The driver and car

AL Khoury of New York, N.Y. drives a 2018 Ford Focus RS. It packs a turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. There are 4,000 miles on the clock. 

Factory options/packages

The 2018 Ford Focus RS came fully loaded. AL added the Nitrous Blue paint, power moonroof, OEM chrome wheel lock kit, all-season floor mats and cargo mat, and cargo net. The car has everything but the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires — this is NYC after all.

Read More: The BMW M3 was love at first drive for this New Yorker

The mods

Modifications/additions include: Bridgestone Potenza RE980AS XL tires, GrimmSpeed Ford Focus RS license plate relocation kit, Your Little CNC Shop Ford Focus RS rear license plate bracket, custom black aluminium license plate frames, XPEL Ultimate paint protection film, and RS valve stem caps.

A plastic yellow gecko has adorned the windshield of every car AL’s had for the past 20 years.  It lost its lemon scent ages ago but it’s a keeper. 

AL’s 2018 Ford Focus RS story

“Like me, my 2018 Ford Focus RS is flashy and loud. It’s rare, turbocharged, and goes like hell. It has all-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission. The Focus RS was one of the very few remaining United States domestic market (USDM) cars that doesn’t even offer an automatic. 

2018 Ford Focus RS manual shifter
Al Khoury

“My relationship with my father is deeply rooted in cars. He taught me how to row my own gears on a 1996 Toyota RAV4 3-door, an uncommon vehicle in its own right. I honed my skills on his next couple of rides, including a 1999 Porsche Boxster and a 2002 Mini Cooper S. My first manual transmission was the 5-speed in my 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX. 

“This is my first car with any of the following features: leather seats, navigation, touch screen, automatic temperature control, rear-view camera, push-button start, tire pressure monitoring, keyless entry, launch control, and selectable drive modes. The Focus RS is my first hatchback and my first vehicle purchase that’s not a lease. 

“I took delivery of my RS on November 13, 2017 and have never regretted my decision. No matter what mood I’m in I feel a thrill just thinking about getting behind the wheel.” 

It’s alive

“Mad scientists at Ford shoehorned the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine from the Mustang into the sensible Focus and bumped up the power. They added a unique AWD system, strengthened the chassis and suspension, and swapped out a few body panels. Their creation went on sale as the Focus RS. 

“The little Frankensteinian monster was pieced together in Germany with parts from all over. Spain assembled the engine while the U.K. provided the drivetrain. The Focus rides on the C1 platform, which was developed in Europe by Ford, Mazda, and Volvo. Though the RS wears a Ford nameplate, your typical Toyota is far more American than this hot hatch.

“Mad scientists at Ford shoehorned the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine from the Mustang into the sensible Focus and bumped up the power”

“In case the general public can’t tell a Focus RS from a plain ol’ Focus, Ford showered this thing with RS badges. You’ll find them on the front seats, steering wheel, wheels, center caps, spoiler, front bumper, rear hatch, under-trunk tray, intake, intake pipe, sill plates, displays, window sticker, engine, key fob … I counted more than 20.”

Formerly forbidden fruit

“The third-generation RS marks the first time this model was sold stateside. It was produced for the 2016 to 2018 model years. 

“The Focus RS crooned its swan song with just 1,000 units destined for the U.S. for the final year. The RS2 package came standard, which includes an 8-way power driver’s seat, leather-trimmed heated Recaro seats, heated exterior mirrors, and heated three-point steering wheel. Ford’s SYNC 3 voice-activated navigation system with SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link is accompanied by upgraded Sony sound. Later updates added support for apps like Waze. The RS’s optional 19-inch forged wheels were also standard.

“2018 was the only year you got the Quaife mechanical limited-slip differential on the front axle. This ensures that the wheel with more traction gets a larger share of power in low grip situations, such as on ice or mud or during spirited driving through corners.

“Cosmetic additions for the last Focus RS included genuine carbon fiber accents on the door handles, handbrake lever, and turbo boost gauge surrounds. The limited edition also features a black roof, spoiler, and mirror caps. Blue RS decals adorn the spoiler and wheel center caps. Besides the Nitrous Blue, you could opt for Ford’s Race Red paint, which was previously available on the Focus ST.”

Flash, thrash, and panache

“The Focus RS puts out 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. It hits 60 mph from a standstill in about 4.5 seconds and has a top speed limited to 165 mph. So despite its humble roots, the RS owner’s manual has a track section with tire pressure and oil temperature tips.

“The RS is a snorting,  jittery little beast in low gear. It seems to always be in a hurry. The shifts are crisp and smooth, so you’re more than happy to keep it in the power band where it likes to be. It devours corners and the brakes are excellent. 

“The RS is surprisingly sedate once you get it up to speed. Put it in normal mode and it almost feels like you’re driving a regular Focus. In fact, it reverts to front-wheel drive when you’re plodding along and shifts to AWD in a fraction of a second when needed. 

“It’s not the most comfortable car I’ve driven, but it’s not punishing either. Besides, nobody buys a car like this to be pampered in luxury.” 

