Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cobb IC Pipe Kit, Rota Grid Wheels, YouTube Fame!

We recently received the brand-new Cobb Tuning hard pipe kit for our Focus RS. The kit replaces a bunch of different-size and shape intake pipes with smooth, single-diameter metal piping. We'd anticipate that this would decrease turbulence and restriction in the intake tract, and less restriction means more freed-up horsepower.

The kit installed easily, and we observed no interference between the piping and any part of the motor -- this is important because hard metal piping can make a lot of noise if it contacts anything else metal. The stock piping has many segments, and at least three different pipe diameters, plus a convoluted section that looks to be designed to reduce noise. The Cobb piping is all smooth and the same uniform diameter throughout, and the number of joints is kept to a minimum.

It looks very nice, with black sand-finish powder coated aluminum piping, but enjoy it while you're installing it, because once it's on the car you'll never see it again. Does it add power? We don't know for sure -- we have not re-dyno'ed the car since adding the pipe kit. But just look at the differences in the plumbing. How could it not flow better? Don't worry, we'll have the car back on the dyno at some point, so this power question will not remain un-answered.

We also got in a set of lovely bronze Rota Grid wheels, in 18x9.5" size, +38 offset. When we first looked at the wheels they looked colossally wide compared to the stock 19x8" Focus RS wheels. We had our doubts as to whether they'd even fit under the car's skinny fenders. There's also the question of the Focus's giant Brembo brake package up front. Those wheels are awfully dishy. Would they clear the brake calipers? Well, yes, they do. They even fit under the fenders. Mostly.

For tires with went with a Continental Extreme Contact Sport in size 255/40R18. This is about 2% taller than stock, about as much as we'd suggest deviating from the stock tire size. We also considered going with a 255/35R18, which would have given us more fender clearance, but that would have been 2% shorter than stock. The taller tire has a slightly taller sidewall for a tiny bit more ride comfort, which we'd be grateful for.

On first blush, the tires appeared to stick out from the car a bit. Doing our scientific experiments (otherwise known as flailing the car around an empty parking lot like a nut) regarding suspension motion and fender clearance, we established that we couldn't actually get the front fenders to run into the tires no matter what we did, but that the rear fenders would ever so slightly skim the outer sidewall at full suspension travel. It was not enough to cut the rubber up, but the sidewalls got a little polished. A 255/35R18 or a 245/40R18 should fit fine without any clearance problems. If we had any camber adjustability, we could also tip the tops of the tires in slightly to get them to tuck under the fenders, but for now our suspension is 100% stock.

The ride with the 18" wheels and tires is pleasantly softer than with the OEM 19's. There is a tiny bit less steering sharpness with the wider/softer tire setup, but the Extreme Contact Sport tires give up very little in dry grip compared to the stock Michelin Pilot Super Sports, and the wet grip is astounding -- I'd say superior to the already amazing PSS tires.

We got a ton of positive comments regarding the look of the car with this wheel and tire setup. The deep concave shape of the wheels is a sharp contrast to the very flat OEM wheels, and the much wider tires and track width give the car a very chunky and solid appearance.

We've already been observing that the car picks up and throws a lot of rocks and gravel, and with the wider tire package we're even more concerned about blasting the beautiful Nitrous Blue paint with road debris, so we may end up installing some Rally Armor mud flaps to minimize the sandblast threat.

We had the chance to meet the Gears and Gasoline guys (Ben and Ben) to shoot a little video about our Focus RS and the Cobb Tuning parts we've already put on and plan to put on. The G&G team was extremely professional and we were impressed with their video skills and knowledge of cars. We did some interviews in the shop and a little rolling footage of the car. The Gears and Gasoline YouTube channel has a whole bunch of very high-quality car-themed vids, including some interesting interviews with other YouTube car-related personalities. Definitely check them out. We'll probably be working with them again, so stay tuned.

Parts mentioned in this post:Cobb Tuning hard pipe kit for Focus RS, Rota Grid 18x9.5 +38 , Rally Armor mud flaps.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tracking the Focus RS, and...Moah Powah!

In November we took the Focus RS to our annual Mach V Track Day, which is a NASA High-Performance Driving Event (HPDE) that we sponsor at Summit Point Raceway each year. Then earlier this month we put the car back on the dyno for some custom ECU tuning. We were pleasantly surprised with the results in both cases.

Driving the RS on track was quite pleasant. The compromises that we perceived on the street -- ride too stiff, seats too huggy -- disappeared on track. The suspension (in normal mode) worked perfectly, and the seats kept us from having to brace our knees against the door in corners. The grip is amazing! Note, too, that our car is on regular street tires -- Michelin Pilot Super Sport, not the optional super-gummy Sport Cup 2 tires. We did not find the car understeer-y. Sure, it can push wide if you get on the power hard too early in a corner, but steady-state cornering was nicely balanced.

