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Ford Focus RS has a drift mode — seriously

Dated-April 2015

The 2016 Ford Focus RS on display this week at the New York auto show may be small in volume but it casts a mighty halo over the brand.

The RS is a European performance car that American enthusiasts have clamored for over the years. The automaker decided to make this current generation a global car, part of a larger move to pool the performance vehicles of each region in a single unit.

The Focus RS will go on sale here in the spring of 2016, said Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas. It is built in Saarlouis, Germany, so European customers will get it first.

Pricing has not been announced.

The Focus RS will have, as a base engine, its own version of Ford's 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine generating at least 315 horsepower. Final figures will be released later this year, said Omar Odeh, RS marketing manager.

The five-door hatchback has been tuned and bolstered for performance to join an elite group of hot hatches that includes the Subaru WRX STi, Volkswagen Golf R and Mitsubishi Evo.

The RS has a unique chassis and a new all-wheel drive system that allows 100% of the rear power to go to a single rear wheel.

The hatchback also has a drift mode which disables the electronic stability control and adjusts the dampers and other parts of the drive mode.

It took wrangling from the legal department to get it approved, Odeh said. The key wording that made it possible: the mode is designated "for track use only."

It is the kind of feature usually reserved for supercars, Odeh said. "To bring it down to a Focus RS is exciting for the customer."

Performance is good business for Ford. Two-thirds of those who buy the sporty Focus ST are new to the brand, they tend to be young and half go on to buy another Ford, said Hinrichs.

The Focus RS takes it to the next level, attracting young buyers with a higher income, said Odeh. In fact, 20% will cross-shop the RS against entry-level luxury vehicles such as the BMW 3-Series.

The ST already brings in a completely different customer and the RS will underscore that. "These are the kind of people who are washing their cars with a toothbrush," Hinrichs said.

Ford plans to introduce 12 performance vehicles by the end of the decade and has already shown the Ford GT, Mustang GT350 and GT350R, F-150 Raptor, Fiesta ST, Focus ST and Focus RS. Sales of performance vehicles have outpaced the industry over the past five years.

"These products bring lot of interest to their brand," Hinrichs said.