My Focus RS Needs a Change in Suspension Set Up | Porsche Club of America Autocross Impressions

I discovered the strengths and weaknesses of my suspension setup in my Ford Focus RS.

October 13, 2018 I headed to the BB&T Center for another autocross with the Porsche Club of America – Gold Coast region. Once again I am out there to exercise my driving skills and test the setup on my 2016 Ford Focus RS. This time around, I kept the DSC controller in my car paired up with my Steeda adjustable rear sway bar and stage 1 93 octane tune by Tune+. I decided to run with the tune this time, as I was competing against some friends in the Non-Porsche class instead of my normal B Street SCCA classing (remember kids, cheaters never win).

This time around, I’m running against 15 other competitors including a top local driver piloting a Honda S2000 CR. In the Non-Porsche class, I came 2nd to the S2000 CR and beating a raw time of another competitor in a BMW Z4 M Coupé, that I am always 2 seconds behind in most of the local autocross events. Part of my success I attribute to the course setup, the RS’s GKN Twinster torque vectoring system, and the freshly repaved parking lot that left it a bit greasy.

Don’t let my advantages let you think that I dusted the competition. I was still +2.572 seconds behind the S2000, CR and had a prepped CAMC S197 Mustang nipping at my heels by +0.089 seconds. The BMW Z4 M Coupé fell behind to me by +.358 seconds, as a result of some slipping around and spinning out on one of his runs. These results made me want to look a little bit harder at my setup and driving style.

Reports of onlookers and corner workers were telling of the stiff rear suspension again. I was still in Tri-pod Mode. The car is three-wheeling into hard turns. Some could argue that this is a good thing for cars needing front end traction into turns to help relieve understeer and gain grip to speed out of turns. While that mostly applies to front wheel drive cars, I’m doing a disservice to the engineers at GKN by not letting the torque vectoring give grip to all 4 corners of the car. Sure, the AWD system is smart enough to send more power to the other wheels, but more grip = more power and faster times. This brings me to my conclusion about my setup.

My Ford Focus RS is too stiff in the rear. I will have to set the rear bar to the soft setting, or sell it and just get a stiffer front sway bar. If I decide to still keep with the rear bar, I will probably have to adjust the track settings on the DSC Controller so stiffen up the front even more (if it’s even possible) in Sport mode for autocross. Soft will be more forgiving to the rear and let the Twinster system manage the rear power more. I think the track mode should still be reserved for the higher speed sweepers and higher speed corners that a road course can provide.

 

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DSC Sport Controller: 1800 Mile Impression

I have just spent 1800 miles on this controller over the past week since I received it and installed it. I’ve driven through various terrains from well paved highways to unpaved twisty mountain roads to cobble stone streets.

SmokeyMountain_dsc
I was skeptical at first when I plugged it in. Initially, I was expecting to get some placebo/fake validation on the $1200 I spent on a plastic box in the trunk. I drove on the road with the bumps. It felt exactly the same. I drove in the neighborhood with speed humps. It felt no different. but about 30 min later, I was driving back home and reached a low speed right hand turn that has a road sign suggested to take at 20mph, where I took it a bit faster normally everyday. It was right then where I felt the difference. It was this low speed turn where I noticed the planted-ness of the car (not a real word, I know). This makes me think that the statement of the oil in the dampers needed to “warm up” holds true. Any pogo feeling or skipping that I think some owners have experienced seem to be gone.

Although the suspension felt good and I was feeling a bit better on selling some early crypto gains to get this electronic suspension tuning box, I wasn’t 100% convinced. I figured I’d notice more with more miles. The rest of the 1800 miles I’ve spent included a road trip from S. Florida to North Carolina with majority of it on normal mode.

I’ve driven in the streets of the oldest city in the U.S. where you wouldn’t expect the most wonderful streets. The cobble stone was still rough but better than I would have expected, but I really can’t say DSC did it’s job since I was going about 15mph.

Rough highways with uneven pavement was as expected. I finally got some more fun with on/off ramps because S. FL is devoid of any fun cloverleaf interchanges. I enjoyed these much more and felt more confident at higher speeds than the on small ones I get to drive at 60mph max.

Paved and unpaved mountain roads of North Carolina were fun. Transitions from left to right on curves, switchbacks felt great with much grip. The unpaved roads of the Cataloochee valley on normal mode seemed fine. I truly can not imagine how it would have been with out the active damping.

