/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

Roadshow editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

2016 Ford Focus RS: Blue-collar budget, white-collar performance Ford's latest RS could be about as close to perfect as they come.

alexgoy.jpg
focus-rs-site.jpg
Watch this: Is the 2016 Ford Focus RS the best hot hatch ever?

It's been said that there's no such thing as a "perfect" car. For enthusiasts like me, such a vehicle would have two seats, hit 60 mph from rest in under 5 seconds, be able to swallow a flat-pack wardrobe from IKEA, cost very little and turn more heads than a Ferrari. A unicorn, in other words.

As such, the cars that get closest to "perfect" for me are the hot hatches. The really quick versions of cars British mothers drive their children to school in. They're a little angrier to look at, have more power than a small car really should and still have cavernous trunks for all the stuff a modern child requires. Now, Ford's daily hot hatches are the ST cars. The Fiesta ST being one of the best out there, the Focus ST being not quite as sharp, but still pretty good. However, Ford has just introduced another level of fast: RS.

The latest car to join the RS family is the Focus, though to be clear, the standard car and this mad dog share little other than interior dimensions and part of their name.

16focusrs37hr.jpg

All-wheel drive and coming to the USA. Quickly.

Ford


Line up the two side by side, and you'll wonder where the rallycross car has come from. There are wings, vents, logos and angles all over the place on the RS. It's aggressive, but not overly so. It's been designed with a finesse that's rarely seen today -- angry enough to make "car people" dribble, but subtle enough that your beau won't scoff at the idea of a ride home. Inside is pretty much standard Ford Focus. It's not the most exciting cabin in the world and the plastics aren't the greatest. That said, for around $36,000 you can't hope for an Audi-level interior and this much performance.

Small motor, big punch

Its slightly dull insides are doubly forgivable, then, because of the power you get. The RS packs a 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbo four that provides a generous 345 brake horsepower and 324 pound-feet of torque (347 on overboost). Ford says 0-62mph happens in 4.7 seconds and that the RS will top out at 165 mph. The car manages that by delivering its power to all four wheels via a fantastic all-wheel-drive setup.

focus-rs12.jpg

It looks a bit ordinary in here...

Ford

Rather than go the Haldex route, Ford's system eschews a differential at the back and has a pair of clutch packs to shuffle its torque around. It's a good way of doing things, because 70 percent of the engine's torque can be sent to either rear wheel, allowing the car to do all manner of entertaining things with its drive modes.

Press buttons, change everything

Normal mode is mighty fine for town, Sport makes the car a touch more angry, Track gives more control to the driver (and is the best mode to set lap times in, says Ford), and Drift mode...well, that allows the driver to pull off incredible slideways action with minimal instruction.

Acceleration is fierce, especially for a car the size of the Focus. You're punched back in your seat and wonder just how a shopping car is capable of bending the world quite like this. You also ponder just how it got so bumpy, because the RS isn't the smoothest of rides out there. It lacks the ride quality of, say, Volkswagen's Golf R or Audi's RS 3, but neither of those cars feels anywhere near as rewarding to hoon.

Go into a corner too fast, and the RS will fire off a warning shot of understeer, but get it just right, and you'll be rewarded with all the grip you could possibly want in the world. Ever. And that's just in normal mode. Get to a circuit and bang the RS into Track mode and you've got yourself a serious weapon. Between the steering and the throttle, you can play with the car midbend, feel its every movement and adjust it to your heart's content. Few cars are as communicative, let alone AWD hatches. That harsh ride is a pain on the road, but an advantage on track.

2016 Ford Focus RS is the hyperhatch to beat (pictures)

See all photos

The RS comes with direct, quick steering that gives complete confidence in what the car's doing on the road. Add in a fantastic six-speed manual gearbox and you're laughing. The two work wonderfully with the harder suspension set up when you're driving spiritedly and make the car feel alive -- way more so than any other AWD car you can buy on the sensible side of $50,000.

Fun mode: Engaged

The RS' Drift mode is a definite highlight -- it uses its smart AWD setup to essentially power the car in to oversteer, then moves the torque around to keep a giant skid going. If you've ever intentionally drifted a rear-wheel-drive car, it'll feel very alien to you, but it's still fun. It's easy, too. So easy that I'll wager my mother could get away with it (something I intend to prove soon -- keep your eyes on Carfection later this year).

2016-focus-rsskv1006.jpg

Drift mode: It makes your car go all skiddy.

Ford

It's fast, it's cheap considering what it can do, and it feels better to drive than more expensive cars in the same category. You can also fit your life in it - there's plenty of room up front and in the back for adults, while the trunk can fit more than you'll need on the day-to-day. With the seats folded down, it'll get fair bit of flat-pack furniture on board as well.

To be blunt, a short time with the Focus RS has shown just how much Ford can do. It's the car to beat in the hyperhatch category dynamically, and at the moment, it's as close to the perfect unicorn car as you can get.

CNET accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, travel costs were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. The judgments and opinions of CNET's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.