The launch of the next-generation Ford Focus will be spearheaded by petrol and diesel ST models, with up to 275bhp from a high-tech turbocharged 1.5-litre engine in the petrol version.
The ST hot hatches will go on sale soon after the mainstream Focus late next year and appear in five-door and estate bodystyles.
Details of the new ST are still scarce, but Ford sees performance models as vital to distinguish the Focus from its rivals in a crowded market. So far, ST models have been more popular than the more recently launched Vignale luxury variants.
The STs are expected to maintain their formula of affordable and accessible performance, combined with road manners that encourage everyday use.
One potential change is a move to downsized turbo engines from today’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel and petrol units. This would satisfy the new Real Driving Emissions (RDE) test and the 2021 average fleet CO2 standard of 95g/km, which will be introduced two years after the next Focus is launched.
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Ford has a new family of 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engines designed for the new emissions regulations, but extracting the 250bhpplus required to keep the ST competitive will be a technical challenge. That would mean a specific output of at least 160bhp per litre, much more than the 125bhp per litre extracted from the current 2.0-litre Ecoboost and even more than the 150bhp per litre from the 2.3-litre Focus RS.
However, Ford is believed to be looking at twin-scroll turbocharging, direct injection and cylinder deactivation technology to deliver the required power boost and fuel economy to make the next Focus ST a practical proposition.
The 1.5-litre three-cylinder Ecoboost engine in the new Fiesta ST generates 131bhp per litre, so getting 150bhp or 160bhp per litre out of the Focus ST’s four-pot engine should be within Ford’s reach with this suite of technologies.
There will continue to be a hot diesel model, because it contributes about half of Focus ST sales (52% in the UK and 47% on the Continent). Whether it moves to a 1.5-litre capacity or sticks with 2.0 litres is unclear.
“The diesel is important for the Focus ST,” Ford Performance project engineer Tyrone Johnson said at the recent Geneva motor show.
The debut of the new Focus ST looks set to take place in spring 2018, about six months after the new mainstream and luxury Focus models are first seen at the tail end of this year. Autocar sources suggest the launch will not be scheduled for the Frankfurt motor show in September. Instead, sources say, Ford favours a unique event like the Fiesta’s ‘Go Further’ launch, which was streamed globally.
Mainstream and luxury Focus Vignale models are expected to go on sale in autumn 2018, followed soon after by the ST models.
Ford is tipped to market the Focus Vignale hard in the launch phase, emphasising its unique trim and customer service back-up.
Under the skin, the next Focus is a substantially new car, although it is based on an updated version of today’s platform and known as the C2. The Mk4 Focus will be the second model cycle spun off the platform, following the same practice used for the new Fiesta.
As a result, the new Focus is understood to sit on a 50mm-longer wheelbase, which will liberate extra leg room and luggage volume. The overall dimensions grow a little to nudge a 4.4m overall length.
The programme is expected to follow the pattern of the new Fiesta, with the emphasis on improved exterior and interior quality rather than radical changes in styling.
Subtle improvements to the way the body and glasshouse are designed for assembly, plus close attention to panel gaps and the Focus’s stance, are believed to raise quality.
Most noticeable will be the new interior, with softer plastics and higherquality mouldings, trim, switchgear and instruments, including a better-integrated touchscreen. Such changes have made a huge difference in the new Fiesta.
The Focus will continue to be sold in five-door and estate bodystyles. The estate is a big seller, contributing 40% of Focus volume in Europe, worth around 75,000 units last year, compared with the five-door’s 116,000 units.
UK sales of the estate have been increasing, too, rising from a 10% share a few years ago to 20% today.
The engine line-up will be focused on the 95g/km fleet average CO2 figure and drawn from mostly existing units, starting with 99bhp, 123bhp and 138bhp versions of the 1.0-litre Ecoboost triple. However, new 1.2-litre and 1.5-litre Ecoboost engines are in the pipeline.
The 1.5 TDCi is set to be the core diesel engine, possibly improved by an SCR catalyst to reduce NOx with the AdBlue urea/ammonia additive to meet EU6c and EU6d emissions regulations. Some Ford vans already use the AdBlue technology.
The new Focus C2 platform can be re-engineered to accommodate the AdBlue tank, heater and associated plumbing, which will get NOx emissions reliably below 80mg/km in the new RDE test.
Next-generation, lowfriction versions of Ford’s Getrag-developed Powershift dual-clutch automatic gearbox will also help to reduce CO2 emissions and improve fuel economy.
Ford is also planning a big push in C-segment (Focus-sized) SUVs. The main one will be a new European-focused SUV with a sportier profile and more dynamic driving brief.
Codenamed C430, the sporty SUV will sit between the Ecosport and Kuga, as Ford targets the growing SUV market with multiple models to cover more niches. Scheduled for a 2019 launch, the C430 is expected to have a sportier-looking roofline and a more dynamic driving character than the Kuga.
The arrival of the C430 gives designers and engineers an opportunity to reposition the Kuga and its US twin, the Escape, half a segment higher, with a third row of seats and a 5+2 seating configuration. That will enable it to compete with models such as the Skoda Kodiaq and Hyundai Santa Fe.
The C430 will also fit around the SUV-styled Focus Activ, a hatchback model with jacked-up suspension aimed at offering the most affordable price point for drivers seeking a mildly raised driving position and an SUV look boosted by a bodykit.
Scheduled for a 2019 launch, the C430 might replace the C-Max MPV in Ford’s range, although that has yet to be confirmed.
The C-Max sells in the US as a hybrid only and Ford North America might need the MPV bodystyle to keep its presence in that market.
The other Focus-sized SUV that’s on the way from Ford is one with an all-electric powertrain. Announced in January as part of a fivestrong electric car assault, the new model could be sold under the Model-E banner.
Sources suggest the C430 and Model-E are different models, because the engineering of a battery electric model is very different from a combustion-engined one. However, some basic componentry from the Focus’s C2 platform is likely to be common to both.
Ford fought a successful trademark battle with Tesla last year over rights to the Model-E name. One suggestion is that Model-E could become an electric car sub-brand for Ford, with a number of different models. The E designation is linked to Ford by the Econoline van series, first built in the 1960s.