We can’t all be Ken Block. Heck, even Ken Block wouldn’t be Ken Block without the right set of wheels. That’s why Ford has built him all those custom rides. It won’t do the same for the rest of us, exactly, but after spending a couple of grin-inducing days with the new Focus RS in southern Spain, we’re convinced it’s the next best thing.

The name may say Focus, but don’t be fooled. The RS boasts roughly triple the base model’s punch, and nearly a hundred more horses than the Focus ST. It also packs a trick all-wheel drive system and an aggressive aero kit that cuts lift to zero at both ends. It’s meaner and more purposeful, and encompasses all manner of wizardry designed to make it go faster and put a bigger smile on your face.

Of course, it’s also more expensive: at $35,730, it costs roughly twice what a base Focus would, or over ten grand more than a Focus ST. Put another way, the Focus RS costs about the same as a Volkswagen Golf R or Subaru WRX STI – both of which boast similar specs, but with significantly less power. With all that in mind, and to find out in person just how Ford’s new pocket rocket performs, we headed to Valencia, Spain – which happens to be where Ford makes the engines for the Focus RS, but also offers some of the best driving roads (and one of the best tracks) we could ask for.

Continue reading for the full story.

Sliding into the Focus RS can send mixed signals. While clearly based on the Focus, the larger wheels, bigger vents, and aerodynamic protrusions tell you this is no mere econo-box. However the interior only gives you a few subtle cues to its capabilities: a beefier wheel, well-bolstered seats, some extra gauges atop the dashboard... otherwise it feels pretty much like any other Focus inside. But once you get moving, any lingering doubts about paying BMW money for a Ford are put to rest.

2016 Ford Focus RS - Driving Impressions High Resolution Exterior
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At its heart sits the 2.3-liter EcoBoost four from the Mustang, but here it packs an even mightier punch with 350 horsepower and just as much torque. It makes a beautiful noise that Ford clearly spent considerable time honing, with pops and bangs and burbles once unleashed. Although the engine exhibits a bit of turbo lag down low in the rev range, once you get it up to speed, the experience can prove intoxicating. The six-speed manual is a pleasure to row, with its short throw and positive engagement, but it will happily pull along in third gear in most situations. Ford claims a 0-62 time of 4.7 seconds, and after driving it on twisting country roads, down the highway, and around the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, we were left with no doubt about it.

Ford claims a 0-62 time of 4.7 seconds, and after driving it on twisting country roads, down the highway, and around the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, we were left with no doubt about it.

Power being worth only as much as it can put down on the road, Ford developed in tandem with the suspension a trick all-wheel drive system that can send up to 70 percent of available torque to the rear wheels, and up to 100 percent of that torque to either side. Ford engineered it for oversteer, with a rear axle that can spin twice as fast as the front to make it tail-happy when you want it to be, and employed a brake-based torque vectoring system to keep it under control when you need it. The result is a vehicle that feels like it’s neither being pushed nor pulled – it just moves in symbiotic harmony to get you down the road or track in a hurry.

If you do plan on driving it on the track with any degree of frequency, the options list presents some enticing choices. To lap around the 2.5 circuit where F1 teams test and MotoGP races, we stepped out from the standard setup with the cushy but well-bolstered bucket seats to the optional racing shells. Forged alloys also shed two pounds of unsprung weight from each corner, shod with Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber instead of the standard Super Sports. Michelin developed both types specifically for the Focus RS, but where the standard rubber is designed for use 80 percent on the road and 20 percent on the track, the Cup tires switch that proportion around.

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Fortunately the Focus RS comes standard with the stopping power to keep its prodigious forward momentum in check. The Brembo brakes are the most powerful ever bolted to an RS model, both larger and lighter than the previous version’s, which never made it to the United States – like its predecessors, but unlike this latest model that was developed as a global product. Those brakes are as big as Ford could fit, and provide truckloads of stopping force and positive feedback. That’s somewhat less the case with the electric power steering system, which carries over from the ST, but with a quicker rack and linear gearing to point the RS just where you want it to be.

It's the kind of experience you'd expect of a dedicated sports car, but with the usability of a four-door hatchback, the Focus RS is a vehicle we'd be glad to drive every day.

It’s the kind of experience you’d expect of a dedicated sports car, but with the usability of a four-door hatchback, the Focus RS is a vehicle we’d be glad to drive every day. That versatility is only augmented by the configurable drive modes that run from Normal, to Sport, up to Track, and on to this model’s party trick: Drift mode. The settings tweak the all-wheel drive system, dampers, steering, engine, stability control, and exhaust to transform the Focus RS from docile daily driver to precision performance machine.

2016 Ford Focus RS - Driving Impressions High Resolution Exterior
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Drift mode turns it into an amusement-park ride. Toggle to the last of the drive modes and the computer will leave the dampers and steering in their normal settings, but dial up the engine, stability, and exhaust to Sport, while switching the all-wheel drive system to a special calibration for hooning. Then it’s a simple matter of slipping into first, releasing the clutch, dialing in the steering, and modulating the throttle. The system doesn’t exactly do it all for you, but it optimizes the conditions to let you giddily get your drift on. And that’s no mean feat in an all-wheel-drive hatchback.

Of course, contrary to the rest of the vehicle’s setup, Drift mode is rather pointless. It won’t get you there any faster, shift any smoother, or save you any fuel. In fact using it will burn through Michelin rubber at what’s sure to be an alarming pace. But it sure is a lot of fun. And in the end, that’s supposed to be the point of a driving tool like the new Ford Focus RS. For realizing as much, we salute the good folks at Ford. The product of all their hard work may not turn you into the next Ken Block, but it may very well make you feel like you could be.

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