The engine also comes from the parts bin. It’s the direct-injected, twin-scroll-turbocharged inline-6 from the M3/M4 tuned for 365 horsepower and 343 pound-feet of torque instead of the 425/406 you get in the M2’s bigger brothers. An overboost function does increase torque to 369 lb-ft for short bursts, though. It also gets some upgrades for track duty, including an additional oil cooler for the DCT M transmission oil and an engine oil pump that has been redesigned for higher lateral gs.
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Ford had to put more work into turning the Focus RS into a track monster. The highlight is the AWD system that features a torque vectoring rear differential. The AWD system can send 70 percent of the available power to the rear, and the electronically operated dual-clutch torque vectoring system can funnel all of it to the outside rear wheel.
Ford also strengthened the rear of the body, adding 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 9 percent over the ST.
Power comes from the turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder found in the Mustang. It’s amped up, though, spinning out 23 pounds of boost to develop 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque.
The brakes are larger yet lighter than those in the ST. The front brakes are 13.8-inch Brembos with 4-piston monoblock calipers. Ford offers two tire options. The standard tires are 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sports, and Pilot Sport Cup 2s are available.
CHECK OUT: 2016 Ford Focus RS video road test
Finally, Ford developed a Drive Mode system to adjust the behavior of the engine, dampers, exhaust, steering, electronic stability control, and AWD system. This system features Normal, Sport, Track, and Drift modes, as well as Launch Control.
Our first impressions of these cars revolved around their looks, inside and out. The Focus RS wears its boy racer, hot hatch persona proudly. You get a big rear wing spoiler, a larger front air intake, an aggressive front fascia, a rear diffuser, and black 19-inch wheels and tires that fill the wheelwells. The look may be a bit juvenile, but it’s appropriate for this car’s mission.
The BMW is more straightforward. It has wider fenders to accommodate the big wheels and tires and the wider track, a front apron with larger cooling ducts, gills behind the front wheel arches, and a prominent rear spoiler. This is a small car wearing the big shoes needed to achieve its performance targets.
Our editors really didn’t have a favorite for outward looks, but things started tilting toward the BMW once our editors sat in the driver’s seat. The Focus dates back to 2011, and its interior has received few updates since it was released. My initial thought was that this cabin looks old, a sentiment echoed by other editors.
“I couldn't overlook the Ford's miserable interior. The door cards visibly flex when you pull the handles, something I noted when this Focus first came out. They haven't changed that,” said editor Andrew Ganz.
Managing editor Aaron Cole wasn’t quite as harsh. “The interior is exactly what you’d expect from a $20,000 Focus. There’s just not much more than a couple badges and deep seats to separate it from a Platinum model,” he said.
Interior criticisms aside, the Focus RS is a hatchback and that gives it some utility. Fold down the rear seats, and the RS can hold up to 44.8 cubic feet of cargo space. We find it pretty cool that you can haul a load from Home Depot in your designated track toy.
The Focus RS’s cabin also has some performance features. Ford adds thickly bolstered Recaro sport seats, a flat-bottom steering wheel, blue accent stitching, metal pedals, and an additional gauge set on top of the dash. I spent several hours in the Recaro driver’s seat during my first drive of the Focus RS and didn’t have a problem, but editorial director Marty Padgett said, “My hips would die having to sit in this for more than a few hours.”