The third-generation Ford Focus RS will be revealed on 3 February, and has been previewed with an official video which shows the model in final testing. In the video, the late-stage prototype can be seen drifting on road and track in the USA and Belgium.
The new RS, which was confirmed for production late last year, is part of a programme to produce 12 new high performance models under the new Ford Performance banner between now and 2020. Other models to be produced under the same banner include the new Ford GT.
The cars, to be sold in every major Ford market around the world, will be created by a new US-based global team that will combine all of the company’s racing, fast road cars and performance parts businesses under one management.
Speaking from the company’s Cologne headquarters Ford’s global head of product development, Raj Nair, said all Team RS, Ford SVT and Ford Racing projects would amalgamate in a new Ford Performance organisation based at a new technical centre in Charlotte, North Carolina and headed by Dave Pericak, Ford’s new director, global performance.
Future fast Fords would “deliver exceptional performance on the track when required, while providing excellent every day driving”, said Nair. The reorganisation would allow the company to bring its new cars and components more quickly to markets across the world.
According to latest indications, the third-generation Focus RS is again likely to be front-wheel drive. It will draw its power from a turbocharged 2.3-litre, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine seen in the recently launched Mustang.
A power output of about 330bhp has been mooted for the RS, while a limited-slip differential and Ford’s innovative, torque-steer-reducing RevoKnuckle front suspension system will again feature in its mechanical specification.
Recent spy shots have shown the car testing both at the Nürburgring and near Ford’s world HQ in Dearborn, outside Detroit. They reveal some of the potential RS-specific changes – including a restyled front bumper and twin exhausts that echo that of the previous RS. Bystanders have described the aggressive-looking RS prototype as "very loud". Disguised engineering mules have also been spotted on public roads. Rumours of the return of the RS go as far back as 2012, when the introduction of the Focus ST prompted suggestions of a more hardcore RS model arriving.
Initially, there were doubts over the prospects for a third-generation Focus RS because the standard donor Focus is a flagship for the ‘One Ford’ global car policy, and because the latest model is made only in five-door form. But Ford — which refers to the current Focus as “the world’s best-selling global nameplate” — has decided to make a virtue of the car’s ubiquity by selling the RS in every one of its major markets. As a result, sales should rocket.
The impending arrival of the new Mustang on European shores was also seen initially as a setback to a new RS’s changes, but the probability now is that Mustang and RS will be stablemates under the global Ford Performance banner. According to Ford of Europe’s chief operating officer, Barb Samardzich, research has shown that the buyers of Focus ST, Focus RS and Mustang models are different types of customer, and the models actually complement one another in a bigger range.
The business case for the Focus RS has also been strengthened by the fact that it can be built on the same production line as the standard car and will share an engine with the Mustang, albeit in a transverse application instead of a longitudinal one. Such things improve the company’s economy of scale and allow the Focus RS to be sold in markets its predecessors never penetrated.
Sources say the Mustang-derived 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine will have about 10 per cent more power in the new Focus RS than the 301bhp turbocharged 2.5-litre, five-cylinder that powered its predecessor. If the new model does have about 330bhp, its peak torque is also likely to rise beyond the already-generous 324lb ft of the previous model.
Although power is probably going up, fuel economy is set to improve by about 20 per cent, up from the 30.5mpg of the previous model. The engine — and the whole car — should also be lighter than before, aiding performance and dynamic ability.
Ford insiders confirmed last year that four-wheel drive had been tried for the new RS in early engineering studies but engineers had decided to stick with the front-wheel drive formula of previous models.
A six-speed manual gearbox will be a standard equipment and to help the new Focus RS get its hefty power and torque onto the road, the car will again have a mechanical limited-slip differential, further tame any tendency to torque steer with the RevoKnuckle front suspension system.
Among the other changes over a Focus ST, on which the new RS will be based, is a lowered chassis, with a firmer, sportier suspension set-up.
Recently-spied test mules also start to give clues about the styling of the new RS – in particular, the adoption of twin exhausts, extra cooling areas at the front of the car, 19-inch alloy wheels wearing Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres and larger brakes.
Expect the styling to follow the blueprint of the previous Focus RS, with a bodykit, rear wing and rear diffuser among the design and aerodynamic features.
The launch of the new Focus RS is now not expected before mid to late 2016, with a public debut at the 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed one potential option. Indeed, Ford gave the revised Focus ST a global reveal at Goodwood earlier last year.
As with its predecessors, the third generation Focus RS will provide a swansong for the current Focus. The performance version be on sale for a year or so before the standard model is replaced in 2017-2018. No indication has been given on price, but expect it to come in below £30,000.
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