When I bought my brand-new, shiny, bluer-than-blue 2016 Ford Focus RS in October of that same year, I had never owned any car for longer than three and a half years. Fiesta ST? Returned after a 24 month lease. Boss 302? Barely made a third birthday. The record holder was actually a 2001 Hyundai Santa Fe GLX, which lasted 42 months and 91,000 miles before I chopped it in on a 2004 Mazda RX-8 in May of 2005.
So even I would have been surprised to learn that I would end up keeping the sparkly jelly bean for a total of 54 months and 47,500 miles. Did I keep it around because I was enthralled by its burbly exhaust, enraptured by its spartan interior, or captivated by the stiff suspension?
In a word: No.
The truth is that I really didn’t like the Focus RS very much at all. And despite what you may have read on the internet, you probably wouldn’t like one, either.
The idea behind getting the Focus was a simple one, really. I had absolutely adored my Fiesta ST. To this day, I’ve yet to find a car that is easier to drive at the top of its capabilities than the FiST. It was cheap, it was quick, and it had great fuel economy.
No, it wasn’t fast. But I didn’t mind that so much—it felt very fast, and the torque vectoring up front meant that you could drive it pretty much like I used to drive the RoadRunner carts at Malibu Grand Prix back in the day, which is to say that you could floor it everywhere. Brake pads were cheap (if not always readily available) and so were tires.
And any complaints I had about it were quickly erased when I reminded myself that I was leasing it for less than half of what my Boss 302 monthly payments had been. Squeaky clutch? Cheap! SYNC? Cheap! Microscopic back seats? Still cheap!
So when the opportunity to buy a Focus RS fell into my lap (keep in mind, they were mostly special order only initially), I jumped at it. I had never even driven one before I sent my deposit—not really all that uncommon at that time for that car. But I figured that the Focus RS would be just like the Fiesta ST, only it would be more of everything. More power, more grip—and, oh yes, more money. Nearly twice as much, to be precise.
To be fair, it really was more of those things. But it was also more of things I didn’t want.
It was definitely more power, but it was delivered in a way that I didn’t necessarily love. The car was temperamental about how it delivered the power, and it ran out of it after about 75-80 MPH. It might have been able to get the jump on a few cars out of the box, thanks to the AWD, but even the legendary V6 Accord would have stomped it in a 40 roll.
The track demeanor was weird. The stock braking system was just not suitable for track use in any way—the fluid would boil very quickly and the pedal would drop to the floor. Replacing it with racing fluid didn’t help much, as I found out when I competed at the SCCA Time Trials Nationals and the car tried to end my life prematurely at the end of the back straight at 125 MPH. My 2016 FoRS was not equipped with an LSD up front (this was rectified in later models), so it ate front brake pads at record rates with its pseudo, brake-powered torque vectoring, LSD simulation.
What the car really needed was even more power, more braking, and definitely less “drift mode.” I think I engaged it once.
Could I have solved these issues with modifications? Not from what I’ve seen on track. I’ve competed against two heavily modified Focus RS models in the SCCA Targa, and the power mods just seemed to make the car worse—definitely more prone to overheating.
But thus far all I’ve talked about is track behavior, which accounted for roughly 1% of my FoRS life. Let’s talk about the other 99%, which was as a daily driver. It wasn’t great.
I’m on the smaller side, so I don’t mind the Recaros as much as some of the, ahem, beefier owners seemed to. But the suspension is a spine crusher. Thirty minutes at a time was about all I ever wanted to do behind the wheel. After that, my back complained vociferously.
Let’s be real—the interior is garbage. Any other car at a similar price point, save for maybe the comparable Subarus, would be better. You can only trick yourself into thinking its sporty and functional for so long. After that, you’ll be wondering why Corollas have cooler features and functionalities than you do. And now that my kids are four years older and bigger than they were when I bought the car, the back seat was no longer particularly viable for them for any period of extended driving.
The car needs top notch tires to be enjoyable—part of the magic of the FoRS comes from its grip. With stock 19″ rims, that means you’ll be dropping $1200 on tires about once every 18 months, even if you go with PS4S over the stock PSC2. That also means snow tires and wheels, unless you’re fortunate enough to live in an area that is not so afflicted, so budget another $2k for that. I mean, I drove in the winter on PS4S, but you should definitely not do that.
So why did I keep it so long if I didn’t love it that much?
There was part of me that was convinced that a Nitrous Blue, first-year Focus RS might become a Bring a Trailer cash cow someday—and honestly, I still think that. But ultimately I realized that my Focus RS would not be the car that a BaT buyer would want. It had 47XXX miles, it had a small crack in the front bumper from when a fellow soccer dad backed into me in the school parking lot, it had a cracked rear taillight from when I bumped into it carrying a Rubbermaid container, road rash on one of the rims…safe to say that it was not Concours quality.
There was another part of me that really felt that I should love it more than I did. I mean, it was God’s Own Hatchback, right? So why not keep it? Never mind that it was largely imperfect for my life.
Plus, my son loved it. His friends still took pictures of it on their phones and asked for spirited rides in the back seat. Dad had a “racecar.” Do I hate disappointing my son? Does Maxine Waters like riots?
Lastly, I was unemployed for much of 2020, just like the rest of the world, and felt the best course of action was to keep my head down and keep on making payments.
Now, the good news is that I appear to be somewhat alone in my general dislike of the Focus RS, because Vroom gave me a metric ton of money for it, despite its flaws (and because of the current lack of inventory on car lots, which we’ll discuss later this week). So I was able to dispose of it relatively easily (we’ll also discuss the Vroom process this week) and for about 75% of what I paid for it 54 months ago.
So if you’d like to take your own shot at FoRS ownership, feel free to look mine up on Vroom and have it delivered to your driveway. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.