A high-performance Ford Focus RS500 is awaiting the final production go-ahead for a launch next spring.
The limited-run RS500 is under development in Germany by Ford Performance as one of 12 high-performance models due before 2020.
The go-ahead is understood to hinge on practicalities such as whether the 500 limited-run models can be added to the Focus production line in Cologne without too much disruption and ensuring there’s a business case for the RS500 to be a financial success.
Ford won’t discuss future products, but a source told Autocar that the RS500 is “not genuinely green-lighted, but the desire exists to have a star in the RS and ST range”.
An important part of the plan, as well as providing enthusiasts with one of the quickest and best-driving hot hatchbacks yet, is to keep up interest in the cooking models of the third-generation Focus as it enters the run-out phase in the summer of 2017.
Technical details of the RS500 are thin on the ground, but a prototype spotted at the Nürburgring suggests bonnet cooling vents and a larger rear spoiler are under development.
The bonnet cooling vents are a clue that Ford is planning a power boost for the new RS500. Vents were a distinguishing feature of the first Focus RS500, which went on sale in spring 2010 to boost run-out interest in the second-generation Focus.
That original Focus RS500 had its 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine’s power lifted by 15% to a then-spectacular 345bhp. However, such is the pace of development of mega-hatches that 345bhp is now the output of the standard Focus RS.
If Ford adopts a similar tuning approach for the new RS500, it could be looking at a mighty 396bhp from the same 15% power hike. That would be a highly tuned 172bhp per litre, but that’s comparable with the 177bhp per litre of its Mercedes-AMG A45 rival.
Torque increases are likely to be more modest, if only to ensure that Ford doesn’t need to re-engineer the RS’s six-speed manual gearbox and four-wheel drive system, which is built around a clever GKN active rear differential.
That rear diff accepts up to 70% of the RS’s torque and then uses clutch units to lock the diff 50/50 to the rear wheels, creating the Drift mode that makes the RS so much fun to drive on a circuit.
Performance is likely to increase slightly, with the 0-62mph time dropping from 4.7sec to around 4.2sec. Top speed is expected to climb a little, to 167mph or so.
A benchmark that Ford would like to target is the A45’s 4.2sec 0-62mph time. But like the current RS, whose 0-62mph performance is slightly compromised by its manual gearbox, the emphasis is more likely to be on enhancing driver engagement.
Another option for Ford Performance is to add an electronically controlled front limited-slip diff, which was successfully tested for the RS but not chosen for production.
One lesson from the first-generation Focus RS500 is that the standard RS chassis and brakes coped with the extra power without modification. Ford is also looking to maximise component carry-over on the second-generation RS500 and the regular RS chassis has already set new standards.
However, introducing semi-slick Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres on 19ins rims would improve acceleration and cornering grip and would be easy to incorporate on the production line.