(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.