CARS.COM — When I found out the 2017 Ford Focus RS was coming for the week, two words came to mind: Drift. Mode.
When Ford announced this feature would be a part of the Focus RS, it felt like the automaker was in my head. No dreams of sugarplum fairies up there, just the smell of rubber, the sound of tires squealing and a ring of black marks left on the asphalt.
We should start from the beginning: What is Drift mode?
Related: 2016 Ford Focus RS Focuses on Fast
Drift is one of four available drive modes (Normal, Sport and Track are the others) in the Focus RS. The car is a highly adjustable machine, and each mode changes the six adjustable settings: the all-wheel-drive system, dampers, steering, engine, electronic stability control and exhaust. Each setting can be toggled between Normal and Sport mode except for the AWD system, which has Normal, Sport and Drift modes.
Flipping into Track mode changes each of the settings to Sport, but Drift mode has a bit more nuance to it. The engine, stability control and exhaust all stay in Sport, but the dampers and steering move back to normal. The reason for this? Moving the dampers back to normal loosens them up a bit, which makes it easier to "catch" the slide; the extra play lets you feel the car move into oversteer more naturally. Moving the steering to Normal lightens up the wheel, which lets the driver adjust the steering quicker.
The biggest adjustment, however, is to the twin-clutch AWD system, which can send up to 70 percent of the power to the rear wheels and move 100 percent of that power laterally to whichever wheel needs it to send you into oversteering nirvana.
Drift mode doesn't automatically make you oversteer everywhere. The Focus RS has copious amounts of grip — more even than the 2016 Subaru WRX STI I tested previously — which means that to get it to slide, you really have to hurl it into a corner, something that simply can't be tested safely on public roads. Ford knows this, so if you click into Drift mode with the drive mode selector, big letters appear that read, "Track Use Only."
I am going to repeat that: DO NOT TEST DRIFT MODE ON PUBLIC ROADS, unless you want to be the next entry into the catalog of videos like this one:
With public roads out of the question, where can Drift mode be safely tested? Unless you own a runway, a giant skid pad or a parking lot without light poles, you'll probably need some kind of test track.
I live in Los Angeles and I started by checking out the larger tracks in the area. Though drifting is a more mainstream activity now, drift-specific track time is still needed - you can't just show up to a regular open track day and start sliding everywhere. They'll toss you out like Uncle Phil gleefully flinging Jazz out the front door of the mansion. The same is true for autocross events, which can be set up in large parking lots or empty spaces. Traditional arenas for racing and car control were going to be nonstarters for my drifting dreams.
The good news is, there are some drift-specific nights starting to pop up at tracks. Adams Motorsports Park in Riverside, Calif., has drift nights most Saturdays. Willow Springs hosts drift events about once a month. Summit Point in West Virginia has its Drift Nirvana schedule set for 2017. Near our main offices in Chicago, Great Lakes Dragaway has a skid pad that they open once a month for drifting as well. If you have a Focus RS and Drift mode dreams of your own, options are available, but be sure to find the drift-specific events.
Though I didn't get to test Drift mode on the Focus RS this time, if the chance comes up again to give it a run, I'll be ready.