2016 Ford Focus RS first drive review: the hottest of the hatches Page 3

I'm most impressed by the fact that this thing can punch above its weight. I didn't have a VBOX in the car, but based on timing from the Go Pro I did have, I put up a 1:43.5 fast time at Gingerman. That compares to the 1:46.2 I posted last year in the Cadillac ATS-V. The Focus RS is faster around this somewhat tight track than a $65,000 coupe with 464 hp, this despite the fact that it is 10 mph slower in the longest straight. It also proved to be faster than a Mustang GT, a last-generation Camaro 1LE, and just about everything else that ran in my group at Gingerman. The only two cars I couldn't catch were a 2014 Camaro Z/28 and a 2016 Porsche 911 GT3.

A couple of anomalies

For the most part, the Focus RS held up well through six sessions ranging from 15-20 minutes each. The Brembo brakes never faded, and the engine and transmission temperatures remained in the safe zone.

However, about 13 minutes into the final session, a message popped up in the instrument cluster saying that the car was now FWD only. By then temperatures had topped 70 degrees and the car had been out on the track for a good hour and a half. That proved to be enough to overheat the rear differential. A lap and a half of taking it easy to cool it down restored the AWD, but this is something buyers who intend to track their cars should monitor.

2016 Ford Focus RS

2016 Ford Focus RS

Enlarge Photo

The other minor issue was with the trip computer. Driving hard on a track reduced the car's fuel economy to 8.6 mpg and that included about 125 miles of highway driving. On two occasions I went out onto the track with a half-tank of fuel left, then watched the fuel gauge drop from half full to empty while the trip computer first flashed 50 miles of range remaining then 0 miles left within about one lap of driving. On the way home, I filled up again, but the computer flashed a warning that only 50 miles of range were left after only 120 miles of highway driving (the RS has more than 250 miles of range on a full tank). I think my aggressive track driving confused the computer, making it think I was going to rail on the car again. I suspect it will straighten itself out after a few tankfuls free of track time.

Bottom line

Those minor issues aside, the Ford Focus RS is a genuine track athlete. It inspires confidence in the driver because it provides so much grip and when it does lose traction it does so in a controlled manner that is easy to rein back in. For fans of the STI or Evo who have wanted more from those cars for years, the Focus RS is the next evolution in the story of the hot hatch. It may not be all that fun on city streets but when the tarmac turns twisty, it's a hot hatch that can best V-8 sport coupes.

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