The high-performance 2016 Focus RS features four specialized drive modes. Stunt driver Prestin Persson gets behind the wheel to take them to their limit, and the results may leave you breathless
Meet the 2016 Ford Focus RS
I’m screaming around a closed track at 160 mph, palms sweaty, knuckles white. High speeds may be nothing new to the woman at the wheel—professional stunt driver Prestin Persson—but they are to me. We slow down to bank into a steep curve, then we hit a straightaway and the guardrail goes blurry again. Reaching these hypersonic speeds is also nothing new for our ultra-high-performance car, the Focus RS. What is new is seeing this model on U.S. soil.
Ford enthusiasts have been salivating over the RS for years, but it hasn’t been available here—until now. The excitement comes with good reason: This powerful, compact hatchback can hold its own on a racetrack, but it is also made for spirited driving on any terrain. That’s because the Focus RS features four drive modes (including a unique Drift mode setting), each calibrated for a specialized style of driving, that are switchable at the touch of a button. It also features an AWD engineering marvel called Ford Performance All-Wheel Drive with Dynamic Torque Vectoring (more on that later).
We wanted to see what these modes could do, so we took the RS to a place with varied driving environments: Ford’s Michigan Proving Grounds, in the town of Romeo. And to pilot this adventure, we asked Persson—a veteran racer with an extensive résumé in commercials and TV shows. In other words, she knows cars. Fast cars. Of course, she jumped at the chance.
Normal Mode: Sunday Drive
The first stop in our Nitrous Blue Focus RS: the Proving Grounds’ flat, winding country roads—the perfect terrain for experiencing Normal mode.
Here, we do some easy cruising—basically, everyday driving. But it’s far from mundane for Persson, who’s practically glowing as she steers us around. The car is “fast and sporty,” she says, bolstered by super-responsive steering and an optimized front suspension. And she loves the six-speed manual’s reinforced clutch and transmission, which incorporates a shorter gear shift. “It shifts quicker than I can snap my fingers!” she exclaims. This car would be perfect for everything from commuting to entertaining clients to taking a vineyard tour of Napa and “cornering those winding dirt roads,” she says.
Powering our drive is a turbocharged 2.3L EcoBoost® engine that helps the Focus RS churn out an awe-inspiring 350 horsepower.* Direct fuel injection means the engine is still remarkably efficient, and it even cycles off when idle, thanks to the Auto Start-Stop technology. It’s also deceptively powerful: quiet one moment, then roaring to life as soon as Persson touches the gas pedal.
But this is just the beginning; the big roars are still ahead of us.
Sport Mode: Taking Turns
One touch of the control switch moves the Focus RS into Sport mode—perfect for our next drive through a forested course with hills and hairpin turns.
As we attack the sharp bends, Persson comments on the car’s “serious braking abilities,” and she’s spot on. This car has a powerful braking system, made up of Brembo brakes with 13-inch rotors and four-piston calipers with performance pads. She also notices Sport mode’s increased responsiveness, feeling the firmer steering.
And we both feel the effects of one of the RS’s unique features: Ford Performance All-Wheel Drive with Dynamic Torque Vectoring. This automated system can deliver 350 lb.-ft. torque throughout the vehicle and send much of that to the rear axle. There, twin clutches distribute it to the wheel that needs it most. So if the left wheel were on ice and the right wheel on dry pavement, the car wouldn’t spin out because the RS would know to send all available torque to the side with traction.
The result? An “incredibly aggressive bite that’s perfect for high-speed cornering,” says Persson. She hits the gas and demonstrates, as I reach for the door handle to hang on.
Track Mode: Fast Times
Of course, this was just a warm-up for some serious speed. Persson dons her black and white racing suit as we change to Track mode and head to the oval, helmets in hand.
Soon, the engine gurgles with each upshift as we hit 60, 80, 120 mph. My eyes bug out as the speedometer pushes 165. “This car is wicked fast,” Persson says,nonchalantly. “And it’s handling exceptionally well—firm but responsive.”
The change in damping is stark in this mode, and the electronic stability control is reduced. That allows for broader slip angles, which means more control of the vehicle’s trajectory. And with each lap, the Focus RS’s AWD system is regulating our cornering by evaluating such factors as speed, yaw and steering wheel direction. But I’m focused on the serious G’s we’re pulling at this speed. Thanks to the enhanced aerodynamic redesign of the front grille, a rear diffuser and the unique spoiler addition, the Focus RS creates zero lift overall for optimum high-speed handling. It’s exhilarating.
Yet it’s not noisy. At all. That’s because specially designed “jet tunnels” are helping to cool the Brembo brakes. As we bank into a turn, Persson says, “The noise in here wouldn’t wake a baby.”
Persson revs the engine, enables Launch Control, punches the gas, and hits 60 mph in a little under five seconds. It’s an impressive performance. What’s also impressive is the technology behind it: The Focus RS’s AWD system is working to prevent any wheel slippage when the vehicle takes off from a standing stop. Based on our rocket-like start—and the smile on Persson’s face after our test—it’s clear that the Launch Control function has achieved its desired effect.
Drift Mode: In Focus
“Buckle up,” says Persson, as we prepare to test the final mode. And I do. After all, drifting is the technique of oversteering to cause a loss of traction. Intentionally. I keep telling myself that I’m riding with a professional driver, in a car designed to do this.
We speed down a straightaway, then Persson jerks the wheel and sends the RS sideways into a controlled slide. What happens is amazing: The back end glides across the asphalt as if on a string, leaving a cloud of white smoke in our wake. It’s surprisingly smooth. And absolutely thrilling.
The key to Drift mode is the Dynamic Torque Vectoring system, which, in a matter of micro-seconds, analyzes the force needed in each wheel and can send all available torque to the rear wheels as needed. Without having to worry about working the gas pedal—as you would in a car without this feature—Persson can focus on finessing the steering wheel to better control the drift. “Drifting is kind of like a dance,” she explains. “Balancing power is key.”
I appreciate the technology, but I’m addicted to the adrenaline; I want to feel the rush one more time. “Let’s drift again,” I say. Persson smiles, steers the Focus RS onto a straightaway, and steps on the gas.
Source | Myfordmag.com