Improve Ride And Drop Lap Times In A 2016-2018 Ford Focus RS

When the Ford Focus RS was introduced to the world in late-2015, the Ford Performance team set out to produce a  groundbreaking “hot hatch” that could outperform the competition, and it did well in most every aspect. Reviews and opinions of the long-awaited 350 horsepower, all-wheel-drive econobox with launch control and a drift mode reflected the excitement of its unveiling.

But (there’s always a but), there’s one thing which has been consistently criticized by owners and critics alike — the suspension.  Although it has four Drive modes which can be changed via a button on the console— Normal, Sport, Track, and Drift — it has limited adjustments with really only two shock settings:  Normal and Sport. They should have named them: Terrible-Ride mode and Worst-Ride mode.

As I personally own the RS in this article and have regularly raced in autocross events, I have to agree. First, is the Normal shock setting for everyday driving which can be selected in ALL Drive modes. My opinion is the everyday ride-quality was not high on the overall list for engineers. If RS owners were honest, they would quickly say daily and trip driving a stock RS is terrific, except for the ride quality. The Normal setting is still too stiff for average trip comfort. Having driven my RS on a couple of long trips, I can attest to this. 

Second, is the Sport shock setting which can be selected in two Drive modes — Sport or Track — and is 40-percent-stiffer than Normal. The Track setting can be turned on either directly with the button on the console or in Sport mode by depressing a switch on the end of the turn-signal lever. Simply put, it is much too stiff unless you find a brand new piece of road. Otherwise, you better wear a mouthpiece or risk breaking your teeth.

Ok, that might be a little exaggerated, but we all know it’s almost impossible to find a parking lot/autocross track that would be considered smooth. Car and Driver agreed in a November 2015 review, noting:  “Apparently the harder settings really are designed for use on the smoothest tracks; the car reportedly is faster around the lumpy Nürburgring with the dampers left in their Standard mode.” 

So, what can be done to have the best of both worlds — spirited/racing activities and a more comfortable, regular driving experience? Enter Pedders eXtreme XA Adjustable Coilover suspension kit. With the front and rear gas-pressurized, 30-position-adjustable shocks (both compression and rebound) and alloy-steel motorsports coil springs, you can tune the RS to fit your driving style.

Speaking of style, the RS rides a little high based on the taste of many. Pedders has a solution here also. You have simple adjustments up to a 3-inch drop giving you the look you desire. The integral camber plates also gives you a potential 3-degrees, plus or minus, on the front coilovers.    

Let the Pedders Coilover Suspension upgrade begin.

With the car on jackstands and the wheels removed, it was time to get started swapping shocks. All Photos by Chris Cervenka – CJ Pony Parts

Pre-Installation – Know What You Are Getting Into

When you open the box, you’ll immediately notice the quality of the contents.  Pedders stands alone in producing a true, ready-to-install package, making it the easiest installation on the market. The directions are somewhat generic, but with a little pre-planning you’ll have the car back on the ground and ready to ride in about four hours.

The parts come out of the box with the adjustments at a 1.5-inch drop, camber at the zero mark (which denotes the OE position of the top of the strut), and the dampening at eight clicks from firm. These pre-settings must be double-checked before installation begins, and lock rings should be confirmed they are tight using a drift pin and hammer.

If your goal differs from the pre-settings, your beginning adjustments will be easier if completed on the workbench. Our goal was a one-inch drop and two degrees of negative camber. We decided to leave the damping alone and make those adjustments later.

We did as much prep-work as possible on the workbench. Here, I am adjusting the camber plate.

The built-in camber plate is easy to adjust. Although it’s not number marked, just know each mark is .5-degree. Most racing setups call for as much camber as possible. But, depending on your wheel and tire set up and amount of suspension drop from stock, you could end up with a sway bar end-link rub beyond 2.25-degrees negative.

With stock wheels and tires we’ve never had complaints of tire rubbing,” Daniel Tong of Pedders Suspension says. “The only rubbing issues that come up are with the top joint of the front endlink. You should be able to get to about 2.25 degrees of negative camber using HD links without any issues. Once you get beyond this point, keep a close eye on the upper endlink joint-to-chassis clearance.

If you need additional clearance, you will need to find aftermarket end-links or rod ends that are smaller. Also, make sure you have as much negative camber dialed-in at the hub as possible. This is done by loosening the pinch bolt that holds the strut in place and pushing the assembly in as far as possible [see below].