The car really goes around corners quite well, and that magical Rear Drive Unit definitely makes its presence known, especially in tighter corners, where just when you think the back end is about to wash out, instead the car just tracks neatly around the corner.

We did briefly try the Sport (harder) shock mode. It was far too stiff for the relatively bumpy track surface of Summit Point Main circuit, and we had to back off in order to stay on track, so we switched back to Normal mode.

We drove the car for about eight 20-minute track
sessions. In that time the car never complained, and we saw no Check Engine lights, no rear drive unit issues, and no brake fade. We did rotate the tires halfway through the weekend, but wear didn't seem terrible. (We tried not to punish the tires too much -- those tires are not cheap, and overheated Pilot Super Sports get greasy.)

The power was impressive. The car really launches out of corners, and we caught quite a few other cars on corner exit, since we could get on the gas far earlier than most 2WD cars. Speaking of gas, if we thought the car got bad mileage on the street, it is drastically worse on track. We had to fill up after each session, or we'd start to run out of fuel at the end of the second session.

Some time after we got back from the track, we received a nice letter from Ford corporate, advising us that the car will use more oil if you track it. Why yes, now that you mention it, it did consume maybe a third of a quart from our track outing. We topped off with Motorcraft 5W50. We'll probably switch to a Motul oil long-term, but we didn't have any Motul 5W50 around at the time.

A couple of weeks ago we strapped the car back onto the dyno to see if we could squeeze any extra horses from the mechanically-stock car. Turns out we could. To review, the car previously produced 314 whp and 337 lb-ft. After some adjusting of various boost/fuel/timing tables, and a few other settings, we were able to manage 335 hp to the wheels, and a whopping 394 lb-ft! That's a 21 hp gain, and a 57 lb-ft improvement.

With the increased power the car shoots forward under hard acceleration with even more urgency, especially around the 3000-4500 RPM torque peak. It's pretty dramatic.

We hope that all the drivetrain components can cope with the extra power and torque. So far we haven't had any indication of problems, but time will tell. The clutch would be the most obvious failure point from the very high torque, but the rear drive unit is a bit of an unknown, and there is that little rear section of the drive shaft itself that is surprisingly thin. Stay tuned as we continue to probe the mechanical limits of this machine.

We are seeing that 2017 Focus RS models are finally available, and that dealerships are starting to offer the car without Additional Dealer Markup (ADM). Some people even report purchasing a car under MSRP. That makes the Focus RS even more of an amazing performance buy.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Cobb AccessPort Dyno Results, and Living With the Focus RS

Happy OctobeRS! In this post I'll talk about dyno numbers for our car, and some impressions of using the car as a daily driver.

We strapped the Focus RS to our Dynojet dyno to get some power numbers, both stock and with the Cobb AccessPort installed. We do have an AWD dyno, and you'd think we would just strap the car up and run the AWD Focus on the AWD Dynojet. However, it turns out the Focus gets unhappy being rigged up to the AWD dyno. So instead we disabled the rear drive module and just ran the car as a FWD.
Focus RS dyno graph with and without Cobb Stg1 map
We usually see a loss of about 15% from engine horsepower to wheel horsepower on our dyno, for 2WD cars. That would amount to 297.5 whp. The car made...297 whp. Spot-on! Torque was a generous 312 lb-ft.

We also installed the Cobb AccessPort onto the car. The AccessPort reprograms the car's Engine Control Unit (ECU) for increased power and torque. It took about ten minutes for the AccessPort to work its magic. With Cobb's Stage 1 map, the car made 314 whp and 337 lb-ft.

When I get some more time, we'll get the car back on the dyno and see if we can get some more power from the car by custom-tuning it ourselves. We also might try a replacement air filter to see if that makes any difference, although I have my doubts.

Pumpkin pickup dutyOther than the power numbers, I have just been enjoying driving the car around town, to and from work, and to Summit Point Motorsports Park, where we run a retail store. I'll list some of my observations from the last couple of months.

The Focus RS goes around corners really well. From point to point on a twisty road, this car is very, very fast. Faster, I would say, than a Subaru STI, and maybe faster than an Evo X. The torque-vectoring rear end makes its presence known in corners. Just when you feel like the back end is going to wash out, there is this strange feeling of the back end pushing the car through the corner. It feels a little unusual at first, but you learn to rely on it and you can pick up the cornering pace as you do.

I wish it was lower. The whole car is tall, and the seating position is very chair-like. The hip point is too high for my taste, but if you try to lower the seat down, the thigh bolster digs into your legs behind the knees. So I have to keep the seat unnaturally high.

