Car Nuts

Hot Fords take the chill out of winter

2017 F-150 Raptor 4X4 pickup and 2017 Focus RS hatchback, meet snow!

2017 Ford Focus RS

There’s been plenty of buzz lately about two new high-performance models in the Ford stable – the 2017 F-150 Raptor 4X4 pickup and the 2017 Focus RS five-door hatchback.

The Raptor has been used and abused by numerous testers in rugged desert-like terrain and challenging off-road trials, while the all-wheel-drive Focus RS has been impressing the hot hatch crowd with its prowess, especially in its drifting mode. No one, however, has really tested the mettle of these vehicles in the conditions more familiar to Canadians – snow and ice. Until now!

In fact, Ed Krenz, an engineer on Ford’s Performance team who played a key role in developing this latest Raptor, conceded that winter road conditions were not part of the testing process. He said the team focused mainly on testing in mud, sand and other off-road conditions as well as on the highway, “although there are similarities between sand and snow.”

So Krenz was keen to see how his Raptor stood up to Canadian winter driving as Ford invited journalists to thrash the Raptor, as well as the Focus RS, over the snow and ice at the Mecaglisse Motorsport Complex north of Montreal.

Fun time

The event was divided into two parts for both vehicles: a stint of driving on area roads (some paved, some not), plus closed course testing at the Mecaglisse complex.

The Raptor, with its standard 35-inch BF Goodrich all-terrain T/A KO2 tires, was assigned to a challenging off-road circuit that included snow, ice, mud and plenty of high-speed stretches.

The Focus RS, specially fitted for this exercise with studded winter tires, was put to the test on an icy layout that featured numerous sweeping (and slippery) corners linked together by straight, ice-covered stretches.

Prowess on the road

Both vehicles performed extremely well on the test tracks, but most impressive, in both cases, was how well these hot machines reacted on the road. The Focus, which Ford bills as the fastest RS ever, was absolutely amazing on twisty sections of the drive route.

Fitted for the street with winter tires, it demonstrated an amazing ability to stick to the road, regardless of how hard it was being pushed. (It comes from the factory with 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires, although a winter package with 225/40R18 Michelin Pilot Winter Alpin PA4 tires mounted on 18-inch rims is also included for Canadian buyers.)

In one particular corner, I entered at what let’s say was a “high rate,” I unexpectedly encountered a big dip in the pavement, right at the apex. I was fully expecting the car to step sideways from the impact, but it simply swallowed up the hit and continued its hunkered-down stance.

In the other extreme, on a washboard section of a snow-covered dirt road, what I expected would be teeth-jarring jolts turned out to be hardly noticeable – the Focus RS suspension soaked up the bumps and kept the car on a steady path.

The Raptor proved equally adept at smoothing out the rough stuff. While the suspension has been made more compliant for 2017, the changes didn’t compromise its ability to take a pounding on the trail – and it did it without beating up its occupants. The ruts and bumps on the off-road course didn’t rattle its composure, yet it was surprisingly comfortable on the street circuit, too.

If pushed hard on twisty sections of the drive route, it tended to be a bit tail happy, but I suspect much of that was due to tires not ideally suited to the greasy road conditions – and my heavy right foot.

Making the RS stick

The Focus RS’s ability to stay well planted on the road is due in part to Ford’s new all-wheel-drive system with Dynamic Torque Vectoring. The system, which monitors inputs from multiple sensors 100 times per second, works with the car’s electronic stability control, in particular, its brake-based torque vectoring control that works in parallel with the all-wheel drive system’s torque vectoring.

The result is a system that delivers performance handling with better stability, improved cornering speeds and maximum traction with minimum understeer. The RS also features electronically selectable damping, four-piston front Brembo brake calipers, four selectable drive modes (Normal, Sport, Track and Drift) that modify multiple vehicle systems, plus a high-rpm launch control system for maximum performance from a standing start.

Shocking fact

The 2017 Raptor’s suspension has been redesigned to be more compliant without sacrificing its ability to tackle any off-road challenges. Key to the improved dynamics are larger FOX Racing Shox tucked under the chassis. These new dampers feature nine-stage bypass damping to control suspension travel, which has been increased front and rear, and to help prevent the Raptor from bottoming out while running over rough terrain. Other changes include new three-inch diameter shock canisters which are larger but lighter than the previous model. They also have improved heat dissipation.

Under the Raptor’s hood

The Raptor gets its impressive power from an all-new, second-generation 3.5-litre EcoBoost V-6 engine with dual hollow camshafts (to reduce weight) activating four valves per cylinder in lightweight aluminum cylinder heads. The die-cast aluminum block is another weight-saving feature of this engine, which also features piston-cooling oil jets to help improve oil warm-up and keep the pistons cooler during extreme operation for enhanced durability and fuel efficiency.

The turbocharger has also been redesigned to incorporate a new, lightweight turbine wheel. Ford has also upgraded the fuel delivery system for 2017, using both port- and dual-direct-injection. This new system – a first for Ford – uses two injectors per cylinder, with one injecting fuel in the intake port while the other delivers directly inside the cylinder.

This new engine delivers more power (450 hp) and torque (510 lb-ft) than the previous Raptor’s 6.2-litre V-8. In addition, by using advanced materials such as high-strength steel for the frame and high-strength aluminum for the body and bed, as well as weight-saving changes in the engine and transmission, this Raptor is up to 227 kilograms lighter than the current model and its power-to-weight ratio has increased more than 16%.

The engine’s output is delivered through Ford’s new 10-speed automatic transmission, which was co-developed with General Motors. This transmission, which replaces the six-speed transmission used in the current model, has optimized ratio progression to improve performance and efficiency, especially in deep sand and off-road conditions. A new all-wheel-drive system with torque-on-demand transfer case distribute the power to the front and rear wheels.

Focus RS motivation

The Focus RS is fitted with a high-output 2.3-litre four-cylinder with direct fuel injection. Its large, low-inertia twin-scroll turbocharger separates the exhaust pulses for pairs of cylinders to improve quicker turbine spin-up, enhancing acceleration responsiveness while improving fuel efficiency. A large intercooler is used to cool the air coming into the engine, maximizing its density.

The result of these technologies is an amazingly responsive engine that produces 350 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and a broad, flat torque curve that’s rated at 350 lb-ft at 3,200 revs.

The power is channeled to the all-wheel-drive system through a six-speed, close-ratio manual gearbox that’s been engineered to match the performance characteristics of the engine. The short first gear ratio provides quick acceleration at launch, while second through fifth gears are close ratios. A tall overdrive sixth gear helps reduce fuel consumption.

Fuel consumption and pricing

Fuel consumption ratings for the Raptor are 15.6 L/100 km in city driving, 13.2 on the highway and 14.5 combined, while the Focus RS’s ratings are 12.2 city, 9.4 highway and 10.9 combined.       

Pricing for the 2017 Ford Raptor Super Cab 4X4 starts at $68,399. Add $2.000 for the Super Crew version. The 2017 Focus RS has a base price of $48,418.

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