As with any suspension modifications, you should have the camber and a full alignment completed by a shop with a good understanding of modified vehicles. One flaw in the RS front-shock tower design is access to the camber plate adjustment. If you elect not to remove the front coilover to make adjustments (outside of the wheel knuckle-to-strut bolt above), you’ll have to cut a fairly large hole in the strut brace and the body to get to the camber adjustment.

Next, decide your desired drop from stock. Remember the beginning setting is around a 1.5-inch drop. Once adjusted, it’s time to set your coil spring preload. Daniel from Pedders gave us the following recommendations:  

“The front spring requires 3 to 5mm of preload and the rear spring requires 7 to 10mm of preload. There should be enough preload to keep the springs fully seated when the suspension is at full droop.”

Here we are setting the preload on the spring. There are two spanner wrenches that you use to tighten the lock ring against the lower spring perch.

The front set up is a true coilover set-up and pretty simple. Loosen the lock ring under the front lower spring perch and thread both the lock ring and lower spring perch down until the spring is loose. Next, thread the collars back up until the spring is seated against the upper spring perch on the camber plate and turn the lower spring perch one full turn — this should give you the 3 to 5mm of preload. Then bring the lock ring up and tighten it using the coilover spanners. Once you have this as tight as possible with the spanners, use a hammer and a drift/flat punch to tighten the collar another eighth of a turn or so.

Note, the difference in height here. The Pedders shock can be manually adjusted using the lowest silver lock ring. The quality difference is also evident here.

Ride height is adjusted by loosening the lock ring found against the lower mount (the third and lowest silver collar on the coilover) and spinning the threaded shock body into or out of the lower mount. If the spring lock collar is sufficiently locked down, you should be able to spin the damper using the spanner wrench on the top ring. Once you achieve the desired ride height, tighten down the lock ring and once again with the hammer and drift.

Another benefit of the Pedders front coilover upgrade is weight savings in the right place. The original front strut weighed in at 17 pounds. As you can see, the Pedders front coilover weighs only 11.4 pounds. That’s a savings of 11.2 pounds off the front of the RS. The Pedders new rear shocks and springs weigh about the same as stock.

Anytime you can save weight on the front end of a front-engine car is always good. The Pedders coilovers save almost six pounds per side — that is significant!

Removing/Installing The Front Shocks

The removal of the original struts is fairly straight forward. First, remove the header panel that covers the strut brace and the three bolts fastening the top of the strut to the body, and disconnect the electrical connector for the factory two-setting dampening.

Once the strut brace is removed, you can then disconnect the electrical connector for the factory two-setting dampening control.

After removing the brake line bracket from the original strut and the antilock brake line from its clip, you’ll be ready to remove the wheel knuckle-to-strut bolt completely. With the suspension at full droop the wheel knuckle will stay in place. One trick to spread the wheel knuckle so the strut slips out easily, is to slide a 1 x 3-inch piece of flat-stock steel in the slit on the back side then thread in the bolt from the opposite side. The bolt will touch the flat stock and allow an easy separation of the wheel knuckle freeing up the strut to slide out.

If your RS is on a lift, you’ll be able to wiggle and pull down the knuckle freeing the strut. On jackstands, we found the easiest way to separate them was by pushing down on the rotor with your foot. Once loose, pull the strut toward you and have a helper remove the last bolt at the top of the strut. Be extra careful fishing out the damping electrical connector.

Once the brake-line bracket is removed from the original strut, you will free the antilock brake line from its clip and the wheel knuckle-to-strut bolt can be removed. It will take a little bit of work to get it free and having someone else there to help manipulate it out will make the job easier.

Installation is a simple reversal of the previous steps making sure the new Pedders coilover is seated in the knuckle. We’ll cover the electrical connection later in the article.

Installation is easier than removal because the Pedders shock is shorter, but the steps are the same, just in reverse. Be sure to reconnect the brake line bracket and put the antilock brake line back in its clip.

Now for the strut brace, you have a decision to make. The brace has a solid top leaving you no access to the 30-way damping adjustment. Do you cut an access hole or not? If you don’t, you’ll have to remove the shock to make adjustments. We chose to cut the hole.

