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Hatchbacks

Drift like a pro, launch like an astronaut

The new Ford Focus RS is gut-wrenching from the passenger seat. We can't wait to get behind the wheel.

When your boss asks you if you'd like to take a ride in the 2016 Focus RS, you don't think, you just go.

Which is how I found myself at Willow Springs Raceway for a Ford-sponsored preview drive on a chilly and blustery morning, with nothing but a light jacket and a helmet to keep me warm.

No amount of desert wind could keep me from the right-hand seat in Ford's newest hot hatch. The Focus ST has always been one of my favorite front-wheel-drive cars, and the RS ups the ante with all-wheel-drive, a stiffer chassis, a launch mode and an industry-first drift setting.

So how sick did I get?

The 350 horses motivating us around the 1.6 mile track at Willow Springs were on high alert, cantering around the track with abandon. My driver, Ford all-wheel-drive engineer Jim Fritz, didn't have any understeer to fight against, and would induce oversteer only when I asked for more thrills.

2016 Ford Focus RS

The 2016 Ford Focus RS features an aggressive front fascia with an aerodynamic design.

Ford

The Focus RS easily hit 100 mph on the 1,000-foot front straight, and at the first stomach-churning turn I was glad I hadn't eaten before buckling in. At the 20-degree banking turn known as "The Bowl," I was firmly pushed into my Recaro seat, looking forward to a bit of a break at the small straightaway that followed. The respite was short-lived, however, as the RS flew through the chicane. I, on the other hand, was just hoping the next 90-degree left would not make the storm in my inner ear any worse.

No such luck. Still, I wanted another lap and Fritz was happy to oblige.

The torque curve is pretty linear, with the RS' 350 pound-feet available from 2,000 to 4,500 rpm. Fritz ran an entire lap in second and third gear with little diminishment in performance. The 2.3-liter, inline-four cylinder engine features a twin scroll turbo and will scoot from 0 to 62 mph in 4.7 seconds. As an added bonus, the Focus RS comes with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Drift mode standard

The Focus RS comes standard with Michelin Pilot Super Sport 235/35/R19 tires, although the more aggressive Sport Cup 2 are optional. At a chilly 47 degrees, the tires slid around just a bit in the warm-up lap, but settled down after that and held the RS to the pavement nicely.

We spent the day in Track mode, with Normal and Sport reserved for everyday driving and Drift being advised for maximum tire slaying. I wish I could have gotten a demo of Drift mode, but alas, it was not to be. Launch mode gets the Focus RS off the line as quickly as possible by minimizing wheel spin.

2016 Ford Focus RS

The roof spoiler and rear diffuser contribute to zero lift.

Ford

Track mode tightens up the steering, limits traction control, and stiffens the suspension. Willow Springs is a bit of a bumpy track. Fortunately the dampers can be softened independently of the drive mode, making for a more comfortable ride.

Dynamic torque vectoring all-wheel-drive

Ford's new all-wheel-drive system can send up to 100 percent of available torque to the rear wheels. Through a nifty dynamic torque-vectoring system, all the torque can then be sent to either the left or right rear wheel, overdriving the outside rear wheel in a turn. The engineers claim the torque vectoring system gives the Focus RS all-wheel-drive traction and rear-wheel-drive handling. Indeed, the tail was happy to come out but small inputs to throttle at steering bring it quickly back in line.

The RS is fast and fantastic fun. Even though queasy in the passenger seat, I wanted more.

2016 Ford Focus RS

With a top speed of 165 mph, the Ford Focus RS is the fastest production Focus in the world.

Ford

The 2016 Ford Focus RS starts at $35,730, which puts it just above the Subaru WRX STI in price, but right in line with the Volkswagen Golf R. (Availability in the UK and Australia hasn't yet been revealed, but the US price works out to £23,484 and AU$50,247.) Expect to see it in dealers in the spring of next year.

Editor's note: CNET accepts multi-day 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 judgements and opinions of CNET's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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