(Montreal, QC) I am always down for a winter driving experience, let me tell you – and I don’t just mean what I get from everyday life out here in the Paris of the Prairies, Edmonton, either.

Ford Canada structured an event at the renowned Mecaglisse driving facility here in southern Quebec to show of the capabilities of two of the company’s everyday star performers; the 2017 Raptor and Focus RS

Both the Raptor and Focus RS are the progeny of Ford Performance and both are monsters in their respective class – not just on pavement (or in the Raptor’s intended hunting ground, desert) but wouldn’t you know it, both can handle themselves in Canadian winter.

We had a good day for it, too, though it wasn’t looking that way when I arrived in Montreal the day before the event. Like the rest of the country, Quebec has been getting highly variable weather, and where you could normally expect snow we got a day of rain that threatened to sour the winter driving fun; but luck (depending on your definition of ‘luck’) was with us, as the temperature dropped and new snow appeared overnight – covering a thick layer of ice.

The truck was my favourite, of course; the race-running, rally-ready pickup has always been a bundle of fun since its introduction; and the 2017 Raptor brings a new powerplant and transmission to its widened F150 platform.

A 3.5 litre EcoBoost V6 has replaced the eight-cylinder engine of previous generations, with an (also-new) 10-speed automatic transmission marshalling the 450 horsepower output.

Under the tutelage of professional instructors, sliding the lightened Raptor (the 2017 model has shed 227 kilos from the previous) around and ice-and-water course carved into the woods at Mecaglisse proved to be a great deal of fun; and a showcase for not only the power and handling of the vehicle, but the terrain-mode capabilities as well.

There are six programmed modes a driver can select from – as you might expect, the one called “weather” was demonstrated primarily in this exercise – and coupled with an ever-more robust suspension (the Raptor’s standard ‘Fox Shox’ have been enlarged and the length of travel elongated) and exclusive-to-Raptor BF Goodrich KO2 tires, it is up to any off-road challenge.

Which is not to say that a 2017 Raptor can’t mind its manners on regular roads. Take it to the pavement and it provides a ride as smooth (and a cabin as quiet) as, say, an F150 King Ranch; with a passenger environment every bit as well-appointed, I might add.

Now, while the Raptor is a lot of fun on snow and ice, it can’t match the sporty small-car agility of the Focus, especially when kitted out as the 2017 Focus RS (which Ford also brought a small fleet of to the track).

Running on studded tires for our demonstration, it held firm to the sheet of ice beneath our wheels. With a manual gearbox and standard-equip all-wheel drivetrain (which features a really clever torque-vectoring system, designed to modulate the spin of each wheel when you push the Focus RS hard (especially into the icy corners on the track), the car knows how to rock its exceptional power.

The RS is a more aerodynamic and purposefully-designed beast than the standard Focus (and it is also significantly more expensive, coming in at over 50K after taxes and destination fees), made for deep-pocketed buyers with a need for speed.

The centre piece is the 2.3L turbo four-cylinder engine under the hood – potentially 350 horses and a matching 350 lb.-ft. of torque on tap – bolstered with a couple of selectable drive modes; much like the Raptor but with different intent.

There is Track and Drift mode, the results of which are fairly self-explanatory, and the 2017 RS also gets a Launch Control function, for high power takeoffs from a standing start.

I won’t pretend that I mastered them all, of course, I’m not exactly a professional performance driver, but the best thing about situations like this event is that there are extremely talented driving instructors on hand to show wannabes like myself how it is truly done. Right about the time we of the press start to think that we’re getting the hang of handling the Focus RS on the ice, we switch seats and the instructors take us for a hot lap around the course to show us how professionals do it. Good fun indeed!

Frankly, a day of instruction and hands-on demonstrations at the Mecaglisse facility in Ford’s finest high performers is (almost) enough to make me wish winter would stick around a bit longer.

wade [dot] ozeroff [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

“The Focus is comfortable, compact and certainly has a convenient engine size for the city.”

If the budget is tight, a used Ford Focus can be an excellent vehicle choice…

The Ford Focus is an affordable and underrated used compact car buy

It got a major makeover for the 2008 model year: an all-new coupe (two-door) edition was introduced to complement the stalwart (four-door) sedan. Lamentably, however, the popular in Canada (but not in the US) wagon and (Euro-style) hatchback versions of Focus were discontinued.

The ’08 refresh of Focus included new front and rear body fascias, improved sound insulation, a redesigned interior and a new-tech multi-media upgrade. The ’08 Focus is also an about 45-kg (100-lb) lighter overall and it’s the weight reduction measures included the elimination of a spare tire, which was replaced by an inflator kit. A real spare tire/wheel could be added as an option.

An auto industry landmark was reached when Ford teamed up with Microsoft to offer a unique new multi-media system called Sync, which (for the first time) allowed control of digital music players and cellular phones with voice commands. In addition to the benefit of driver hands-free call taking, the Sync system can also translate text messages into voice messages.

The ’08 Focus, both coupe and sedan, came in S, SE and top-line SES trims. The Sync system was a ($495) option with the SE trim level and standard with SES. On the downside, electronic stability control was not offered on any version of the ’08 Focus.

The most noticeable change from a driving perspective was the reduction in outside noise and chassis vibration. The quieter cabin is the result of sound deadening improvements that include the use of thicker glass. The steering column in this Focus is also mounted on a stronger crossbeam beneath the instrument panel, which helps eliminate vibrations.

