One of the newest entries in a very elite class, the 2017 Ford Focus RS provides world-class performance in a compact package. It offers a mix of power and handling that should please even the most die-hard enthusiasts, while hatchback versatility and straightforward tech features bolster the everyday usability of Ford’s hottest hatchback.
The Ford Focus RS is unchanged for the 2017 model year. This high-performance variant of the Ford Focus seats five passengers and is offered only as a four-door hatchback. It comes standard with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a six-speed manual transmission and all-wheel drive.
There’s no denying its compact car roots, but the 2017 Focus RS carries unique design cues that telegraph its performance-oriented nature. Its face is dominated by a unique grille and front fascia, which includes automatic HID headlights, LED signature lighting and fog lights. RS-specific rocker moldings provide some visual interest to the profile, along with painted 19-inch aluminum wheels that are wrapped in summer tires. A sizable spoiler and a dual exhaust system are visible at the rear. Other standard features include a capless fuel filler and side mirrors with integrated turn signals.
A few exterior upgrades are offered, including a power sunroof, heated side mirrors and two additional wheel choices.
While sports cars traditionally fall short when it comes to utility, hot hatchbacks like the Focus RS strike a balance for buyers who prioritize performance, but need decent interior room for cargo and passengers, too. It isn’t quite as roomy in back as competitors like the Volkswagen Golf R, but the Focus RS delivers enough head- and legroom up front for most buyers to remain comfortable.
Front-seat occupants are treated to an upright seating position on supportive Recaro seats, which do an exceptional job of keeping you firmly in place on spirited drives. Space is a little less welcoming in the second row, but the rear seats should be fine for adult passengers on shorter drives. Lower the 60/40-split folding rear seat and you’ll find a useful 44.8 cubic feet of cargo space. With all seats in place the Focus RS has 19 .9 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second row.
Like the base Ford Focus, the RS model features a modern cabin design with a prominent center stack providing some separation between the two front seats. Most surfaces are covered in materials that look and feel upscale for the class, while partial leather upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control and keyless entry/ignition are among the Focus RS’ standard features. Full leather upholstery, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel are available to give the cabin a more premium feel.
Exceptional power and athletic handling that’s abetted by all-wheel grip make the 2017 Focus RS one of the most thrilling cars to drive in the hot-hatch segment. Power comes from a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. That engine is mated exclusively to a six-speed manual transmission and all-wheel drive. Fuel economy stands at an EPA-estimated 19/25 mpg city/highway.
Ford says that the Focus RS can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 4.7 seconds, and we see no reason to doubt that claim. It offers 45 more horsepower than a Subaru WRX STI, and nearly 60 more horsepower when compared against a Volkswagen Golf R. While the latter may be the most refined and the former has established itself as a benchmark among small, track-ready cars, the Focus RS’ ample power and athletic driving dynamics make it exceptionally rewarding to drive.
A rush of power is available almost instantly from the turbo-four, providing enough thrust to push you back in your seat under hard acceleration. That power is matched to a sport-tuned, two-mode suspension and precise steering that allow the Focus RS to handle with surgical precision. Make no mistake, this is a particularly enjoyable car to take on spirited drives through switchbacks and winding backroads.
All that athleticism comes with some compromise as the ride is far from comfort tuned, but driving enthusiasts will find little fault with the Focus RS’ responsive powertrain and engaging handling.
The Focus RS comes with an impressive suite of tech features, with Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system serving as the access point for all entertainment, phone and navigation functions. Sync 3 is one of the most impressive infotainment systems we’ve tested, as it offers quick response times and fully integrates smartphones via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. It also includes an 8-inch touch screen and voice recognition. A 10-speaker Sony audio system, HD radio, satellite radio, Bluetooth and two USB ports are also included.
The available navigation system is particularly impressive: While many systems require owners to input a full address, including city, state and ZIP code, Sync 3 will search for nearby locations using just a street address, intersection or POI from the same entry field. It may seem like a small detail, but this straightforward user interface makes it really easy to set your destination and get your trip underway.
The Ford Focus RS earned four out of five stars for its overall performance in crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Every Focus RS comes standard with a rearview camera. Ford’s MyKey system is also standard, allowing owners to set limits on parameters such as the top speed and stereo volume for younger drivers. Notably, features such as forward collision warning and lane departure warning are not offered on the 2017 Focus RS.
The Ford Focus RS starts at $36,120, not including an $875 destination charge. It’s a very well equipped model at that price, with a power moonroof ($875) and an available RS2 package ($2,785) that brings in navigation, full leather upholstery and a heated steering wheel and seats making up the bulk of the available options.
While we love the driving experience that the Focus RS provides, it may over serve some buyers who are simply looking for rewarding driving dynamics in a sporty, well-rounded package. As a result, we’d encourage potential buyers to investigate cars like the Volkswagen GTI and the related Ford Focus ST. While neither offers the RS’ copious amount of power and all-wheel-drive traction, both models provide a satisfying driving experience at a significantly lower price.
If you’re an enthusiast with room for just one car in your garage, the 2017 Ford Focus RS may offer the perfect mix of performance, technology and utility. While all-wheel drive and powerful turbocharged engines can be found on its primary competitors, the Focus RS punches above its weight class with more horsepower and engaging handling that should have even novice drivers grinning from ear to ear.
Its hatchback versatility makes the Focus RS an agreeable companion for weekend errands, too, while the standard Sync 3 system stands head and shoulders above the tech offerings that you’ll find in competing performance-oriented hatchbacks. The only notable omission is the lack of available driver assistance features. If you want forward collision warning or blind spot monitoring, you’ll need to look to competitors like the Volkswagen Golf R. However, if you’re willing to sacrifice those features and pay the price premium for 350 horsepower and all-wheel drive, the Focus RS is a fully competitive entry in a small, and very exclusive, class.