We test fit the strut before installing it on the car and used a step-bit to drill a 1-inch access hole. You’ll need to test fit both sides because the strut brace has a slightly different shape on each side. Also, if you plan on making camber adjustments down the road, you might want to elongate a larger access hole. You’ll also need to mark and cut the strut cover. Adjustment is now easy by snapping off the small vented cover and using a 4-inch-long Allen wrench. Or even better, Pedders makes a 125mm eXtreme XA Flexible Adjuster Extension (P/N: 191001) which makes it really easy.

We chose to drill a hole in the strut brace and body to be able to access the shock compression/rebound adjustment knob. You don't have to, but if not, you will have to remove the shock in order to make any adjustments — kind of defeats the purpose! We made sure to clean up the hole and put some paint on it so it didn't stand out like a sore thumb or rust.

These are the holes we had to cut in the body. Not a big deal, they are hardly seen. Now we'll be able to adjust the dampening without having to remove the shock.

Removing/Installing The Rear Shocks

Start by removing the damping electrical connection under a small rectangular plastic cover on top of the wheelwell behind the rear passenger seat.

The shock is easy to remove. Just one bolt on the bottom and two nuts on the top.

We’d call that a sizable difference. But don’t be fooled, the Pedders shock is stronger and doesn’t have all the electronics that give the OE shock all that girth. Also note, the rear is not a coilover, the spring is separate, but still adjustable.

Before you drop in the new spring and adjustable collar, use compressed air and blow out the lower a-arm seat. I was surprised by the amount of gravel and dust that had accumulated. Make sure you clock the spring until the bottom coil is lined up with the opening tab in the A-arm.

The separate shock and spring require and little more thought vs the one-piece front coilover. Daniel gave us some suggested instructions for the rear. “The concept is the same for the rear as it is the front, just a bit more work,” he said. “At full droop, there should be only 7 to 10mm of preload. The ride height is adjusted via the threaded spring perches and the preload is adjusted by adjusting the shock length.”

L-R: You can see that the spring sits inboard from where the shock will mount and is adjustable via the threaded perch and lock ring. The shock is also adjustable via the threaded perch. The third photo shows how the spring perch adjusts. It can be a bit tricky to get setup initially, but follow Daniel's advice below and take your time.

First set the rear to the desired ride height using the threaded spring perches (you may need to disconnect the rear shocks first if you are making a large adjustment). Once the springs are set, get the car back in the air so the suspension is in full droop and measure the height/length of the threaded spring perch and uncompressed spring. Next, jack the control arm back up until it compresses the spring 7 to 10mm (use the measurement from the previous step minus 7mm). With the top of the shock installed on the car, adjust the length of the shock until the hole in the lower mount lines up with the holes in the control arms and slide the lower shock bolt in and tighten. Tighten the lock ring on the rear the same as the front.

Rear damping adjustment can be completed by turning a simple dial accessible at the top of the shock. It’s recommended you jack up the rear of the car and place it on jackstands because you’ll have to reach between the tire and the fenderwell to adjust the damping dial.

Alignment/Ride Height

Now get the RS back on the ground to confirm you have your desired ride height. This took us a couple tries to get the desired 1-inch drop. Next, it’s time to visit the modified-car friendly alignment shop.

Our RS camber plates were set at 2-degrees negative, but our actual reading at the alignment shop came in at 2.7-degrees negative in the front. Because we are running TSW Bathurst wheels from CJ Pony Parts with 40mm offset, we experienced none of the possible sway bar end-link rub. We ended up with 1.2-degrees negative camber on the rears because of the one-inch drop.

Here is a before (left) and after (right) shot to show how much we dropped the ride-height. It's only one inch, but any lower and we'd be flaring some fenders!

The Electric Elephant In The Room

Let’s address the electrical issue. Remember, we just unhooked and left hanging the four wires which controlled the two damping modes of the stock RS. We posed the question to Daniel as to what to do to prevent error codes. He gave us two options:  

  1. You can purchase an aftermarket cancellation kit for around $400. 
  2. Hold down on the damper button on the end of the turn-signal stock, immediately after switching into Track mode. This turns off the electronic dampers in Track mode. When done correctly, it keeps the car from trying to change the shock mode, thus not giving the error code.

CJ Pony Parts sells a cancellation kit made by KW Suspension (P/N: 68510462), but honestly, I chose the second option. Pushing a button is a small inconvenience in order to gain better performance and ride.

