
The Focus RS starts around $36,000, and for that price, it's a genuine performance bargain. Will that be enough to win our Best Car To Buy Award? Check back on November 14, when we announce the winner. At that time, we'll also announce the winners from our sister sites, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports, as well as the winners in our Driver's Choice awards—as voted by you, our readers.