The Focus RS drifts into the limelight (and other things)

“The RS launched into viral history by a defining feature: drift mode. Selecting it sends 70 percent of the power to the rear wheels. From there clutch packs can send all that punch to either wheel. This means you can swing out the back end for all sorts of hijinks.

“Despite his involvement with the car’s development, drift mode does not turn you into Ken Block

“Speaking of Block, the Hoonigan posted an early photo of the RS to his Instagram account in July 2016. The car had just been purchased as a daily driver by then-Top Gear host Matt LeBlanc. This was probably the first image I saw of the car outside of a press release. 

“The symbol for drift mode in the instrument panel is an RS sliding sideways — how cool is that? I got a shirt from Blipshift to match.”

Point and shoot

“I like a car that draws some attention. I enjoy people pulling up and asking about it. A friendly older gentleman came up to us during the photo shoot and chewed our ears off for an hour. He said he drove a manual for more than 50 years. I invited him to sit in the car and the lifelong Queens, N.Y. resident and veteran smiled as he played with the clutch and gearshift.

“I love the appeal this car has to kids who remind me of my younger self. I pulled into a rest stop on a trip to Atlantic City and a boy pointed and shouted, ‘Focus RS!’ I gave him a wave and gunned the engine, treating his annoyed family to a taste of pops and burbles. 

“‘Pops and burbles’ is a term used by the people who developed the RS. In any mode other than normal, a valve opens up in the driver’s side exhaust and the car gets louder. In the confines of a tunnel it sounds like gunfire or a series of small explosions. 

“The noise has no impact on performance. The engineers added it in just for fun. And that’s what the RS is all about.”

Not quite so final thoughts

“The RS is far from perfect. This is a four-cylinder compact car but the fuel economy isn’t so great. I get about 18 miles per gallon on average and on longer trips might get close to 25. The smallish fuel tank means more stops at the pump for expensive premium fuel. 

“The lack of a spare tire is a bit worrisome. Ford threw in a tire patch kit but I would have preferred a space saver. The ride can grow tiring over longer distances. The RS’s economy car roots show in the interior. The fancy seats are supportive, though they tilt upwards at a strange angle.

“A car should make you feel special whenever you get on the road. Whether I’m burbling down local streets, attacking some curves, or weaving around potholes and rush-hour traffic, my Focus RS never fails to deliver a good time.” 

AL’s Focus RS story: Director’s cut

“I was writing up some car news for a website in May 2017 when I first came across an official press release about the final limited edition 2018 Ford Focus RS. I had been without a car for a few years and was looking for something that ticked all the right boxes. The ultimate goal was a third consecutive manual AWD turbo car. 

“My short list consisted of the Subaru Impreza WRX STI, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X Final Edition (there was a Rally Red example languishing on a dealer lot in Queens), and Volkswagen Golf R. The Focus RS was on my radar but I was leaning heavily on the Evo until learning that it didn’t have a sixth gear. The Golf R and STI took the top spots but then Ford’s announcement for the last RS put everything else aside.

“I wrote up and published the 2018 Ford Focus RS story, making our site among the first to break the news. Other outlets then picked up my article. I called Ford dealers across the Tri-state area as soon as the day began. Not a single one knew what I was talking about. And then they shared my work on their social media pages. 

“Some weeks later I test drove a Shadow Black 2017 Focus RS in Queens. Coming from my 2007 Subaru STI, it felt like a luxury vehicle. I put down a deposit that night for an RS in Nitrous Blue.

“Then the madness began.

“I tracked the car from the factory in Saarlouis, Germany to multiple ports via a site that shows ship locations in real time. I watched in horror as a hurricane hit one of the ports. A smaller ship crashed into the car container ship, which delayed it for weeks while it took on repairs. I scoured the Focus RS forums for information and found I wasn’t alone. 

“The delays piled on. The car had sat in port at the factory for months and then it was hit by a hurricane at another port. Fearing the worst, I cancelled the order and found another dealership that had an RS arriving a few days later. We hammered down a price over the phone and I jumped on the train to go sign the papers. 

NewYorKars picking up 2018 Ford Focus RS
Al Khoury

“A week later I picked up my Blue Bomber from Tower Ford in Great Neck, N.Y. I had requested that the dealership not drill holes into the front bumper, since I had a license plate relocator. A note to this effect was taped onto the car — thank you, Dennis!

“I wanted to keep everything from this car, so I asked that they don’t throw away the shipping blocks. These hard chunks of rubber are placed in the springs to keep the car from bouncing around during shipping. They also improve the ride height for loading and unloading. The RS windshield comes with a bright yellow sticker warning dealers to remove the blocks. Mine are stowed away in the trunk.

“Ford sent me a care package that includes a replica RS shift knob, an invitation to the Ford Performance Racing School, and some other goodies. 

“It took some time and work to get my dream car, but it was worth it. See you out there!”

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AL’s previous vehicles

2000 Jeep Wrangler Sport (RIP)

2000 Nissan Maxima SE

2004 Subaru Impreza WRX

2007 Subaru Impreza WRX STI

2018 Ford Focus RS with NewYorKars founder Al Khoury

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