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Ford Performance Cars' Matthias Tonn explains how the manufacturer turns its cars into icons

Matthias Tonn is Chief Programme Engineer Performance Cars for Ford, responsible for unleashing the Ford Performance potential in every Focus or Fiesta. In recent years he’s worked on the original Focus RS, the first-generation Focus ST, the Focus RS500, the Fiesta ST200, and the European set-up for the new Ford Mustang. Matthias clearly has his finger on the pulse of what makes a successful fast Ford. He’s currently working on the all-new Fiesta ST due on sale next year, but found time to tell us how he shapes a Ford Performance product.

What was the first Ford you drove? 

“When I was a student, a friend bought a red Granada with a big engine – it was very cool for cruising. Another friend bought a Fiesta. We loaded it with windsurfing equipment and drove down to Gibraltar, travelling about 6,000km in five weeks. It never stopped, it never broke down. This brought Ford to my attention.”

What’s your favourite Ford race or rally car?

“The Ford GT – the coolest car Ford has made, in terms of technology and getting it all together to make a true racing car.”

What is your favourite on-screen appearance for a Ford car?

“The Mustang in Bullitt – the Steve McQueen car. Every time I see a picture of that car, I think ‘wow’! Taking the question literally, the car I have on my computer screen desktop is the all-new Fiesta ST that I’m in charge of now. Every day I look at the picture, and it reminds me what I’m aiming for.”

We think of the hot hatch as a European concept. How do you make it something with global appeal?

“With the original Focus ST and Fiesta ST, it was decided they should be sold globally. We did some research, and all customers – from Europe to Australia to America – wanted the same thing. They wanted the ‘cool cars from Europe’ they had heard about. From the performance side, that means the driving dynamics that make the hot hatch a true European product. Wherever you drive it, the essence of the car is the same.”

Similarly the Ford Mustang is an American icon – how do you translate that for a new European audience?

“It’s vice versa. The Mustang is a true American muscle car, so it was designed and developed in America, but it needs to deal with high-speed Autobahns in Germany or twisty B-roads in the UK. We needed the right chassis set-up for these conditions. In Europe, customers see the Mustang as a true performance car, and many people want the V8. The market is different, but the car is the same!”

How important is technology when it comes to making cars like the Focus RS and Mustang appeal to new global audiences?


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“Technology is key. In any performance car, you need innovation – something to make the new model stand out. Previously on the Focus RS we had the Revo Knuckle suspension. With the new Focus RS we have 350hp, so we introduced the all-wheel-drive with Drift Mode – the first time this technology has been used in a car of this type. This is what makes the new Focus RS special. At the same time, we have a manual gearbox for Europe. We think it’s important to give customers the choice and freedom to be in charge of the car. We’ve had this belief for the last 15 years – new technology, but the core essence of what makes a true hot hatch.”

What’s your proudest career achievement?

“Probably the Focus RS500. Design had some ideas, and I got all our people together at the coffee machine. We had the passion to do something special, and it all came together. Also, the Electric Orange colour for the Focus ST in 2005. This was a four-coat colour – the first time Ford, or a mass production company, had done something like this.”

What single quality unites all the diverse range of Ford Performance products sold across the world?

“They all adhere to the core global quality standard, but that’s the same for any Ford. At Ford Performance, we talk specifically about DNA. Plus, any car we develop needs to take on an extra durability test. In Europe we talk about the 5,000km Nurburgring test, and any RS or ST product needs to achieve this.” 

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