Recap: I have a rusty POS Miata, a pristine and turbocharged Miata, and now I have a Focus RS. You’d think that I’d be pretty happy with things at this point, but that is far from the truth. Tuner culture is in my blood and you can bet that I’m not going to leave that behind!
The Focus was boring. My first DSM wasn’t exactly a thriller when it was stock, so I looked to the aftermarket to see what could be done. In 2008, the 2nd generation DSM platform had had 14 years of development. The Focus RS had only been out for six months, and aftermarket parts were only just starting to trickle out. The suspension was catastrophically bad from the factory, but it would be a while before companies figured out how to fix that, so I set my sights on the NVH. Specifically how there wasn’t enough of it.
I had started early, picking up a cone filter and blue filter oil long before I had even gotten the car, and I had installed that during a hurricane party in Sebring on the way back from the dealership. That didn’t go anywhere near far enough so I got in on a group buy for a Mishimoto intake. The company had been good to me when I had inherited one of their radiators in the Talon so I decided to give them another shot here. Along with a Mountune resonator tube for the turbo, that got my Focus sounding like an aggressive vacuum cleaner. Success?
After that I installed a Turbosmart diverter valve of the 50/50 variety. It recirculates some of the air but allows part of the charge to vent to atmosphere as well. That got my jimmies rustling. I was getting closer to aural pleasure; the next stop was at the rear.
I used to say that the Focus RS sounded like a SOHC Honda whose exhaust has fallen off, only much much quieter and from the back. There is almost no sound and what little sound did come out was unpleasant and harsh. But I never found an exhaust that I liked. Many were the same but louder. Most were way too expensive. I looked for months and never found anything worth pursuing, so I opted to focus on other aspects while I waited.
I got a short shifter. I got aluminum charge pipes. I got a set of ST snowflake wheels and mounted winter tires, but I was getting bored. Exhausts continued to fail to impress and I was trying to avoid a tune for the time being. Having a useable warranty had been the singular reason for getting the car, after all.
Additionally, I had absolutely terrible experiences with dealerships. They repeatedly treated me like an incompetent child who had taken his parents’ car for a joyride. My complaints were always dismissed as operator error and everything was explained in an aggressively condescending tone. On my third attempt I did manage to find a dealership that treated me like an actual human being with actual car problems, but this came about right when I gave up.
The first year of ownership I put 25k miles on the car, taking it to Salt Lake City in addition to the original drive from Miami and the other countless smaller trips around the Midwest. The more familiar I got with it the less confident I was that the aftermarket would be able to solve all of my complaints and the less willing I was to continue putting money into it to try. The newness and excitement had worn off, and over the next four months I put less than 2,000 miles on it. I was driving every other car that I had instead. The Miata, with its turbo and gradually refined tune, was infinitely more exciting and fun, and with the exception of the Salt Lake City trip I hadn’t used the extra practicality provided by the additional two doors, two seats, and large hatch in the Focus. The absolutely asinine 19” wheels had already destroyed two tires and a wheel, making the $500 investment for the wheel and tire warranty well worth it. It was an amazingly competent winter car, but it just wasn’t making sense to keep such an expensive car in the garage only to pull it out when the first round of salt went down at the beginning of Winter.
And on top of all of that, my biggest complaint with the car was around the complexity of the AWD system. In the DSMs, throttle in a turn just meant that you accelerated until the front wheels gave up and maybe you got a little bit of torque steer. In the Focus, modulating throttle would actually change the turning radius. I found that out the hard way the first time. Near my work there was a 150 degree sweeping turn that could be taken at speeds around 55 mph. One of the commutes into work I decided to goose the throttle in the middle of that turn and discovered that the car dove to the inside of the curve and curbed my wheel. The torque vectoring system would send so much torque to the outside wheel to rotate the car that it could tighten the turning radius by a frightening amount, even without changing the steering angle. This gave a driving dynamic that was even described as unpleasant by my passengers when I silently initiated this behavior during a lunch break at work. It made the car feel wildly unpredictable as a driver and out-of-control as a passenger.
And twice, the overactive torque vectoring system did instigate a complete loss of control that in one case only narrowly avoided ending in a collision. The first time, I was being irresponsible and accepted a challenge from a middle-aged Indian coworker in his first generation CR-V. He and I were having some fun on a trip that ended in a left turn onto a major road that, at that time, was empty. He and I both initiated the turn at the same time but when the AWD system kicked in on my car it forced the back end to come around and I ended up facing the opposite direction in the far lane of this major road. The second time, I was waiting to turn left at an uncontrolled intersection. The line of oncoming cars was exceedingly long and, in my frustration, I mashed the pedal to the floor when an opening came up. Yet again, the AWD system broke the back end loose. The car rotated 135 degrees and came to rest a little over an inch from the curb and only about a foot out of reach of the line of traffic that I had just turned through. That was when I decided to get rid of the Focus.
The first step was to find a winter car to replace the Focus, since this was now early December and I didn’t have another car that I felt comfortable exposing to the salt. I was originally thinking of something practical like a V70 until a friend indicated that an Eclipse met all of my criteria and I, still thinking about how the Focus couldn’t fill the shoes left by the Talon, got excited by the suggestion. I was in a much better position financially compared to where I was when I bought the Talon and I could afford to do it right this time.
The first test drive was a bust. I could fit a finger through the strut towers and told the seller that I didn’t even feel comfortable low-balling him lest he accept my offer and I’m stuck with yet another scrap DSM chassis. The second one was significantly more promising. I had driven the 5 hours to Cleveland to check it out and wasn’t terribly interested in going home empty-handed, but there wasn’t anything motivating me to do so anyway. Sure, the car had crappy tint that made it impossible to drive at night. It had a slight power steering fluid leak. There was evidence of the most stereotypical Fast & Furious subwoofer install. It had craptastic aftermarket projector headlights. But these were all things that could be rectified, and the chassis was completely clean save minor surface rust in the expected places and mediocre paint. I paid the seller and was on my way. And boy was the DSM scene eager to welcome me back.
The very next day I took the car to the BMV to register and title it. While inside, sjmkhomeone tried to break into the car and managed to destroy my passenger side door handle. Not only could the door not be opened from the outside but their violence had also broken the interior door handle mechanism. I took the car to the dealership the next morning and they informed me that there was nothing that they could do short of drilling a hole in the door to access the latch mechanism and advised that that was something that I could do myself for much cheaper. That evening I performed laparoscopic surgery through an incision at the back of the outside door handle cup and managed to finegle the door open. Having completed my repair (I even managed to salvage the outside door handle) I went to start the car. It ran for one singular second before shutting off with a Check Engine Light. Any further ignition attempts were met with a no spark condition. My boyfriend’s handy dandy bluetooth OBDII reader revealed a crankshaft position sensor code and so I placed my first parts order. The car had run for two days.
The next week I installed the new sensor and found that there was a massive exhaust leak at the turbine outlet flange due to a damaged turbine housing and a warped O2 housing. I placed my second parts order, but this time I splurged and took the opportunity to upgrade the turbo. The car had run for five days.
The following weekend I installed the new parts. The install went smoothly but I didn’t have time for a test drive, so I tested it on the way to work Monday morning. Again, smooth. On Tuesday, however, that changed. In the middle of a highway interchange the car shut off. No CEL. No fuel. No spark. The tow truck driver recognized me. The car had run for seven days total.
I did skip some major events that don’t become relevant until the weekend following the death of the new Eclipse, so next time I’ll rewind a little over a year to reveal why unconscious bank transfers are a glorious thing, finish the RS story, and recount the worst month of my life.