We’ve waited a long time for the Ford Focus RS to finally make it to these shores. A Euro-only offering for three decades, the best-ever Rally Sport version of the automaker’s popular subcompact hatch offers a 350-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, trick AWD system and sporty chassis that takes it to a new level of performance. Our encounter with the RS didn’t allow for a full exploration of its formidable limits. But even a short stint in this rival to cars like the Subaru WRX STI and Volkswagen Golf R confirmed Ford has crafted one seriously impressive bit of business.

Visually, the Focus RS telegraphs its potential with unique exterior styling. It matches an aggressive front fascia that boasts a deep aero-enhancing splitter and larger air intakes with a prominent fixed rear wing. It rides on 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires or even stickier optional Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber. Things are a bit more understated inside. Save for some seriously bolstered, torso-hugging Recaro sport seats (done in optional black leather with blue stitching on our car), a flat-bottom multifunction steering wheel, 180-mph speedometer, supplemental gauge cluster on the dash with turbo boost, oil temperature and oil pressure readouts plus a selection of RS logos, the cabin looks much like any other Focus. 

Attitude aplenty

Push the start button and comparisons with any other Focus model immediately vanishes. The engine snaps to life with a raspy bark that gains additional emphasis as you step more deeply into the throttle. While the 2.3-liter engine still does need some revs to get going, by 3,000 rpm it’s fully on its game and pulls smartly and strongly to a 6,500 rpm redline. With 325 lb-ft of torque from 2,000-4,500 rpm and 350 available in overboost for shorter periods, this purpose-tweaked version of the 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine used in the Mustang can send the RS streaking from 0-60 mph in less than 5.0 seconds, helped by a slick-shifting close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission. It also can propel this ultra-Focus to an estimated top end of 165 mph. Beyond those formidable numbers, the new RS also delivers one undeniably exhilarating visceral kick on demand.

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Although our time in the Focus RS was confined to a selection of city streets and urban freeways in the LA area, even this less-than-ideal venue gives a good idea of what Ford’s hottest hatch has to offer. The car’s structure and chassis have been reinforced to cope with the extra muscle and the total package is nothing short of superb. Quick, precise and nicely weighted steering is teamed with an adjustable suspension system – although one that is best left in standard rather than Sport mode on all but the smoothest pavement. Stopping power comes from huge, fade-free Brembo brakes. But the star of this dynamic mix is a racing-inspired torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system that sets the RS apart from its competitors.

A real thriller

Developed by British engineering firm GKN, the on-demand AWD package in this fab Ford includes a separate electronically controlled lockable clutch for each rear wheel. In addition to shipping up to 70 percent of the available power to the rear as needed, these clutches allow vectoring up to 100 percent of that motive force to either aft tire in just 0.06 second. Extremely transparent, the system keeps the RS tracking true and holding the line under almost any circumstances. As a final flourish, the car complements its Normal/Sport/Track modes with a dedicated “Drift” setting that facilitates controlled, tail-out/tire-shredding maneuvers. Unfortunately, exploring that particular aspect of its personality was not in the cards this time around, but expect that to change next month when we get a far more extensive second shot in the RS.

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Last but far from least, Ford has done a most impressive job of pricing the Focus RS. Fully capable of being used as a daily driver as well as a track-ready weekend warrior, it starts at $37,995. And even when pumped to $42,770 as was our test model with its full leather interior and Sport Cup 2 wheel/tire upgrade, the Focus RS remains a solid value for anyone who needs to blend those performance with practicality. 

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