Giving Our Focus RS Some Active Aggression With Borla’s ATAK Exhaust

It’s been almost two years since our 2016 Ford Focus RS made its maiden voyage from the Saarlouis plant in Germany to our local dealership here in Southern California. Since its delivery, we have installed an extensive list of bolt-on upgrades and logged over 40,000 daily driven miles on the hot hatch. But one area we were hesitant to upgrade was the vehicle’s factory Active Valve Performance Exhaust.

In stock form, the Ford Focus RS active exhaust performs exceptionally well, as it is engineered to work with the different drive modes. When you put the vehicle in Sport mode, the pops and burbles that emanate from the stock make you feel like you are driving a race-ready rally car.

…For the Focus RS we also added the unique Polyphonic Harmonizer technology to make this exhaust really special. —Ola Lysenstoen, Borla

But, after a year of driving around town and on extended road trips with the factory exhaust, we found ourselves consistently switching the exhaust note to the loudest setting. And, once we added our full cold air intake and custom tune, we knew it was time to make the switch to a system that would give our RS a deeper, more aggressive exhaust note.

Because we already scheduled install time at HG Performance prior to our road trip to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, it made sense to install both the Borla ATAK exhaust and the UPR Products Plug and Play catch can on the same day.

Staying Active

Because the Focus RS was going to remain our daily driver, we wanted to find a system that would retain its adjustable exhaust function. We heard Borla developed a new cat-back exhaust for the hot hatch that utilizes its different drive modes. After some research, we found the company offered two different versions: The popular S-Type and the more aggressive ATAK. Because we were looking for a deeper, more aggressive sound out of our EcoBoost engine, we contacted Borla to learn more about that ATAK system.

“Our priority during development is to create that distinctive Borla ATAK sound while eliminating drone in the cabin, and for the Focus RS we also added the unique Polyphonic Harmonizer technology to make this exhaust really special,” Ola Lysenstoen, Senior Product Manager at Borla, told us. “Much like a pipe organ creates its distinct sound through the use of various pipe diameters and lengths, we apply this patent-pending technology in exhaust systems to enhance specific areas of the sound spectrum.”

Borla Focus RS Exhaust System Features

• Fits 2016-2018 Ford Focus RS

• Full Cat-Back system

• Aggressive ATAK exhaust tone

• Pipes measure 3 to 2.25 inches in diameter and end with 4-inch tips

• Single split-rear-exit tips

• Available in S-Type or ATAK sound levels

• Available with polished or carbon fiber tips

• X-pipe, mid-pipe, and downpipe upgrades also available

Since the RS already has an Active Valve Performance Exhaust, building an aftermarket system that interfaced and enhanced the factory setup was a definite challenge.

We have been working with active sound suppressing valves the last five years, and although this development did not present challenges beyond what we usually expect, anytime there are valves in the exhaust, it is more challenging than a system without them,” Ola explained.

While the system is designed to work well on a stock vehicle, it is also suited for cars with performance-enhancing mods like ours.

“Our Cat-Back systems are designed on a stock vehicle and sound is optimized for the standard car,” he added. “But we understand that many enthusiasts will modify their cars, and for this reason, we chose to use 3-inch-diameter tubing in this system to accommodate those who already have modified their RS or are planning future modifications.”

Bolting It On

We ordered our new Borla ATAK direct from the factory, so our system was built once the order was placed. It arrived in about three weeks, and once we opened up the box, we knew we made the right choice.

The Borla ATAK exhaust is a complete bolt-on system. No cutting or drilling is required and the system comes with everything you need for easy installation.

Once we finished unboxing, we once again enlisted the help of our friends at HG Performance here in SoCal for the installation. Since we had already had an appointment set up for another part that we reviewed earlier in the year, HG was able to install both parts on the same visit just in time for our road trip to the SEMA Show.

