2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Final Edition vs. 2017 Ford Focus RS: Little racers, big fun?
This week: 2017 Ford Focus RS
Price: $40,255 as tested. A base RS can be had for $35,900. The RS2 package added eight-way power driver's seat and leather-trimmed Recaro seats; and heated mirrors, front-seats, and steering wheel for $2,785.
Marketer's pitch: "Exhilaration. By Design."
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com liked the "outlandish turbocharged power . . . extreme grip when going around turns; many high-tech options available" but not that "no automatic transmission [is] offered; rear legroom is tight for adults; the standard Recaro front sport seats might be uncomfortably narrow for some."
Reality: Now this is how a racer should be.
What a ride: Every once in a while, out of nowhere comes just . . . a really fun machine to drive.
Sure, I expect it from a Jaguar. A BMW. A Miata.
But a Focus hatchback? I figured at best it'd be a cramped tuner with unforgiving suspension.
Need for speed: The RS should stand for rubber squealing, which used to happen when we were having fun in cars. But now it never actually happens, thanks to modern traction controls and all-wheel drive. Still, the RS turned every S-curve and interstate on-ramp into a swinging good time.
Up to speed: The 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine creates 350 horsepower - 40 more than the Mustang's EcoBoost engine of the same size, and 50 more than the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Final Edition. When pushed, the RS races to astonishing speeds in no time. Car and Driver claims a 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds, actually 0.2 seconds slower than the Lancer Evolution Final Edition, but that seemed hard for me to believe.
It could be hard to shift fast enough to keep up with the acceleration - six gears divided by 4.6 seconds means a shift more than once a second. I had to remind myself how to shift quickly to avoid losing momentum - and also to avoid hearing complaints from the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat.
Bad driving aside, the transmission seemed ideally mated to the RS. Sixth gear had plenty of overdrive but still gave enough oomph for some highway passing when I was feeling really lazy. But I'd rather just move it to fourth or third and have some fun.
On the curves: Sheer joy. The Focus RS could roar around curves and send everyone giggling the whole way.
Driver's Seat: Edmunds isn't kidding about the Recaro bucket seats. Drivers will quickly notice how sharp the wedges, er, edges can be when settling into the wrong spot. But the seat inspired me to eat a healthier diet and get some exercise.
Rev some tunes: The exhaust note - from a first little chirp when unlocking the door, to the revs that accompanied acceleration, to the downshifts that come afterward - is lovely.
Play some tunes: But if that sound is not enough, the RS stereo system has you covered. Sound quality is an A-, just not quite perfect.
Ford has brought its Sync system a long way in the last five years. The Focus dispatches the four-corner tabs for a more straightforward screen-based selection of navigation, radio, or media.
Keeping warm or cool: A pair of dials controls the temperature, while annoyingly well-concealed buttons control the fan speed. A diagram of a human makes directing the airflow a little easier.
Cheap look: The gauges looked like bad plastic, and the add-on dials that showed oil temperature, pressure, and turbocharge boost pressure looked fake.
Friends and stuff: Unlike the Lancer, the Focus RS comes in hatchback form, so it's fun and versatile.
Rear-seat passengers will suffer a bit more in the legroom and headroom departments, while the Lancer was roomier.
Fuel economy: I averaged about 23 mpg, not too bad for how I brutalized this poor little car. The RS takes premium, please.
Tiny tank: The fuel tank is troublingly undersized for the Focus RS. I found myself having to fill up every 200 miles or face the warning light illuminating.
Where it's built: Saarlouis, Germany
How it's built: The run-of-the-mill Focus consistently lands in the bottom of Consumer Reports reliability surveys, but most Focus models are built at the Michigan Assembly Plant. No separate data were listed for the RS, but the C-Max is also built in Saarlouis, and it gets an average reliability rating.
In the end: I just rationalized the heck out of the Focus quality issues. Go ahead. It's that fun.