Tests And Review

Thanks to Eastside Speedway Dragstrip, we were able to set up a short, two-way course to review before-and-after performance. The course setup was to launch from a dead stop, then 75 feet to the first of a five-cone, centered slalom with 50 feet between each, then 75 feet to a pivot cone before returning through the slalom and finishing at the starting cone. My best time with stock suspension was a 20.96. Now it was time to return to see how it would do.

Before we even got to the track, the very first review item was the ride quality on the 20-mile drive to the track. I’ve been critical of the stock ride-quality since the day I picked up my new RS at the dealership. In the first half-mile, I could feel a real improvement in the ride quality — and that was with the damping set at eight clicks from firm. Chris Cervenka from CJ Pony Parts was following the RS and immediately called me to say he could see the car was handling road ripples a lot better. 

This is a weekend track car not a dedicated racer, exactly what the Pedders Suspension is designed for. You can see the lower ride height and negative camber — something I wasn’t used to — so it’s going to take some time to learn how to drive the car properly now that it has a better setup.

Once I hit the track, the first impression was how well the car rotated at speed. I felt far-less understeer and more oversteer. The car also felt flatter in the slalom and the turn at the pivot cone kept all four tires on the ground, instead of the usual lift of the trailing rear tire.

Unfortunately, the return to the slalom didn’t go quite as planned and didn’t give me the results I thought they would, through no fault of the new Pedders suspension though. Mother Nature threw another polar vortex on top of us resulting in plummeting track temps. But honestly, the largest shortfall was my driving style — three years of no suspension tunability and driving memory were a big factor. It takes time to get used to a new setup and to dial it in, so my times were actually a tick slower at 21.44.

The RS handles so much better than it did before. It's going to take some getting used to the new setup for the driver, but I'm confident with a little tweaking, warmer temps, and some seat time, I'll be competing for the title in the STU autocross class this year with the Blue Ridge Region SCCA.

We experimented a bit, firming up the front coilovers by four clicks and softening the rear shocks five clicks. This planted the car even better, which got us back to even, but the tires just couldn’t build heat as the sun was setting (as evidenced by the photos). Before we called it a night though, I let Chris take a shot at the course. He’s used to oversteer; he fields a 5.0 Mustang. Chris made one pass and was able to knock off a 20.84 time (in a car he had only ever driven twice), so the speed is definitely there once I get used to the new setup. I feel because the car doesn’t understeer like it used to, it was causing me to be late on my slalom turn-ins.

Overall I’m really happy with the Pedders Suspension upgrade. The car looks great after dropping it one inch, and the daily ride quality is improved considerably. The bottom line is the car rides and handles better than it ever did, and with improved driver performance, the new adjustment opportunities, and a few more runs, the RS will be quicker. If you’re in the market to upgrade your stock suspension, give Pedders a look, I think you’ll be pleased too.

Here is a terrific video Roman Pogoretskiy (IRNI Films) put together on our experience installing and comparing the eXtreme XA Adjustable Suspension Kit on the Focus RS:

UPDATE: After a track event, autocross, and a little fine tuning, I am getting a better feel for the car and the results are better than expected. I’ve had several comments from other racers on how much better the car rotates and looks flatter in the turns. In a field of 60 cars, the RS finished with the 4th quickest time overall at both events. In similar events before the Pedders upgrade, I would have finished somewhere between 10th to 15th against these same racers. I can say with confidence after just two races I’ve picked up two to three seconds on my past competition.

Here is a comparison. The left is before Pedders, the right is after the upgrade. Granted these are two different autocross configurations, but prior to the change I have never beat Elmore, Lingenfelder, Schumin (my mentor), Ebinger (in a full race prepped 1,400-pound 914), Huggins, Coon, or Boody. By the way, Chris Cervenka hopped in the RS for a fun run and ran a 47.6. He could easily hit a 45 with more laps!

 

Ed. Note: This article was written by Zach Straits, an amateur enthusiast who competes in the SCCA Blue Ridge Region. Zach is best known for some of his car restorations, but purchased this RS to have some track fun. He won the B-Street class in his region last year and will be competing for the STU title this year.

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About the author

Shawn Brereton

Shawn is a lifelong car enthusiast who appreciates all things automotive. He is the proud owner of a blown '55 Chevy, a daily-driven '66 Fairlane with an '09 GT500 drivetrain, and a '96 Miata track car.
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