Tech Tips: Ford Focus RS

By Ed Higginbotham
Oct 23, 2019 | Ford, Focus | Posted in Buyer's Guides | From the Feb. 2018 issue | Never miss an article

[Editor's Note: These Tech Tips first appeared in our February 2018 issue. Some information may be different.]

Meet our Expert:
Karl Truty 
Massive Speed System
 (815) 675-1822

Who doesn’t want more power?

As is commonplace on factory turbo cars, a proper ECU tune can release a lot of horsepower and gobs of torque–like 50-plus lb.-ft.

As usual, our biggest complaint is weight. All aspects of performance would see enormous gains if this 3500-pound car went on a diet.

The bad news is that a lot of these cars are having serious head gasket failures early on. Many point the finger at a poor gasket design, and it appears the main fix is a better/updated gasket. Some say it’s the open-deck design of the block–great for cooling, but may allow distortion of the bores or movement of the main cylinder bore section within the block. A lot of those who are rebuilding for big power are swapping to the more traditional closed-deck design of the 2.0 Focus ST block. It swaps right over and still maintains the same displacement. Most will install a proper keyed crank while in there, as the OEM arrangement relies solely on friction to prevent valve/piston smashy-smashy should the crank bolt come loose. Massive Speed System offers nice keyed cranks and timing chain gears.

Run synthetic fluids. Good gas. Good tune.

Before going on track, upgrade the brake pads for sure. The stock front Brembos do an admirable job of slowing this tank down, but stock pad formulation is for the birds. Get some real pads.

Tires are the other thing–they’re actually pretty decent in size and type for an OE selection, but they will chunk apart rapidly without any real camber under the duress of this car’s considerable heft. Add Massive Speed adjustable camber and toe arms in back along with some front coil-overs that have a camber plate to save your hides.

I think the Drift Stick is pretty cool. Installs quickly. Works. Not inexpensive, but it’s all electronic so there is no risk of screwing up any actual hydraulic components. I worry that ditches everywhere are laughing with delight as so many shiny RSs piloted by overeager drivers careen backwards into them, however.

Meet our Expert:
Brian Tyson 
JST Performance
 (478) 290-7953

The Focus RS is a really great and fun car right out the box, and when modified is a fun autocross car. However, it suffers from many issues that need to be addressed for track use.

The RS comes with a massive set of Brembo four-piston front brakes with high-performance pads that can handle light to moderate track duty. The RS also has dedicated brake cooling ducts as well as air deflectors for the front brakes, so a set of upgraded pads and fluid are generally all that is needed to see some real heavy-duty track use. For some reason, a lot of manufacturers are late to the party on the RS front pad game, but I’m sure they will catch up.

Oil temps can be of concern for track use. We see temps of around 300 degrees after only one or two 20-minute sessions, so an oil cooler is definitely a necessity.

The biggest issue for track use is the rear drive unit shutoff. With enough abuse, the car will revert to front-wheel-power only, and the car really becomes a pig while only driving the front wheels. The worst part is that the rear differential may not actually be overheating. The ECU has an algorithm that says when to shut off the rear wheel power. So far there is no fix for this, but some cars see hard abuse without it shutting off; other cars, such as ours, can only do three or four laps before a shutoff, even when the car was 100 percent stock.

The suspension of the RS is very rough compared to many similar cars. I always recommend tracking the car in Track mode, but with the suspension in Standard mode rather than Sport. Sport mode is overly damped in the RS and can cause some very negative side effects on track. It’s not very comfortable at all on the street as well in Sport mode, making it hard to even hold a conversation with a passenger at some points.

Power is the fun and easy part with the Focus RS. A Cobb Accessport and a custom tune will net by far the largest gains of any modification. On a 100-percent stock car on our dyno, we usually see 295–300 horsepower and 340–350 lb.-ft. of torque. We generally see about 350 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque at the wheels with our Stage 1 package that consists of the Accessport, a drop-in filter, one step colder spark plugs, and a custom tune. This package only runs around $900 and is a bargain for the performance gains. We can also alter and disable many of the intrusive things such as rev hang, auto start/stop, and more. The RS is also a fan of ethanol blends of around 30 percent with custom tuning. We have tuned many cars to over 400 wheel horsepower and 450 lb.-ft. of torque at the wheels with our Stage 1 package and the E30 blend alone.

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View comments on the GRM forums
yupididit GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
12/26/17 5:20 p.m.

Is that hg issue a big thing or like the Porsche IMS problem  (less than 1% affected)?

Carbon SuperDork
12/26/17 7:07 p.m.
yupididit said:

Is that hg issue a big thing or like the Porsche IMS problem  (less than 1% affected)?

But somehow 100% ims failures in my porsche friends'? Maybe coincidence lol. 

yupididit GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
12/26/17 7:08 p.m.

Lol how many? I think I know one

Feedyurhed SuperDork
12/27/17 6:37 a.m.
yupididit GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
12/27/17 8:17 a.m.

In reply to Feedyurhed :

At least they're recognizing the issue and will fix it. 

z31maniac MegaDork
12/28/17 5:25 p.m.
yupididit said:

Lol how many? I think I know one

Objective > Anecdotal.

I only know one friend with an IMS engine'd car and it's fine. That doesn't mean it isn't a problem.

bmxr New Reader
11/19/19 8:01 p.m.

Sounds line a great track car. Just needs brakes, tires, control arms, a crank, a block...?! And there's no fix suggested for the temperamental rear drive unit or horrendous seats...

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