Do New Performance Cars Even Need Modifying?
The Focus RS Dream Drive

Just 10 years ago, no one would have imagined that a company like Ford would introduce a car like the Focus RS to the masses in the US.

From a performance standpoint, Mustangs and Camaros have always been expected, but now we’re starting to see the cars that Europe has had for many years. It’s not just that though; these models are so good out of the box, it makes you wonder whether there’s still even a need to modify a car for performance in the modern era.

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I was given the chance to take a drive around LA in the 2017 Ford Focus RS recently and came away very impressed. The car handles, has more than enough power at 350hp, and is more than capable of being driven fast thanks to the great feedback through the steering wheel. Being able to change how the car behaves on the fly to suit the driving you are doing is certainly a feature all new performance cars should come with, though we didn’t play with the “drift” mode. The car even comes with a cold air intake from the factory and Ford Performance all over it. Then you get to the creature comforts it includes and you start to realize many of the parts that normally are replaced are already there in the RS.

So what more does this car need?

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Think about that for a second. It wasn’t that long ago that the Ford Mustang GT didn’t even come with a V8 with more than 280hp. Now we have a 2.3-liter turbocharged inline-four that puts out 70 horsepower more than that, even more torque, and all-wheel drive. The RS, and many modern performance cars as well, are coming out of the factory faster, better equipped, and posting Nürburgring lap times well under the nine-minute mark.

With the RS, it’s nearly a performance bargain at under US$40,000. The only way to make it handle any better or go any faster would be to put a set of semi-slicks that are designed for the track. Sure, Hennessey Performance is offering a 400hp package stateside, but that’s just an ECU calibration change; they don’t touch the engine or the turbo.

Make Way For The EPA
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It’s almost getting to the point in the US that it must be this way. With the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) going after shops that create and sell products that “could” be used to defeat emissions equipment – even on race cars – and fining them millions of dollars, it’s getting to the point that it’s almost no longer worth it to open a shop even outside of California and its pertinacious CARB (California Air Resources Board). It certainly looking like the end days of tuner shops if something isn’t done to protect them or even those of us who turn our cars into race cars that never touch a public road. Even if the EPA is stopped, customers are demanding vehicles with greater performance and better economy from factory. That’s why we’re starting to see more and more cars like the RS here in the US.

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For modification in terms of performance, we’ll probably end up seeing less and less for more modern cars. Body modifications to improve aerodynamics and make the car slicker through the air, produce more downforce, or just make it look different, will more likely become the focus. We’re sure we’ll still see the overly wide cars with bolt-on fender flares at every SEMA Show.

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However, as far as putting more power down, improving suspension, or just getting more feel out of your steering with a modern performance car, we’re probably approaching the limit. Hennessey proved there is still more power to be found in the stock RS with just some engine tuning, as we pointed out earlier, but even at 350hp and torque out of a 3434lb (1557kg) car, they’re some good numbers from the factory in the power-to-weight stakes. Most of the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) regional and national classes have a weight to power ratio rule of 10:1 to 12:1; this RS with its factory power, torque, and full interior is right at 10:1. Start stripping that interior out as the rules allow, you start dipping into the 9.5:1 and lower ratios without ever touching the engine.

End Of Days Or Beginning Of A New Era?
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So, are we at the end of days for the modern tuning shop in the US? Will it be the EPA or the customer demand for better performance out of the box that kills it first? Or should we start turning our attention to the inevitable future of the electrification of our vehicles?

It would be great if we had the absolute answer, but to be honest, we don’t think tuning shops are going to die off any time soon. Will they have to adjust? Most certainly, but the good ones that are still around from the 1990s will continue just like they did into 2000s and the recession by evolving their performance options for customers. ECU tuning will start to take more of a lead role for these shops, if the EPA or CARB doesn’t ruin everything the meantime.

However, the day of adding a big turbo to make that magical 300 to 400 horsepower number in a compact is probably gone for now in the modern car. The car already makes that number and has a turbo installed.

Justin Banner
Instagram: jb27tt
Facebook: racerbanner

Photos by Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto
larry@speedhunters.com

Cutting Room Floor
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50 comments

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1

As long as manufacturers keep making wheel gap atrocious, ugly wheels that aren't wide enough and exhausts that are too quiet, yes we need mods!

-Alex

2

too right about ugly wheels, I wish diamond cut faces would die off like lexus lights.

3
Matthew Dockery

New RS is way too quiet. Seen quite a few at autocrosses and track days going full chat and they make less noise than a stock WRX.

4

Yes the answer is yes everything has room for improvement. For example almost all new cars are heavy

5

They have to be to meet federal laws. No way around that unless you go with exotic materials which drive up costs.

6

Nobody's arguing why automakers do things. Darkclark was saying that, to answer the headline of this article, Yes even new performance cars need modifying. For example, new cars have heaviness to which lightness can be added.

