The spectacular new Ford Focus RS is set to encounter a raft of even more powerful and potentially faster rivals in a burgeoning global market of performance hatchbacks when it reaches showrooms in 2016.
Key among them is a production version of the Volkswagen Golf R400, which, company officials have revealed, has entered an initial stage of development after an enthusiastic response to its public debut at the Beijing motor show last April.
Created by VW’s increasingly prominent R division, the extreme four-wheel-drive hatchback is scheduled to be produced in limited numbers and priced above the recently introduced third-generation Golf R, upon which it is heavily based. It will be a competitor to some highly fancied machinery, including the upcoming second-generation Audi RS3, BMW M235i and more powerful version of the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG.
The production version of the R400 is earmarked to get the same version of VW’s turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine as that showcased by the concept.
Developed under the watch of the German car maker’s petrol engine boss, Fritz Eichler – the man behind the A45’s similarly configured powerplant – it kicks out 395bhp at 7200rpm and 332lb ft of torque between 2000rpm and 6000rpm.
The prodigious reserves are sufficient, according to VW’s own performance figures, to provide the 1420kg Golf R400 with a 0-62mph time of just 3.9sec – 1.0sec faster than the Golf R and 0.7sec faster than Mercedes claims for the A45 AMG. An official 174mph top speed is also 19mph up on the governed 155mph of the Golf R and A45 AMG.
Not to be outdone by VW, Mercedes is plotting to extend the performance of the A45 through a lift in the output of its highly strung turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, which already has the highest specific output of any series-production four-pot, at 177bhp per litre.
An AMG insider told Autocar: “We’re not going to simply rest on our laurels. We already have certain developments in store for the M133 [the internal codename for the A45’s engine] that will see us retain a competitive edge if and when our rivals do catch up.”
Although Mercedes’ performance car division denies plans for an A45 AMG Black Series model, work is progressing under the watchful eye of the company’s new engine boss, Christian Enderle, on raising its specific power output close to 200bhp per litre to meet the 395bhp target set by the Golf R400.
Another high-powered rival to the new Focus RS will be the second-generation Audi RS3. Set to make its debut at the Paris motor show in October, it will continue with a turbocharged 2.5-litre, five-cylinder petrol, albeit one that has been heavily updated to meet stringent Euro 6 emissions standards.
Although it is shrouded in secrecy, Audi sources suggest that the output of the new RS3’s engine will increase to a level similar to that of the earlier RS3 Plus, which offered a 20bhp increase on the standard first-generation RS3, at 355bhp.
Even though they are unlikely to offer quite the same level of power as the German trio, work is also progressing on other exciting hot hatchbacks, including the Peugeot 308 R, Honda Civic Type R, Vauxhall Astra VXR and a go-faster version of the Hyundai i30 developed by the firm’s newly formed N performance car division.