German-built Ford Focus: Outrageously fun

2016 ford focus rs

I don't know what's wrong with me. I didn't think I was going to like this, at least not this much. I mean, to be really honest, I'm too old for this sort of thing

Or maybe I'm not.

The Ford (F) Focus RS is a 350 horsepower, German-built, all-wheel-drive version of that nice, efficient American-made compact car you're probably familiar with. It's outrageously fun, and it's also just a really good car. While the excitement got me hooked, the underlying decency of the car won me over.

Yes, the Focus RS is blindingly quick and it makes a wonderful bubbly rumble when you step hard on the gas. And, yes, it has a "Drift Mode" that allows a driver to slide the car sideways on purpose. Also, yes, the ride is a tad firm.

2016 ford focus rs
The Ford Focus RS features a "Drift Mode" that allows you do do this. Garage full of replacement tires not included.

But it also has a surprising level of refinement. Even at high speeds it stays amazingly composed. I found myself hitting triple-digit speeds without even really trying or, for that matter, noticing. At least, until I glanced down at the speedometer. Sure, I've had that sort of thing happen in German luxury cars -- but this was a Ford Focus.

Much of the credit for that goes to the car's aerodynamics. The Focus RS's tastefully understated rear wing -- understated compared with other rear wings I've seen -- is paired with a subtle front wing just under the grill. Together, they give the car a gentle push downwards as speeds increase. That counteracts the natural tendency for cars like this to get floaty as they go faster.

Even in its regular around-town driving mode, the ride is firm, but not uncomfortable. Push a button to put it into Sport mode and you feel the bumps even more but, still, it's not too bad. And the upside is you can take corners faster.

2016 ford focus rs
The Ford Focus RS's rear wing provides a real service in keeping the car stable at high speeds.

It's only in Track mode that things get uncomfortable, but a clear dashboard warning tells you this mode is strictly for the track. And, on a track, it is amazing. After driving a Focus RS for a weekend, I whipped another one -- equipped with optional high-performance tires -- around a race track north of New York City. Cranking it through turn after turn it felt as close to an all-out sports car as something based on an economy car ever could.

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The all-wheel-drive system not only varies the amount of power it metes out to the front and back wheels, it also sends differing amounts of power to each back wheel as you turn helping to actually push the car through a curve. It makes a noticeable difference.

Only robots can handle these roads
Only robots can handle these roads

Adding to the fun, the manual shifter -- the Focus RS is only available with a manual transmission -- flicks very enjoyably up and down and back and forth through all six gears. Meanwhile, the little turbocharged four-cylinder engine just loves to spin itself faster and faster, and it is such fun to let it.

Sure, there are other cars like this one out there -- ordinary compact cars tuned for performance. Volkswagen (VLKAF), Mitsubishi and Subaru (FUJHY) all make them. But this one, built in Europe by an American company and now newly available here in the States, is my favorite one yet. Welcome to the global economy.

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