The $40,000 compact car value The Ford Focus RS is a car so special and so emotionally rewarding that it needs no rational justification. But just in case you need one—say, for a skeptical spouse—we have you covered: The $40,000 Focus is a stonking value. No, really. Hear us out. Paying for performance is a fool’s game—financially, at least. It takes thousands of dollars to trim tenths of a second from acceleration runs or to gain hundredths of a g in lateral acceleration. But with the Focus RS, doubling the $18,100 starting price of the plebeian-spec Focus nets more than twice as much car. It’s like buying horsepower in bulk from Costco. The Focus RS’s 2.3-liter turbocharged inline-four delivers power and torque as if the two have been packaged in a Kirkland-branded bundle. You get 350 of each—ponies and pound-feet—in a 3459-pound package. There’s also a trick torque-vectoring system that can shuttle as much as 70 percent of the engine’s thrust to a single rear wheel, a delightful six-speed manual, and enough grip to rival a Porsche. The engine is a derivative of the Mustang’s EcoBoost four-cylinder, but you would never guess it from driving both cars. On top of an extra 40 horsepower and 30 lb-ft of torque, the Focus RS engine revs quicker, with a more linear power delivery and an exhaust note befitting a performance car. While the Mustang drones, the Focus RS buzzes and bristles with a deeper, louder, meaner tone. In Sport, Track, and Drift modes, the exhaust crackles, snaps, and pops. It’s not just theatrics. Drop the clutch to catch the rising tach needle and you’ll charge to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds. A quarter-mile of pavement flashes past the windows in 13.4 seconds at 105 mph. And for those who need a little help, a launch-control program delivers easy, repeatable runs just a tenth or so off the pace we set with our best footwork. Straight-line speed is just one of the RS’s party tricks. Aim it into a corner, and the super Focus sticks to the road with 0.98 g of lateral grip. That’s on the standard Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. Spend $1990 for Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires on forged wheels and it should generate a sideways force greater than the gravitational pull that keeps everything on earth from becoming satellites. All that traction is at odds with the RS’s Drift mode. When you do manage to break the rear tires free, Drift mode manifests as a brief wag of the tail before the brakes haul things back into line. The RS rarely skates around corners in smoky, sustained oversteer. As soon as the driver even thinks of dialing in opposite lock—a key element of a controlled drift—the ghost of a fun-hating lawyer shuts down the party. We were expecting Drifting for Dummies; instead we got an understeer-mitigation system. In that sense, the system does provide a service. Transverse-engine, all-wheel-drive vehicles typically carry the bulk of their weight on the front axle—the Focus RS has 59.4 percent of its weight on its nose—and prefer to bias the torque to the front tires. In the Focus RS, you can attempt to understeer by accelerating at the limit of cornering grip, but the car calmly continues to rotate, rather than plow toward the outside of the corner. (Since we first published this story, Ford has informed us that bigger, longer, smokier slides are possible if you press and hold the stability-control button after selecting Drift mode.) On a fast back road, the RS handles with more finesse and neutrality than any nose-heavy hatchback has a right to, and the steering relays quick, precise communication both to and from the tires. The trade-off is a hard ride that becomes almost unbearable in its stiffer Sport setting. Ford engineers say that mode is intended for the smoothest racetracks, and thankfully a button on the end of the turn-signal stalk allows you to cycle the dampers between the two settings independent of the four drive modes. Still, we wish Ford had provided another mode with greater compliance for the worst roads. It’s fair and truthful to complain that the RS’s interior is just as cluttered and cheap as that of the $18,100 version, but that’s par for the course in this class—no one ever bought a Subaru WRX STI for its interior. A pair of thickly bolstered Recaro bucket seats is the sole major upgrade made here to the Focus cabin. They come covered in a mix of cloth and leather as standard, while full leather can be ordered as part of a $2785 package that includes heating for the front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated mirrors, and a navigation system. Those Recaros are constructed every bit as aggressively as the RS’s engine, and tall bolsters on both the seatback and the lower cushion grab you in a firm bear hug. While that’s excellent for whenever the road—or road course—turns squiggly, the seats are constricting for long highway drives. In the pocket-rocket class, the value isn’t in the plastics. The value is in the high-grade rubber, the clever electronics of the torque-vectoring differential, and the big power of the turbocharged engine. And value there is. Highs: Powerhouse engine, sweet-shifting gearbox, lively and neutral handling. Lows: The lawyers clearly had a hand in developing Drift mode, interior no better than in a rental Focus.