2016 Ford Focus RS VS. Ford Focus WRC
In a rather unexpected turn of events, Ford took the automotive world by surprise in early 2015, when it introduced a host of high-performance models, such as the second-generation GT supercar, the Shelby GT350R and the third-gen Focus RS. They are all part of the Blue Oval’s new performance offensive, and harken back to iconic classics from the company’s rich motorsport history. Since we’ve already discussed both the GT and the Shelby GT350R, it is time to turn our attention to the Focus RS, a race-bred hatchback inspired by Ford’s WRC-winning RS World Rally Car.
Sure, you’re probably ready to point out that the brand-new RS is in no way related to the Focus WRC, which was retired at the end of the 2010 season and replaced by a Fiesta-based rally car, but that’s not entirely true. While the Focus may have ended its career as a rally car more than four years ago, its spirit was summoned back to life with more rally-inspired technology than ever, including an all-wheel-drive system. Keep reading to find out what makes the 2016 Focus RS the spiritual successor to the previous-gen Focus WRC.
Click past the jump to learn which version is better: street or race!
As far as styling goes, it’s quite obvious that the Focus RS was developed as a rally car for the road, in the same way Subaru and Mitsubishi did with the latest iterations of their WRX STi and Lancer Evo. The third-gen Focus RS and the final Focus WRC may be four years apart, but they both share rally features like flared fenders, big wheels, a massive wing on the tailgate and even the trapezoidal grille above the front splitter. The fact that Ford skipped on a third-gen Focus WRC didn’t stop it from later building a menacing rally car for the road.
It’s also true that the Focus Mk.3 misses the race-bred diffuser both the rally car and the Mk.2 model had, and that the new hatchback is only available with five doors. The lack of a three-door version may have something to do with Ford’s desire to blend performance with practicality, but I’m a bit annoyed with the thought of Seat having an SC Cupra 280 with just three doors in European dealerships. And besides, how many enthusiasts actually considering a Focus RS are thinking about hooning it with the wife in the passenger seat and the kiddos in the back. Besides me, I mean.
The fact of the matter is, the 2016 Focus RS and the Focus WRC have quite a lot in common as long as you ignore the extra two doors. I’m sure that if Ford had continued its WRC program with the third-gen Focus, the newly unleashed RS would’ve mirrored the rally car in nearly every aspect.
Naturally, this is where these cars have nothing in common other than the Focus dashboard that’s been extensively revised for the third-generation hatch.
Step into the 2016 Focus RS and you will find yourself hugged by a Recaro sports seat, surrounded by a multitude of RS badges and a flat-bottomed steering wheel. Check a special box on the options list and Ford will replace the seats with a pair of RS Recaro shells wrapped in microfiber. Besides being cool, it’s the only true WRC feature of the 2016 RS.
On the flipside, the previous-generation Focus WRC racer came with no convenience features whatsoever. The cockpit contained a stripped dashboard, stripped door panels, FIA-spec shell seats, an Alcantara-wrapped steering devoid of any buttons or switches, and the mandatory rollcage. I don’t know about you, but I find the WRC interior particularly sexy. Maybe because I’m not crazy about gadgets, tech, and driving aids.
The bottom line is, comparing the 2016 Focus RS with the 2010 Focus WRC is like comparing apples and coconuts. Confused yet? Don’t be, this comparison has a purpose and we’re almost there...
What makes the 2016 Focus RS the closest relative to the previous-generation rally car is not the powerplant or the transmission, but the all-wheel-drive system. Fitted for the very first time on a road-going Focus, the intelligent AWD unit is unusual, as it can send up to 70 percent of the available torque to the rear wheels, using a so-called Rear Drive Unit (RDU), which consists of two electronically controlled clutch packs that act as a limited-slip differential. It doesn’t get any better than this as far as racing technology for the road goes, and it puts the Focus RS at a significant advantage when compared to other hot-hatches.
Sure, Ford’s brand-new AWD system has nothing in common with the technology developed for the rally car, but the fact of the matter is the 2016 Focus RS could hold its own through a World Rally Championship event with a proper suspension system, a stripped interior, a roll cage and a retuned engine. Of course, it would be no match for the Volkswagen Polo WRC or the Fiesta WRC, but it would fare better than any other road-legal hot-hatch with the same updates, including the Golf R.
AWD aside, the RS and WRC have nothing in common under the skin. While the brand-new hatch is motivated by the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine shared with the Ford Mustang, the rally car used to find its way through tarmac, mud and snow using a heavily modified version of the company’s 2.0-liter, Duratec four-banger. The unit was borrowed from other Ford models, as the FIA did not allow the Blue Oval to use the 2.5-liter, five-cylinder unit offered in the Focus ST and road-going RS. Other race-spec features that made the Focus WRC an exciting yet dangerous place to be included a Garrett turbocharger, an M-Sport/Ricardo five-speed sequential gearbox with electro-hydraulically controlled shift, and an M-Sport/Sachs multi-disc carbon clutch, an M-Sport designed active center differential, Pi electronic differential control units, and a Pi electronic engine management system.
That’s a lot of cool gear we can’t have in the 2016 Focus RS, but, at the same time, it’s not something we need given the car’s actual purpose.
Comparing a road car to its rally-spec sibling might not be the best way to highlight the former, but with all-wheel-drive now part of the Focus RS equation, we can finally describe it as a WRC car for the road. The evolution is obvious. It took Ford more than a decade to do what Subaru and Mitsubishi did with the Impreza and the Lancer, but the Focus has finally joined the ranks of road-legal, AWD vehicles offered with a dash of WRC’s unique zest in them. It’s something both Citroen and Peugeot — which have won 11 WRC championships between 2000 and 2012 — have yet to accomplish. What’s more, the 2016 Focus RS is something U.S. enthusiasts can finally enjoy!