The only engine (in Canada) was a 2.0-litre, dual-overhead-cam, 4-cylinder engine, which came with a new air intake and cooling systems. It produces 140-horsepower (4-horsepower increase over the ’07) and fuel economy has been improved.

The transmission choices were a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic. Fuel economy is 8.4 L/100km in the city and highway fuel economy is rated at a phenomenal 5.9 L/100km with the automatic. The manual transmission slightly increases city consumption and reduces highway consumption, so overall the rating is the same.

Overall, the coupe performed better than the sedan in IIHS crash tests, as the sedan got lower scores in side impacts. All editions of the ’08 Focus came with a new design of side curtain air bag that uses a “roll-fold” technology to protect occupants who are resting their heads against a window.

The biggest change on the 2009 edition of the Ford Focus was the inclusion of electronic stability control as standard on the SES trim. It was also standard with a new SEL mid-level sedan trim and an option on lower trim levels. The coupe also got a sportier appearance package and a minor improvement in performance.

Just minor tweaking of trim packages followed in 2010. In 2011, the coupe edition was discontinued. All of which was in preparation for an all-new Focus that arrived (with great fanfare) for the 2012 model year.

If the budget is tight, a used Ford Focus can be an excellent vehicle choice.


Price Check: 2008 – 2011 Ford Focus (August 2014)

Year            Edition            Expect to Pay Today

2008            SE sedan            $5,000 to $8,000

2009            SE sedan            $6,500 to $9,500

2010            SE sedan            $8,000 to $11,000

2011            SE sedan            $10,000 to $13,000


Prices vary depending on a used vehicle’s condition, mileage, usage and history. A complete mechanical check should always be performed by a reliable auto technician prior to purchase.


Safety Recalls: 2008 to 2011 Ford Focus:

2008: An incorrectly assembled driver’s airbag may not deploy properly during a frontal crash. All vehicles included in this recall were still in dealer inventory and the driver’s airbag module assembly was replaced.

Contact: bob [dot] mchugh [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca


You can buy fun cars for under 30 grand.

A few weeks ago, I recommended five fun coupes for singles, whose base prices didn’t start with a three. Readers demanded more so here are five more cars that are a little easier on the wallet in purchase and operation.

Disclaimer, you don’t have to be single and willing to mingle to fall in love with these vehicles. In fact, some of them are family friendly. No really, they are.

Ford Focus ST – $29,999

Hot hatch? I think so.

Ford’s Focus ST (ST meaning Sports Technologies) is quite the exciting ride.

As soon as you sit inside the Ford Focus ST cabin, you’re embraced by Recaro sport seats that hug you and don’t let go. There’s a six-speed manual gearbox that’s then connected to a 2.0L High-Output EcoBoost I-4 engine.

The high-output engine puts out 252 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. Yes, that’s a herd of horses under the hood, but driving this sport-tuned version of ST is actually quite agreeable in the city.

AS Ford Focus ST

Chevrolet Sonic RS – $23,995

The Sonic RS Hatchback might not be the first choice of “performance” vehicle on your list, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be added.

This five-door has some cool features like: a unique RS liftgate-mounted rear spoiler, 17-inch Midnight Silver painted-aluminum wheels, Lane Departure Warning, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with contrasting stitching and flat-bottom design, and leather-appointed seating surfaces with ‘sueded’ microfibre inserts.

That’s on top of seating for five and a powerplant comprised of a 1.4L, turbocharged 4-cylinder with 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque.

AS Sonic RS

Fiat 500 Abarth – $20,995

Anytime you see a scorpion on something – or in real life – you can count on there being some sort of sting. The Fiat 500 Abarth is no different, except this sting makes you smile.

This pint-sized two-door might look somewhat cutesy, but the terrestrial arachnid badging denotes otherwise.

Turn the ignition on and the rumble of the dual exhaust comes to life. It’s anything but tame in tone. Put the five-speed, heavy duty manual transmission into gear and hopefully you’ll be able to make good use of the 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. That’s the kind of power being generated from its 1.4L, MultiAir turbocharged engine.

Along with a performance tuned-suspension, performance brakes and 16-inch wheels, this Fiat might be small, but makes up any “size matters” issues with its dynamic performance.

AS Fiat Abarth

Honda Civic SI (Coupe/Sedan) – $26,245/$26,250

Take the exceptional reliability of Honda, its popular-selling Civic coupe/sedan, lace it with a potent engine and some cool gadgetry and you have the SI trim.

Up until only a few years ago, the Civic SI was only offered in coupe format, but that changed in 2007. Those who wanted performance and practicality would be granted access to such pleasures of life.

Setting it apart from its tamer siblings is a 2.4-litre engine producing 201 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft of torque. It also comes standard with 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels and a rear spoiler. Not to mention a 6-speed manual transmission.

Whether opting for two or four doors, you can’t go wrong.

AS 2014 Honda Civic Si coupe Manufacturer photo

Scion FR-S – $26,450

The return of the fun-to-drive rear-wheel drive sports coupe that’s priced under $30K can be linked to the Scion FR-S. You could also say it is linked with the Subaru BRZ as these four-seater, two-door vehicles were a joint venture product between the two Japanese brands.

The FR-S features a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder boxer engine, developed in collaboration with Subaru. It combines Subaru’s horizontally opposed engine and Toyota’s D-4S injection system. The result is 200 naturally aspirated horses and 151 lb-ft of torque and can be matched with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.

The back seats might not be incredibly comfortable for rear passengers but all the festivities are happening up front anyway.

AS Scion FRS

Contact: alexandra [dot] straub [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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