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.
The Volvo unit offers the novelty of five cylinders, and it’s compact. If it carries a small weight penalty, it should have less of a bearing on the car’s handling balance thanks to the four-wheel drive system.And four-wheel drive represents the major advance over the previous RS. Its output of 212bhp was reckoned to be close to the limit for a front-drive chassis, making an all-wheel drive solution essential. For reasons of cost, it will have D C to be based on existing hardware within the Ford empire, which is to be found at Volvo, as the Swedish company is developing a system for the S40 and V50 that will appear later this year. These two cars are of the same mechanical family as the new Focus, sharing the same C1 Global Shared Technologies set, which is why this Haldex system will be the starting point. However, it will need significant modification to suit the more extreme handling required for the RS, which will almost certainly employ an active centre differential, similar to the Mitsubishi Evo MR’s.A major objective for this RS will be to align its specification and road behaviour more closely with the World Rally Championship Focus, to better capitalise on the publicity it gains. This is also why Team RS, the Ford division headed by Jost Capito and charged with developing RS and ST models, was formed back in 2003 with the merging of Motorsport and Special Vehicle engineering departments within Ford.
Team RS’s biggest challenge is undoubtedly finding a way to build the car at the company’s Saarlouis plant with minimum disruption to mainstream Focus production, and with limited costly reworking of the car. The assembly and IT systems in place during production of the previous RS required it to be deliberately fitted with the wrong parts in order to fool the factory computers into thinking that it had been built correctly. The bulky Sparco seats of the old car could not be installed by the robots, for instance, but in order to satisfy the assembly line computers that this process had occurred, the robot had to be allowed to install slave front seats, only for these to be manually removed in a dedicated finishing area. And the RS’s extra width meant that special slave wheels had to be made to allow it to run down the production line tracks.Logistical challenges like these only added to the old model’s costs, and Ford will be looking to Team RS to come up with a more effective solution. The last car was also developed with major input from Prodrive, which was also charged with finding a way to build it. This time, it’s reckoned that more work will be done in-house – the alleged £30 million spent with Prodrive on the 4500 cars built last time made the economics near-impossible. Instead, the Banbury-based company could act as consultants to the project.
But the new car will not be short of features despite its greater complexity, and we can expect the products of WRC suppliers Brembo (brakes), Sparco (seats), OZ (wheels), Sachs Racing (dampers), Garrett Technologies (turbocharger) and AP Racing (clutch) to feature once again. The RS will also get a lightly modified interior, hopefully not as garish as the blue-splashed cabin of the old car.Ford will be hoping to offer all this for usefully less than £30,000. And this time, perhaps, the RS Focus may be offered in colours besides blue.