Those seats are extremely huggy, though. Perfect for sporty driving. You can take corners as hard as you want, you are NOT sliding around in the seats. On the other hand, after an hour or so in the driver's seat, my butt gets numb. But who buys a Focus RS as a long-haul cruiser?

I also wish the Focus RS was lighter. We haven't weighed our car, but I've seen numbers around 3400-3450 lbs. Our car has no sunroof, no electric seats, and lighter wheels, so figure on the lower end of that, but still -- 3400 pounds?! That's a lot. Compare that with 3300 or so for our 2015 Subaru WRX. The Focus makes do with the same hood, doors, and hatch as the rest of the Focus line. Those parts are made of steel and are heavy. I admit, the doors close with a nice solid thunk, but I'd love it if the car weighed a couple of hundred pounds less. Maybe I'll try out a carbon fiber hood. (*Ahem*. Are you reading this, Seibon Carbon?)

The RS drinks gas like there's no tomorrow. The tank isn't very big (13.9 gallons), and I have been getting around 20 mpg, sometimes less. It feels like I have to fill it up every few days.

The Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires are fantastic. They offer huge grip, they are good in the wet, and they are quiet. I would NOT want the optional Sport Cup 2 tires. The Super Sports already throw tons of sand and pebbles up -- the Cup 2's would blast the paint off the car, and they'd be very difficult to live with in the rain. Oh, and they'd probably last less than 8000 miles.

Press for discomfortLet's talk about the Focus RS ride quality. I have seen and heard some confusion about the electronically adjustable shocks. They have two modes -- let's call them Normal and Hard. The shocks stay on Normal mode unless you set the drive mode selector to Track, or you manually select Hard mode with the button on the end of the turn signal stalk. You can also switch the shocks back to Normal setting while you are in Track drive mode, if you want.

Normal shock mode is pretty firm -- about as firm as I could stand on the street, and for passengers it can be uncomfortable if the road gets bumpy. Normal shock mode is also ideal for the track, unless maybe you happen to be at a Formula one track that is smooth as a billiard table. Our local track, Summit Point, is definitely not smooth.

Switch to Hard shock mode and the ride becomes unbearable on the street. Even on smooth surface roads, the car is so nervous and so much wheel motion is transmitted into the car, it feels like your internal organs are going to fall out. As for using it on track, as I said before, on any normal track with actual bumps, Hard mode is going to be way too hard. The Ford engineers report that Normal mode was fastest on the Nürburgring, and I'm sure it'll be faster at Summit Point, too.

To sum up on the suspension: Normal mode is very stiff, as stiff as I can live with. Hard mode is too stiff for the street, and maybe too stiff for almost any track. If I could go back in time and tell the Ford engineers what to do, I would either make the current Normal setting the hard setting, and have a softer setting, or I'd just stay ditch the adjustable shocks altogether and save the money that stuff costs.

Next time I post I hope to have the car back on the dyno for some custom tuning, and maybe we'll have some other performance mods on the car.

Parts mentioned in this post: Cobb AccessPort.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

800 Mile Update: Tint, Paint Protection, and Wheels

I promised some news after break-in, and now there are 800 miles on the Focus RS. We've got various plastic films to report on, plus some new wheels.

The Focus gets really hot inside, so one of my first stops was TNT Tint, for some Virginia-legal window tint. Tint-master Matt Judy applied Madico Charcool film, 35% on the rear windows and 50% on the front. The interior stays cooler and the car looks nice, too. TNT has tinted every Mach V car since the 1990's, and they do great work.

Another treatment I get on my new cars is clear paint protection film, which makes the front of the car pretty much impervious to rock chips and other road debris. DJ Mayo Studios applied XPEL Ultimate paint protection film, and they included a few bonus bits, like putting a piece of clear film in each door cup to prevent fingernail scratches. Years from now the front of the car will be as free of chips and pits as it is today. I figure touching up that Nitrous Blue would not be easy.

The economics of this process are mixed, though. The film application is labor-intensive and the film itself is not inexpensive. For the price of the paint protection, I could probably afford to have the front of the car resprayed in three or four years. But in the mean time the car would be accumulating stone chips, and given the amount of photos I will take of this car, the protection makes sense for me.

Next up was to address those heavy factory wheels. I had read online they were 27 pounds each, which isn't too bad for a 19x8" wheel, but you can certainly do better in the aftermarket. Advanti Racing had a wheel that looked very similar to the factory-option forged wheels, but was supposed to be even lighter at under 20 pounds. (The full name of the wheel is Advanti DST HY Hybris.) Well, we've got a scale here at Mach V, so we ordered up a set. They come in black and silver. I ordered two of each color, because that way I can show each color on the car. Marketing, y'know.

