With this year’s Wards 10 Best Engines nominees list jam-packed with 4-cyl. gasoline turbos – 15 of the 40 entries – making the final cut was no easy task.
Except the Ford Focus RS 2.3L.
If there was a slam-dunk engine in this year’s competition, it was this one. Scores were high across the board, and despite the crowded field there was no real debate among the judges during final deliberations as to whether this high-performance challenger was trophy-worthy.
Wikipedia may need to update its definition of the hot hatch, thanks to this new direct-injected, DOHC turbo-4 benchmark that we find ready to run from standstill to light speed and everything in between.
Repurposed from its Mustang big brother, this version of Ford’s EcoBoost 4-cyl. pumps out a whopping 155 hp/L, or more specifically 350 hp at 6,000 rpm and 350 lb.-ft. (475 Nm) of peak torque at an easy-access 3,200 rpm.
That combination put the Focus RS right at the top of the most-fun-to-drive list among the cars tested in the 2017 Wards 10 Best Engines competition.
And it isn’t simply a case of stuffing an oversized powerplant into a small car’s engine bay. When we tested the 2.3L two years ago in the Mustang, it made a more modest 310 hp. So in addition to boosting output, Ford had to find a way to manage that load.
That led to an all-new cylinder head, formed from higher-spec aluminum, and higher-tensile iron cylinder liners. The exhaust system also was redesigned specifically for the RS, and Ford upgraded the cooling capacity to better manage the high-output engine’s thermal stress.
The intake system is unique, too, as is the larger twin-scroll turbocharger that increases boost and responsiveness. That’s definitely something we noticed. Power delivery is lively and linear, with no sudden gushes and absolutely no dead zones. All you need to do is “pick the right gear and keep the revs rolling,” notes one judge.
All-wheel drive and torque vectoring manage the 2.3L’s output so precisely it’s impossible not to have a high degree of confidence behind the wheel. “Just try not to drive it all out all the time,” says another tester. “It’s like a crystal-meth addiction.” Not that we would know.
Punching it has other rewards as well, most notably sound. Ford creates the Focus RS exhaust note synthetically. And while that may present a less-than-authentic aural experience for some audio purists, the automaker gets the calibration right.
There’s no boy-racer noise to make the RS an embarrassment to drive to work every day – an important attribute given hot-hatch buyers are becoming a more conservative bunch, now averaging 42 years old, up from 38 in 2010.
Mash the throttle and the Focus RS sings out in a baritone octave that would make a V-8 Mustang proud and not cause a Baby Boomer to blush.
And despite impulses to the contrary, the Focus RS also can be driven with civility. “Wicked good, whether putting around or pulling g’s” comments one tester.
Fuel economy is respectable, too, for a sub-5-second 0-60 mph (97 km/h) car like the Focus RS, as we average 20.2 mpg (11.6 L/100 km) over nearly 500 miles (805 km) of testing.
That Ford’s 2.3L in the $36,775 Focus RS stood out in a field crowded with entries from some dominating luxury and performance brands – BMW, Porsche, Alfa and Audi among them – is worth noting and rewarding.
“It’s a hoot to drive,” one judge says in summing up our experience with the Valencia, Spain-built 2.3L RS engine.
“More fun to drive than the Porsche Cayman. There, I said it,” admits another.
[email protected] @DavidZoia