7

I play up this in my head waaaaaay too much. I'm looking at one day getting either a Challenger Scat Pack or a WRX STi(polar opposites I know) both have shortcomings. The STi doesn't have the most robust engine and it's a little down on power(compared to the rest) and the Challenger isn't the best and corners and needs some suspension and wider tires.

My mind goes on for days one how to fix these problems and on if I could work around them. In reality though, I'll likely never exceed or master the performance limit for either car so getting into crazy mods isn't really necessary, they're great from the factory.

8

A new STi isn't a car that this article applies to. It's far too heavy from the factory for its 305hp, so it needs more right off the showroom floor.

9

We're probably going down the route of more Personalisation happening rather than Modifying. But I doubt modding for performance will ever go away. It will just change. Especially with the amount of Eco and Electric stuff coming out.

10
Bradley Johnson

The biggest thing that needs modifying with the RS is the interior! Bland boring focus inside with some blue stitching and rs badges just isn't enough to cut it from another ford focus for me. That and besides the drift mode, which we all know will contribute to high insurance premiums because of numties slinging them in the ditch because 'drift mode' and 'ken block'in it' theres not exactly anything to be overjoyed about that the Germans aren't already killing the market with and far better quality, an then the Japanese sticking to their guns with the FK2 and FK8 Type R's which are quicker than the RS despite the power deficit.

11

Same can be said for the other spectrum. Do Eco Cars deserve to be modified? or should they stick to what they really are?...eco boxes.

If you ever raced in a league before.. you know stock class ain't no stock class! I'm done.

12

Aw man, in the future I won't be able to dump my life savings in to a pile of garbage and blow it up. What a shame.

13

aka car mods are complete bs and a waste of life resources.

14
Matthew Dockery

At least we had something beautiful and truly ours, if only for a moment.

15

Right. But give it time and shops are going to find something to do. Theres some crazy people out there ready to do wild things.

Just my opinion

16

Anyone catch the Bathurst 6hr on the weekend? Mostert was ringing the neck of one of these Focus RS around Mt Panorama, it was pretty incredible to watch. The attitude of the car going across the top of the mountain was a site to see. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but the last hour or so is worth watching.

17

reads title

wat. of course they do.

18
Matthew Dockery

If you ever want to show up at a car show again with something worth looking at, you sure as hell need to be modifying them.

If you ever take it to the track, you're going to want more out of it eventually. Most every driver is capable of reaching the limits of their cars with enough practice. Once you get there, all you want is to push that limit further.

Or go buy something old and say "screw new" altogether (this is my personal favorite).

19

Hahaha!!! Nissan said the same thing when the GTR came out. Now look at how many modified GTRs there are. Lol
It means that there is a lot more potential in modern performance cars that a tuner/owner can tap into.

20

To answer the title: no, absolutely not. When you can get a Focus with 19 wheels, a LOT of horsepower and torque, all in a screaming color, why would you modify it? Which part of it? You can only make it worse. And that's only a Focus, not some real exotic.

21

Most car enthusiasts like to modify cars because they like to put a little bit of their personality and taste into something they love. Having a cool new car that's exactly like the rest of the other ones out there is, well, boring.
And I'm willing to bet that the Focus has room for improvement, just like everything else that's made. Whether it's looks, aero, handling, or power. Every car can be improved from OEM standards. Companies do not sell cars at their absolute limit of performance and reliability.

22

With all due respect sir, i trust a big car company better than ANY tuner. The balance between the performance, reliability and price is set to be perfect. Sliding that balance to performance or reliability is up to the user, but its not NEEDED.

23

@Adam, I think you're a little misty eyed from car adverts or something. Manufacturers build vehicles to make maximum profit, whilst just barely satisfying the warranty.

Performance aside, any brand new car has dozens of features on it that are the cheapest they can be. If a person plans on keeping a vehicle for lonnger than the warranty before "upgrading" to something new, there are so many things that can be done to a vehicle to make it last longer, be more reliable, more Effecient, etc.

Look at GMC Duramax Deisels. For the longest time, they didn't come with a lift pump. They were relying on the low volume / high pressure pump in the engine to also draw fuel from the tank. It is very hard on the pump, and very hard on the injectors (one of the main reasons injectors are considered a weak link on Duramax motors)...but guess what, both the pump and the injectors tend to last juuuuust past the warrenty dates. Anyone who has interest in using one of those trucks for a long time ends up putting an aftermarket lift pump between the tank and engine bay

24

If you love cars... here is a reason why everything needs modifying... which one's mine again?

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25

New cars are just not any fun to modify, our nanny's have won. Role up and have an ECU flash, bigger wheels, and a drop? Rinse repeat, rinse repeat, rinse repeat, yaaaahhn. At that point even "modifications" are just cookie-cut from someone's instagram page/forum post.

