The wait for the new Ford Focus RS is over. Ford has finally revealed the highly-anticipated mega-hatch ahead of its public debut at this year's Geneva Motor Show. This time around the fast Ford is packing in excess of 316bhp and a four-wheel drive set-up.
Following the hugely positive response to the Ford GT supercar at the Detroit Motor Show, Ford aims to instil some supercar thrills in the latest Focus RS with a flared nose and wheelarches and an aggressive stance.
The latest model to wear the fabled RS badge goes on sale early next year, and follows a long line of affordable but seriously high-performance Fords – a dynasty that started back in 1968 with the 15M RS and brought us legends like the Escort RS1600, Sierra RS Cosworth, Escort RS Cosworth and two Focus RS models before this. When it goes on sale next year, the newcomer will cost less than £30,000 and deliver performance to rival the most formidable heavyweight hot hatches on the market.
Bowing to pressure from key rivals like the Audi RS3 and Mercedes A 45 AMG, Ford’s Performance division has fitted a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system to give optimum traction. The new Focus RS hot hatchback was designed with four-wheel drive in mind from the start to elevate the car to new levels of performance and driver involvement.
Speaking to Auto Express at the unveiling of the new car, vice president global vehicle development, Raj Nair, told us that the Focus’s clever all-wheel drive system debuts a host of innovations for the brand and was needed to cope with the high power level of the car’s 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engine.
“Cost didn’t come into it,” said Nair. “It wasn’t a case of engineers vs accountants, but that we wanted to make an affordable performance vehicle with the best technology possible – it needs to be a percentage above an ST. That’s what an RS should be about.”
The first major innovation is the hottest Focus’s new electronically controlled twin-clutch four-wheel drive system. Essentially, this allows up to 70% of power to be sent to the rear wheels, with as much as 100% of that driving torque sent to one individual wheel.
“This way you get great steering response but incredible pull out of the corner – and we can use the torque vectoring to keep the car safe and stable all the way through a bend.”
The second major innovation on the new RS Focus is the low weight of the new four-wheel drive transmission. It’s thought the system only adds around 20kg to the car – a similar weight penalty to that which the clever RevoKnuckle front suspension setup added on the last generation RS. However, with Ford’s latest Dynamic Torque Vectoring system, RevoKnuckle is now redundant.
Under the standard Focus bonnet lies a 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine, which will be shared with this year’s Mustang. But, unlike the US muscle car, the hatch gets a twin-scroll turbo with a larger compressor for better airflow, as well as a larger intercooler. And we’re assured those sawn-off twin exhausts will emit deep-throated gargles, pops and crackles.
Ford says power is in excess of 316bhp – that’s 48bhp less than the 2.5-litre five-cylinder delivers in the RS3 but there could be the potential to up power even further in future with a limited-run model. The 2.3-litre EcoBoost ‘red lines’ at 6,800rpm, CO2 emissions are down 20 per cent on the old RS’s Volvo-derived 2.5 five-cylinder and a six-speed manual box is standard.
As with most four-wheel drive cars, there will be an efficiency penalty. “We’re not ready to talk fuel economy numbers just yet,” vehicle development boss Raj Nair explained, adding that, “economy and emissions will be significantly better than we’ve seen in previous RS products.” This means the new car could achieve as much as 35mpg.
Focusing on “functional aerodynamics” has helped Ford improve efficiency by reducing drag and adding downforce to improve grip and handling.
The car’s muscular bodykit – including a redesigned front bumper, grille and large rear spoiler – has been developed with this in mind and to aid cooling of the retuned engine.
UK dealers shifted nearly 4,600 examples of the previous RS between 2009 and 2011, and Ford has similarly high hopes with this Mk3. Prices will dip under the £30k barrier for the standard car, which will come with 19-inch alloys, Brembo brakes, Recaro sports seats and a range of sporty design touches; sat-nav and Recaro bucket seats will be optional, as will semi-slick track tyres.
Ford has confirmed that the Liquid Blue colour on the car in our pictures is only for the show model, but it’s promising a new Nitrous Blue paint will be similar. Stealth Grey, Absolute Black and Frozen White will also appear, but the last RS’s Ultimate Green finish has been dropped.
On the outside, it’s clear to see the RS is a serious piece of kit. The flared nose and rear spoiler hint at supercar-beating performance, but it’s a more restrained look overall than its predecessor. And for that you have One Ford to blame – or thank, depending on your viewpoint.
This Focus RS will be the first to be available all around the world, rather than sold only in certain markets. Not surprisingly, the image of previous models – with their big wings, large wheels and gaping air scoops – doesn’t translate that well internationally. But with a five-door body from the humdrum Focus, the new RS is more reserved than the previous model from six years ago.
“We were told by the marketing department that we had to tone down the styling,” explained Ernesto Rupar, Ford of Europe’s supervisor for exterior design. “It was felt the old RS’s look would be over the top for this new car. Everything you see on the new RS has been added for a purpose; there’s nothing unnecessary.
“We went through around five designs to get to this – one of the designs had air vents on the bonnet, but they had no real purpose so they went.”
The Focus’ five-door layout has also prevented the use of a rally car-like wide body – a look that was so distinctive on the Focus RS Mk2. “We would have to have changed the door pressings to give it a wide body look, and that just wasn’t on the agenda,” said Rupar. “So, with no wide body, we had to concentrate on making the front and rear as sporty-looking as possible.
“We were looking at the RS3 and its classy style. We didn’t want to make this car look like a boy racer’s car.” The front bumper is bespoke and has massive air vents at the corners that lead up to the gaping, flared grille. In the lower grille opening, even the intercooler is visible – a clear motorsport design cue.
Along the side, the RS details are few and far between – it’s a near Focus ST copy. The Mk2’s distinctive side vents with integrated RS badging have gone, too – the blue RS letters have moved to the rear spoiler’s end plates. “We wanted to get the RS badge somewhere on the side, and I suggested the rear spoiler,” said a beaming Rupar. “My dream car as a kid was the Ferrari F40 and that car had ‘F40’ on the wing, so I wanted it on the RS, too!”
The spoiler is just one part of the rear end’s substantial makeover, however. The bumper – with its incorporated air diffuser, reversing light and two angled exhausts – is almost a carbon copy of the set-up on the old RS.
Full specifications will be revealed when the car makes its global debut at the Geneva Motor Show next month. But for now, it’s clear to see the RS is back – and back with an almighty bang.
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