The Borla ATAK Cat-Back exhaust features a true 2.5- to 3-inch piping and a special acoustic flow design that helps deliver a deep, aggressive note without adding additional drone. It also weighs considerably less than the stock system.

Installation of the new exhaust was straightforward and with the use of a lift, and it only took about an hour and a half to remove the stock system and install the shiny, new Borla pipes.

After the stock system was removed from our 2016 Ford Focus RS, the team at HG went to work bolting on the new ATAK system.

Once the new system was installed, we made a quick adjustment to ensure the exhaust tips were centered and we were on our way. Did we mention how loud the cold start was when we fired it up for the first time inside the shop? It truly brought this EcoBoost engine to life!

2,000-mile Feedback

Like our previous UPR Products catch can review, we put 2,000 miles on the RS with the ATAK exhaust installed, which allowed us to see if this was the perfect exhaust for our daily driver. And driving from San Diego, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada, to attend the SEMA Ignited event was a great way to put some quality miles on the exhaust system.

The first thing we noticed when firing up the RS for the first time from a cold start is the ATAK exhaust is LOUD! And it takes about a minute for the car to warm up before the system starts to calm down. However, once the car warms up, the Borla ATAK completely transforms the exhaust note of the Focus RS into a voice that commands respect. This exhaust is a real head-turner, and the pops and burbles it barks out during deceleration make the Focus RS such a blast to drive.

During our 700-mile road trip to the SEMA Show, we didn’t notice any drone regardless of what speed we were driving. But when we mashed the loud pedal with this system installed, we instantly knew why Borla chose the name ATAK for this exhaust.

The Borla ATAK exhaust reminds me a lot of what I think a Tyranossaurus Rex mating with a Giraffe would sound like, and it sounds amazing! — Brain Petty, Horsepower Wars

Because we have already had plenty of seat time in the RS with both the stock and new system installed, we decided to get a final outsiders perspective on how the Borla ATAK exhaust sounds on our Focus RS. And it just so happens that Horsepowers Wars on-air talent Brian Petty, who has extensive experience with modding turbocharged hot hatches, has never driven an RS. Watch below as Brian, who was a bit of a skeptic at first, reacts to his first time behind the wheel of our Focus RS with the Borla ATAK exhaust.

“The Focus RS that I am driving today has the Borla ATAK installed on it,” Brian enthused. “The new exhaust is comfortable to drive and not too loud, but when you hammer down on the gas, the Borla ATAK exhaust reminds me a lot of what I think a Tyrannosaurus Rex mating with a Giraffe would sound like. And it sounds amazing!”

When we finally decided it was time to upgrade the stock exhaust on our bolt-on modified 2016 Ford Focus RS, we went in knowing that whatever aftermarket exhaust we chose, it was probably going to be a lot louder than stock. And we were OK with that.

Because the car is our daily driver, our biggest concern was whether the new exhaust would produce excessive drone during long trips. And the only way to truly test that was to put some quality miles through the exhaust. While we highly recommend the Borla ATAK exhaust due to its no-drone technology, this aggressive system may not be for everyone.

“We are releasing a valved option for the Focus RS ATAK system in the near future,” Ola told us. “This option will provide some attenuation to the ATAK when the valve is closed. We also offer an S-Type sound level for the RS, so for owners who are not looking for the louder ATAK system, the S-Type has a reduced sound pressure level and a deeper note.”

If you are an enthusiast like us looking for an aggressive, deep exhaust tone that will completely transform your vehicle into the EcoBeast you had hoped for, then you will absolutely want to install the ATAK exhaust. We now have over 5,000 miles with the Borla ATAK exhaust installed and going back to stock has never crossed our minds.

For more information on the complete line of Borla exhaust systems, you can click on the official website here.

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About the author

Kelly Getzelman

Kelly is a SoCal car enthusiast and skilled driver. His “get out and drive” obsession began after attending his first high-performance racing school while serving on active duty. Since then, he has attended numerous military and civilian driving schools across the country to help fuel that passion.
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