26

Nonsense, you're just looking at the wrong builds.

27

Um.. Yes.

28

Nice photos.

29

I guess there is one other thing to look into, the top models aren't the only models that people modify to go faster because not everyone can afford them. So sure people are going to do what they can to the lower spectrum cars whether that's a hybrid turbo or stealing bits from other higher tiers cars or even custom fab

30

I would say that absolutely, yes, new performance cars need to be modified.

Last year, I spent some time with our resident German, Michael Grassl, and a GT3 RS on the roads around the Nürburgring. The car absolutely blew me away, but it was a tuned and modified Manthey-Racing example with KW Suspension, lightweight magnesium wheels and some other pieces. I asked Michael if it was even necessary to modify something as good as a GT3 RS and he was full sure that it was. From the factory, the cars are setup very neutral to appeal to a wider customer base. There's not much point selling a car that's perfectly set up for the Nordschleife to an investment banker who's only going to drive it on the autobahn every day.

I've been driving the new Golf R over the weekend, and even though it's considerably more car than a GTI, I can definitely see areas where I would change it to suit my personal preferences. I guess that's what it comes down to, it's not about modifying a car for the sake of it, rather to modify it to suit what you need from it.

31

"it's not about modifying a car for the sake of it, rather to modify it to suit what you need from it."

That's really it in a nutshell. Do I really need to modify my car? No, hell no. Do I want to? abso-fucking-lutely. Why? Fun mainly. I don't think it was ever really about necessity. Except for maybe cars that come with really really lean tunes riding the ragged edge of detonating and blowing fragile ringlands cruising on the highway (ahem, late model Subies).

32

I would disagree Paddy. I am sitting twenty feet from three 991 GT3RS's undergoing track prep. There have seen a couple dozen come through the shop over the last year or so. A roll/harness bar (not included on US cars), a decent set of harnesses, and a good alignment (taking advantage of the stock adjustable setup).... and you've got an incredible car out of the box. This is hardly what one could consider a "build".

When you've got someone with incredible resources like Manthy saying that the only things an RS needs is a set of new adjustable coilovers, some $20k lighter wheels, and a couple minor tweaks .... well.... that's saying something.

33

I'm not trying to be a pedant, but any changes made from how the car leaves the factory is a modification. On a GT3 RS, yes, they're just small things but they still needed to be changed to suit the driver and owner.

34

350bhp as stock....I'm sure we cold get 1000bhp out of it lol it will never end even if logically the base might be almost perfect ...ALMOST .... theres always room for improvement

35

If only it came in yellow...

36

Unfortunately, to me, the newer cars that're being produced just don't seem to have the soul that older, pre-2000s cars do.

Sure, they have great performance, but they don't have the character that a well-restored/modded 240Z, 3000GT, RX7, MR2 or any other car from 'back then' has. I look at something like the RS and I think "Why would I bother to buy that when thousands of other people will have the *exact* same thing?" I'd rather have something that I built and personalized myself. When I go to a car show, I don't want to pull up beside 3 other Nitro Blue RS's. That's boring.

As far as buying a good track car, we all know what '...Is Always The Answer'

37

I think I see what your saying. I feel like a lot of the new performance cars are not cars we can lust after or drop our jaws after actually seeing one. I still get excited when I see an FD RX7 or a R32 GTR. They have an excitement around them that is not tangible.

38

Exactly. There's something about a unique, well-built car that's had heart and soul poured into it that a factory car just can't touch. And from what I can see, the car 'scene' in America with modern cars is just "Oh, I added this Stage X kit and a lip spoiler."

IMO that's not building a car. That's putting on parts after someone recommends them so that you get the exact results someone else got. It takes the risk and fun out of building something that's special and unique to just the owner. And I don't see that changing any time in the future with new cars that're coming out.

39

Automotive modifications and tuning shops aren't disappearing any time soon because so many aftermarket parts customers don't race in an environment with rules, class break downs, and quantifiable results. What I mean is that the general aftermarket industry has such a large audience to cater to that simply wants arbitrary horsepower numbers to go up. I've talked to so many customers at tuning shops, meets, what have you, and talked shop about what they did to their cars. When the question "how does it fare on the track?" is posed a typical response of "oh, I don't take it to any track" is made. So many people don't modify cars to make them quantifiably better, but rather so many people modify cars because parts exist and they have money to buy them or they're bored and just want to change something. Hell, sometimes I'm guilty of this too. In many cases there is no real rhyme or reason to automotive modification and at the end of the day, that is okay as it works towards perpetuating a culture.

40

Well, on the high budget side, there's the Kevlar M2 you guys featured a while back, and on the more ''common-man'' side of things, there's Paddy's GTI. Successful cars always have to be pretty neutral, even if they're a "performance car" (think Cayman as opposed to Elise) as the users are gonna range from a Speedhunter to a Dentist. That said, I guess we'll focus more on the hidden things (Suspensions, Steering feel, Interior simplification) as opposed to Number-Making stuff.