Some overall notes and things I also noticed:
I’m one of those folks who didn’t complain about the ride quality for DDing, but I later noticed I’ve been blessed with commutes with very decent roads.

I’ve taken the RS on a road trip before and managed to wake my wife up on the rough parts of the highway or construction. This time, she slept through continuously through similar conditions until I had to brake more suddenly when we reached traffic and even then she apologized thinking she woke up from her snoring.

Although it is agreed that the stock sport suspension is unusable in most conditions, I like it as a gimmick laugh mode and was scared I would loose that with the DSC installed. I have switched back and forth to see if I would get that sensation and noticed on some roads it was no longer the silly party trick and was more improved when at higher speeds >50mph. Although, I was driving on SR 202 East to Jacksonville Beach and noticed the rough bumpy road in normal mode and decided to see if sport suspension would bring back that laughable suspension feeling back, it did. I guess on some roads, the stock dampers and DSC just can’t handle it, not that Sport would have been the mode of choice for the road anyhow.

Thinking back to one of my original road trips, I did feel a bit that the stock suspension felt over damped but was able to brush it off despite the complaints from the wife. This time I didn’t notice it as much while driving on some bumpy highways.

I can’t wait to get this on autocross. Unfortunately this might make my car faster, but not make me a better driver. I’m thinking that this controller will punish me much less for bad braking, racing lines and upsetting the car’s balance around corners. It feels like there will be more grip for me in the future.

After owning the RS and over damping my adjustable Konis in previous cars, I don’t think I could get another sports car without active dampers. I really like knowing that these dampers can still be tuned. I can’t imagine what this controller can do when tuned to the Tractive dampers with better tolerances (or any aftermarket adaptive dampers) vs the stock Tenneco ones.

I’m running 18×8 OZ Racing Omnia on Yokohama ADVAN A13C 240/35
Stock suspension at 21k miles
I’m comparing my stock suspension experience with 2 track days, and a full season of Autocross on bumpy parking lots that corvettes fear.

TLDR;
I was skeptical at first with the DSC controller and after 1800 miles later on various roads, I’m very happy with it and think it’s a great first suspension mod for those lazy/inept/with fat wallets to do on their stock RS to improve ride quality and more grip on less than ideal road surfaces.

The Driver User Experience

The driver’s user experience. That sounds a little bit repetitive, mechanical, and awkward, but I think it describes what I want to publish in my little corner of the internet.

I am a car enthusiast. I enjoy the look and design of them. I like the sound their engines and exhaust pipes emit at different RPM intervals. I like how the new car smell differs from a BMW to a Japanese econo-box. I scrutinize the shifter feel after a perfect rev-match because it’s not “notchy” enough to my liking when I do the 3 pedal dance with my feet. I long for a curvy, traffic-less road. I adore on/off ramps. A third gear pull to speeds enough to break the law is as enjoyable as the sound and smell of squealing tires from low speed doughnuts and drifts. These are common feelings that car enthusiast share. But I want to cover the driver user experience (UX).

What do I mean by driver user experience?

There are so many things I could describe that compile together as driver user experience. From the radio button layout to the menu selections in the car’s navigation screen. How about the front and rear visibility of the car’s surrounding and how well it works with the rear view camera or the parking sensors? It can be the exhilaration of acceleration combined with noises from the engine and the reality of what the speedometer shows. From the cupholders doing their jobs in turns due to size and fitment to how secure you feel in the seat as you feel the car’s weight transfer in corners to urge you to go faster. It’s the quirks each car has that make you wonder, “what were the engineers thinking?”. From the moment you get in the car and power the engine to the moment you step out and everything in between – that is the driver user experience.

This will not just be automotive related reviews. I do not want to spit out facts and figures of 0-60 mph in x.x seconds. That is easily regurgitated with a quick Google search. I want to critque the user experience in the automotive industry.

Software and it’s digital user experience is quickly making their way into our cars. Screens that manages almost everything, from climate control to engine monitoring. With more software UI/UX integrated into cars these days, it is necessary to bridge traditional, mechanical, analog UX to modern digital UI/UX. I want to find the UX quirks that most cars have and explain how the user flow or design could be better.