2016 Ford Focus RS first ride review

Ford Motor Company [NYSE:F] is in the midst of a run of performance cars like we have never seen before. The Shelby GT350 and GT350R Mustangs are arriving right now. Next up is the all-wheel-drive Focus RS, followed by the SVT Raptor, and then the king of them all, the reborn GT.

The 2016 Focus RS isn't due to hit dealer showrooms until next Spring, but Ford is far enough along in the development process to give journalists rides--though they're not ready to let us take the wheel. In Southern California, just a couple days before the Los Angeles Auto Show, I got the opportunity to ride shotgun while Ford engineer Gene Martindale railed on a prototype on the Streets of Willow road course.

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Before I get into my impressions of my three laps in the car, we should take a look at some of the hardware of the fastest Focus ever.

It is powered by a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder spinning out 23 pounds of boost to develop 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. It feeds that power through a six-speed manual transmission to all four wheels via an all-wheel-drive system that can send 100 percent of the power to the front or rear axle. At the rear, Ford fits the RS with an electronically operated dual-clutch torque vectoring system that can overdrive the outside rear wheel in a turn.

To get the desired levels of performance, significantly above the 252-horsepower Focus ST, Ford strengthened the body, focusing on the extra stress that would be put on the rear end. With that in mind, engineers added a "lion's foot" rear crossmember, structural foam in the chassis rails, and an additional brace at each rear wheel. Ford says these changes improve torsional stiffness by 23 percent over the base car and nine percent over the ST.

The brakes are larger yet lighter than those in the ST. The front brakes are 13.8-inch Brembos with four-piston monoblock calipers. They are six percent lighter than the ST's brakes, and they are available with blue-painted calipers. There is no word on the size of the rear brakes yet.

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The standard tires are 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sports, and Pilot Sport Cup 2s are offered in the Track Package (along with those blue calipers).

Ford also developed a Drive Mode system to control the behavior of the engine, dampers, exhaust, steering, AWD system, and electronic stability control. This system features Normal, Sport, Track, and Drift modes, as well as Launch Control.

Animations of the Focus RS's hardware and systems can be seen in the accompanying video.

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