Ford is preparing an all-new Focus RS offering a spectacular 280bhp, four-wheel drive, an active differential and a driving experience to rival the supreme performance of Mitsubishi’s latest Evo VIII MR. And it will look something like the car in our artist’s impressions on these pages. A Blue Oval alternative to the Mitsubishi, Subaru’s Impreza STi and the VW Golf R32, this latest RS, based on the all-new Focus that debuts this September, could be on sale by late 2007.But despite the sell-out success of the last RS Focus, it is far from certain that this ambitious car will get the go-ahead. Ford’s challenge is not so much conceiving the car, but finding a way to make it at a profit.
The previous Focus RS retailed for £19,995, and lost the company several thousand on every one of the 4501 sold, a loss the company was prepared to stomach in order to burnish the reputation of the Focus and re-establish the credentials of the RS brand. But this time, a loss-maker will not be tolerated, and Ford has to find a way of making this complicated car efficiently enough to be able to sell it profitably. And although the essential specification of the car is clear, plenty of key technical questions remain, among them the choice of power unit. The 212bhp Duratec engine of the previous Focus RS has been reserved for the next-generation ST, and is not a suitable basis for providing the necessary 280bhp. But there are two other options, both of them drawn from other corners of the vast Ford organisation: a 276bhp 2261cc direct injection turbocharged Mazda engine, as shown in Mazda’s 6 MPS concept in 2003, or an upgraded version of the 2.5 T five-cylinder used in the Volvo S60 R, which produces 256bhp in its present form.Of the two, the Mazda engine is the most likely. It is already being used in the current-generation Focus ZX4 ST in the US, where it has been relabeled Duratec. At the moment, the engine is restricted to 276bhp for the Japanese market, due to a gentlemen’s agreement to stick to this limit. But it’s undoubtedly capable of producing more power.