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The Ford Focus RS Would Be Better-Served By A Dual-Clutch Transmission: Opinion

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Recently, we were given a new, very blue, Mk III Ford Focus RS to toss around for a week. (A thorough review of Ford’s hottest of hot hatches is currently in the works.) In that time, we came to conclude that, no matter how unpopular an opinion it may be, Ford’s 350-horsepower, all-wheel-drive hot hatch would be better served with a dual-clutch automatic transmission than its 6-speed manual – the sole transmission available.

The Case For A Manual

We’re well aware of the reasons why those who love to drive often prefer manual transmissions; increased driver involvement, more precise control over the powertrain, a direct and almost primal link to the car’s mechanicals, and even a sense of accomplishment are all known hallmarks of the stick-shift. Of the eight cars this author has owned, fully six of them have been equipped with manual transmissions, all of them by choice.

That is to say, the author understands well the appeal.

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But here’s the thing: while the manual transmission is a thoroughly analog and rudimentary thing, the Ford Focus RS is most certainly not. Computerized fuel-injection and ignition is one thing, but the RS’ advanced, torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system from GKN is about as far from “basic” as one can get. Based on which driving mode is selected, an automated control module decides in real time when to engage each of three clutches and how much in order to propel the vehicle. And while that process is largely invisible to the driver, at no point does the RS quite feel “organic.”

We’ve all heard that a modern Ford F-150 pickup is controlled by as many as 150 million lines of code. We shudder to think how many lines are required to keep the new Ford Focus RS going.

Other Reasons To Ditch The Manual

The case against the Focus RS’ 6-speed stick doesn’t stop there, we’re afraid, as when it comes down to it, the experience of manually shifting gears in Ford’s ultimate hot hatch simply isn’t all that great.

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The main reason for this is the RS’ high seating position. One doesn’t sit inside the Mk III Ford Focus RS; he sits atop it. The result is an almost SUV-like feeling of kicking down rather than forward to depress the pedals, which makes actuating all three rather unsatisfying. Add to that the fact that the brake and throttle pedals aren’t positioned especially well for heel-and-toe maneuvers, or that the shifter doesn’t feel all that great to row, and you end up with a sub-excellent manual experience.

Of course, Ford has their reasons for selecting a manual transmission rather than a dual-clutch automatic; Chief Engineer Tyrone Johnson told CarAdvice last year that the Focus RS’ six-speed was selected partly for its lower cost, and partly because it means less weight on the front axle, translating to less understeer. Still, we would argue that the clutch and gearbox come close to harming an otherwise sublime driving experience.

In summary, drive the Ford Focus RS, and you might well expend more of your attention and effort working the shifter and pedals than actually, you know, driving. A dual-clutch transmission with automatic rev-matching would allow one to concentrate more fully on the important things: carving corners and accelerating like a bat out of hell.

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Oh, right; and we guess there’d probably be some performance advantage, too.

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Written by Aaron Brzozowski

Aaron Brzozowski is a writer and motoring enthusiast from Detroit with an affinity for '80s German steel. He is not active on the Twitter these days, but you may send him a courier pigeon.

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6 Comments

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  1. Try driving a 2014-2015 Focus with the automatic and you will understand why. A very dangerous car especially on wet pavements.

  2. “The Ford Focus RS Would Be Better-Served By A Dual-Clutch Transmission” – No self respecting car lover, ever.

  3. Automatics suck you n00b. Actually I think it could be a great option, but they should not ditch the stick altogether. Dual clutches shift faster. They make left foot brake maneuvers in the snow easier. The gear changes can be controlled manually with paddle shifters that keep both hands on the wheel. They can auto rev match on downshifts. They open a new market with new sales, its just the question is the increase in sales going to be considerable enough to warrant the R&D costs. In the US autos are often for people with less driving skill, in Europe people who are good with a stick actually do see these dual clutch transmissions as a convenient luxury and they do actually like them. Considering the RS costs twice as much as the base Focus, people might want the luxury of a dual clutch along with that.

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