The stock 235/35R19 Michelin Pilot Supersport tires would fit fine on the new wheels, and I'm a huge fan of the Supersports, so I decided to swap them over. The tire pressure sensors fit the new wheels as well, but the stock rubber TPMS-compatible valve stems are pretty much a one-use item. They will tear if you try to remove them from the stock wheels, so plan to have a new set ready if you change out your wheels.

Now to the wheel weight numbers. I've got bad news and good news. The bad news is that the stock cast wheels are even heavier than reported. My calibrated shipping scale says 29.1 pounds with the stock center cap and TPMS valve stem on. Of course, that Ronal-manufactured wheel is built like a brick outhouse, so if you want something that can withstand potholes and other road hazards, perhaps the stock cast wheel is for you. They are nice-looking wheels, in my opinion, and the dark-gray color is nice because it doesn't show brake dust.

The good news is that the Advanti Racing wheels are only 19.75 pounds each. That's darn good for a 19x8.5" wheel. They look great, too. The +44 offset is a few mm less than the stock wheel's +50, so they look a little more aggressive on the car. I thought the black would look best, by I really do like the brighter look of the silver, too. (It makes me wonder what they would look like in white.)

In the next post I'll have dyno numbers and will talk about future performance mods.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Yeah, Focus RS!

Back in 2002 I was reading Evo magazine and gawking at a crazy Ford focus available in Europe only. That car was the Focus RS, and it made 212 hp from a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It had lightweight O.Z. wheels, Brembo brakes, fancy shocks, and came in any color you wanted as long as it was Imperial Blue. That car sounded pretty appealing to me, but of course here in America we never get the best overseas cars, so I didn't have much hope of seeing the Focus RS here.

Seven or so years went by and I read about another Focus RS. This second-generation version went from eyebrow-raising to clutch-your-children-close bat-poop crazy, with a 301 hp turbo five-cylinder engine driving just two front wheels. Oh, and it also came in a retina-searing green color. Of course we didn't get that car in American either. So unfair!

Imagine my surprise when the automotive press reported the third-generation Focus RS would indeed be sold in the U.S. It would be all-wheel-drive, and powered by a four-cylinder turbo with "more than 300" horsepower. Well, that sounds like Mach V material right there. I went down to my local dealership...actually, I had to go farther afield then that to find a car at a price that didn't seem too unreasonable. Thanks, Porter Ford of Newark, Delaware! Anyway, I brought one back to the shop.

In terms of options, our car is spec'd as lightly as you can get, with the exception of that Nitrous Blue paint. Prior to this almost all our shop cars have been white, but I just could not turn down this car's trademark color. The Nitrous Blue does look amazing, especially in the sunlight. It's got a thick, deep metal flake in it that is really dramatic in direct light. At dusk (see above), it's more muted, but it still is a beautiful finish. Did you know it's a four-stage paint process?

Of course I do have some plans for modifying the car. The first few things will be some window tint to keep the interior heat down a bit, and some clear film to protect that nose of the car from rock chips. Next up will likely be some wheels. The stock wheels look fine, but they are 27 pounds each, according to the internet. The optional forged factory wheels are two pounds lighter, but that's still a lot. At this point I don't think anything from our existing catalog will fit -- I am not sure our 18x9.5" Mach V Wicked Awesome wheels would work because of the width, even if the car didn't have the unusual 5x108 bolt pattern. We'll see what else we can come up with.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: There's a Cobb AccessPort for this car! If you aren't already familiar with it, the AccessPort is a handheld ECU programmer that plugs into the car's OBD-II diagnostic port. It reflashes the ECU with a revised program, altering turbo boost, fuel, ignition timing, and more. The result is more horsepower and torque, without any hardware modifications to the car. As we upgrade other parts, we'll be able to use the AccessPort to further fine-tune the ECU programming to match.

I loaded the new AccessPort ECU program onto our car's ECU earlier today. It took about fifteen minutes, and there was no drama or fuss.Poof, another 17+ peak horsepower, and even more torque. What's not to like?

I could mount the AccessPort on the dash (the mount is included) for live data display, but you don't have to, so for now I just stored it in the glove box.

If you know me, you probably are asking why I didn't already have the car on the dyno. Well, I do want to give the engine a tiny bit of break-in time. But I promise an update in the future with actual numbers from our actual Dynojet dyno, both stock and with the Cobb Stage 1 map installed.

Watch this blog for more updates on this car, including those dyno numbers, more modification plans, and other Focus RS news.

Products mentioned in this post:
Cobb AccessPort for Focus RS