Southern California is home to some of the automobile industry’s most creative car customizers. It’s not unusual to see tuners, hooligan cars or even Hoonigan copies, like the ones custom built by YouTube star Ken Block, carving up the LA concrete.
The Focus RS, the performance version of Ford’s successful line of Focus hatchbacks, is a great car for this category.
Fitted with a manual transmission and a 2.3-liter Ecoboost engine that makes a shuddering 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, it’s a shameless bad boy of an automobile, good for absolutely nothing except having fun.
The entry-level Focus is a sedate sedan, a four-door, five-passenger family car. It has a starting suggested retail price of $17,225, gets terrific fuel economy and could be a dictionary definition for basic, boring transportation.
But it makes a marvelous platform for the performance upgrades that turn the boring Focus into a hot hatch.
Upgrade the 2.0-liter engine, get rid of the automatic transmission, stiffen up the suspension, add a spoiler, and suddenly it’s badass — a wolf, wearing sheep’s clothing, ready to tear up the town.
The RS version presents a very engaged driving experience. Riding on low-profile Michelin Super Sport summer tires, the car sits squat and square and close to the ground. It weighs a very manageable 3,459 pounds, Ford says.
The combination of a tight, six-speed gearbox, stiff clutch pedal and firm suspension, paired with the roaring turbocharged engine and Brembo front disc brakes, can make a run to the supermarket feel like a real adventure.
And for the track, the RS comes with adjustable suspension settings, launch control and driving modes that include Normal, Track and Drift settings and adjustable traction control.
There’s even a Track section in the owners’ manual, giving tips about tire pressure, oil temperature and other matters not likely to become an issue if you’re stuck in traffic on the freeway.
I don’t drift, and I didn’t get to the track, but the precision of the electronic steering and the stickiness of the all-wheel-drive system become really apparent on a windy road, where the RS carves like a far more expensive car. The RS humbled me with how much better it is at high speed cornering than I am.
Around city streets, the RS can behave like a gentleman. The basic car comes standard with tilt steering wheel, leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual power point plug-ins and 60-40 split rear seats, and wears comfortable Recaro upholstery.
It’s also fitted with fog lamps, rearview camera and push-button start.
The model I borrowed also had a wild Nitrous Blue Quad-Coat paint job (a $695 option), 19-inch alloy wheels (18-inch are standard), and heated front seat and steering wheel — all of which pushed the retail price to $40,255.
That’s a lot of money for a Ford Focus. But it’s not a lot of money for a BMW, Audi, Alfa Romeo or Porsche, and the Focus RS does most of the things those cars do, and some of them almost as well — for two-thirds or half the price.
Since it’s a Ford, it won’t have the curb appeal of those European models. But who are you trying to impress — your friends, or yourself?
At a Glance
Quick take: It’s a hooligan hot wheels car
Highs: Stick shift, stiff suspension create driving fun
Lows: They can also create commuter discomfort
Vehicle type: Four-door, five-passenger hatchback
Base price: $36,775
Price as tested: $40,225
Powertrain: 2.36-liter, four-cylinder, turbo-charged gasoline engine
Transmission: AWD, six-speed manual
Torque: 350 pound-feet
EPA fuel economy rating: 19 miles per gallon city / 25 highway / 22 combined