41

So much to starting my own performance shop. this makes youngsters like me sad. just the fact that its true.

42
MPistol HVBullets

I think the harsh reality people can't really accept - is the fact that their "modifications" don't improve the car. So many things in the aftermarket actually don't do much - if anything. many aftermarket intakes do nothing - or a fraction of the claimed numbers. Aftermarket exhaust systems are usually WORSE despite any power increases because of drone. You need a real high quality aftermarket exhaust to EXCEED the sound quality of stock systems. Stop thinking you need a 3" exhaust - how probably aren't making enough horsepower to warrant one - get the 2.5". Let's not even begin to talk about wear quality when it comes to road salts and the elements. Stock systems far outlast the aftermarket. Tuning is still a great avenue, but if you've got an NA motor, forget it.

I drive a Chevy SS (Holden Commodore) and I swore the power would be AMPLE. 3,000 miles in and all I want is a supercharger - LOL. So the "aftermarket" is fine - it's just that we got smart, and we only seek out HIGH QUALITY parts. Those of us that don't........... shame on you. Meet or exceed stock parts??? That's quite the TALL order these days

43
Matthew Dockery

Half the modifications I see are people with non-performance trim versions of a car trying to get some of the performance of the higher end models without spending the big dollars for things they don't need.

WRX --> STI is a good example (maybe not the current generation, but previous generations for sure). The increase in price from a WRX to STI is really high, and you're paying for things like the badge and the wing (which doesn't do a whole lot at street speeds). Some people just try to pick and choose the STI bits (even if they're aftermarket) and save on the things they don't want by modifying the mid-level model.


Then there's handling improvements. My girlfriend is currently in the midst of putting a whole mess of suspension parts underneath her Fiat 500 Sport to make it handle better (more like an Abarth). She couldn't afford an Abarth when she bought the Sport and now doesn't want to get rid of her extremely clean 30,000 mile car to buy a beat pocket rocket second hand.

And don't get me started on older cars. I drive a Datsun 510, and it was downright terrifying to drive is fast-ish in stock form.

I agree that there are a lot of bad modifications out there, but that doesn't mean modifications can't be improvements. No one buys the car they want off the lot -- they buy the car they can get. You have to make it exactly what you wanted.

44

Insanity if you feel that cars like the Focus RS are "perfect" from the factory. Big manufacturers always cut corners in terms of parts and life of parts. We are getting excellent factory cars relative to what we had even a decade ago, I agree, but that doesn't mean tuning cars or modifying them is dead. Hennessy discovers that tuning the 2.3 in the RS unlocks another 50-horsepower. Okay, what about tuning the car to run on E85 (assuming Hennessy's tune takes advantage of the E10 93-octane most of us use). After that, you'll find limitations in the fuel system, limitations in the turbo size, reliability of the turbo may be compromised. Eventually, you'll make enough power to need to upgrade the trans, axles, and suspension. If the default is "We don't need to go faster". Then we would have stopped upgrading cars long ago.

For sure everyone wants to go faster and while the EPA is certainly going to continue pushing the limits, it's not going to stop tuning. We've already seen tuning occurring in electric cars and the development of performance hybrids as well. Where there is a will, there is a way.

45

Still a ford, I'll keep my STi.

46

The biggest issue with new cars, especially performance cars, is lack of steering feel. The performance is suitably bonkers out of the box, and I love that...but feeling what the front wheels are doing is disappearing more and more. And that feel corresponds to having tangible knowledge regarding how fast your car REALLY is. I don't want to have to go 80-100mph, or drive like a hoonigan, just to feel something. I'm fine with capability, but I want to FEEL it, not just know it.

47

I whole heartedly agree. Part of the reason why I sold my 300ZX TT for a 350Z, its just better equipped for what I wanted to do (circuit and autocross). There are a few exceptions, like the GT86, I feel that car was intended to be blank slate for an owner to build upon.

48

Yes, obviously.

Have you even driven an FR-S?

49

This article reads like it was read by someone with no understanding of car modification. Suspension is never optimal for performance from the factory. It needs to be too cushioned for the road. Same with engine tunes, turbo sizes, exhausts, etc. "It's got a cold air intake and ford performance stickers, must not need to be modified anymore"

50

The answer is YES OF COURSE. As many already said there's always room for improvement and to make it suit you more. Because no matter how performance car is, if it's not a limited edition or limited production sky priced Hypercar, it's always compromised. It's made to be cheaper to produce for the manufacturer, to work well in the warranty limited time , to answer more different parameters like comfort, price, loudness, fuel consumption. But there's different people with different opinions. Some of them can close their eyes on one of these things. And "Don't buy this car, go buy another" is not always the answer.

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