Ford’s next RS model could be a Fiesta rather than a Focus, Autocar has learned.

Previously, it had been assumed that the second-generation Focus RS, which put 300bhp through its front wheels thanks to its novel RevoKnuckle suspension, would automatically be replaced by a new Focus RS by Ford’s Special Vehicles Team (SVT).

However, while Ford has all but decided there will be a new RS model, since former SVT head Jost Capito defected to Volkswagen (where he is heading development of the Polo R) the firm is less certain about which direction the new car will take.

There’s a strong argument that, because the Fiesta is now a global car and is Ford’s motorsport flag-bearer (where, in its world rallying guise it’s even called Fiesta RS WRC), it’s the natural performance flagship and would suit the character of an RS. However, the sales success of the last Focus RS will be hard to overlook.

Ford SVT engineers are already working on the Fiesta ST, which they regard as a “very positive” project that will be easier and quicker to complete than the Focus ST, because its suspension will be an updated, upgraded version of the previous Fiesta’s.

Extending that project to encompass an RS model would not prove technically difficult. Additionally, some Ford executives are resistant to the idea of a five-door RS model, and with no three-door Focus, that points to the Fiesta as the only suitable alternative.

However, the Focus’s case is strong too. An Ecoboost engine can provide the requisite horsepower (330bhp would be expected), to be directed either through the front wheels like the previous-generation car, or through a 4WD drivetrain; Ford has a suitable one ready. SVT’s engineers have told us they could put together a 4WD demonstration mule in fairly short order once a decision is made.

Ultimately, market demands are likely to prove decisive, and that’s where the Focus, being larger, might hold an advantage, particularly in markets like the US. And, because it’s bigger and would be more powerful than a Fiesta RS, it could command a higher price tag with greater built-in profitability.

Ford’s experience with cars like the Racing Puma might not help the Fiesta’s case, either. Although widely regarded as a fabulous driver’s car, the Racing Puma was very expensive to make; a Fiesta, like the most recent Focus RS, would be more closely aligned to a production model. But more worryingly, sales struggled to match its production targets. Ford will be keen to avoid making a car that is beloved of purists if it fails to sell strongly with it.