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Concepts are supposed to get us salivating for new models. This did it a little too well

by Ollie Kew, 11 Feb 2019

‘Concept’ hot hatches are usually extremely thinly veiled production cars. Manufacturers stick bigger wheels and brighter seatbelts in an otherwise road-ready hatch, stick it on the show stand, and watch online forums go into a ‘quick-darling-sell-the-dog-immediately’ meltdown. Hot hatches are supposed to be easy to justify.

With that in mind, let’s rewind to 2004. Ford has wrapped production of the Focus RS, a controversially wayward but sensationally fast and aggressive hot hatchback that reportedly made a near-£4,500 loss per car produced, due to its hand-finished build. But the RS fans are salivating. They want a new flagship. They’re eyeing the current 150bhp Fiesta ST, and wondering what it’d be like with wilder bodywork and a power output north of 190bhp. Well, this was 15 years ago.

At the 2004 Geneva motor show, Ford gave the people exactly what they wanted. Inspired by 2002’s Fiesta Rallye Concept, the Fiesta RS prototype wore hugely blistered wheel arches with massive alloys tucked right up into them, flared bumpers full o’holes and a livery highly reminiscent of Ford’s then-current performance hero, the GT supercar. Twelve years on, the Fiesta RS still looks oh-so correct. Part Group B rally car, part Midnight Club, all attitude.

Ford was properly serious about making the Fiesta RS (just check out how showroom-ready that interior looks – and weep). Boss of RS at the time was Jost Capito, who later masterminded VW’s rise to dominance in the WRC. Capito noted that RS fans were proper hot hatch aficionados, and the finished product would have to live up to the concept’s pumped styling to take its place in the RallyeSport hall of fame.

And that was the Fiesta RS’s downfall. Despite huge interest, Ford’s bean counters just couldn’t make the sums add up, especially so soon after being stung by the game-changing but loss-making Focus RS. The project was reluctantly canned and it was five whole years before the RS badge again adorned a Ford product, in the hyper-aggressive form of the Mk2 Focus RS.

Worse still, lust for the Fiesta RS concept was so great that Ford noted a slow-down in demand for the Fiesta ST. Bereft of the concept’s uber-muscled styling, and lacking power next to the contemporary Renaultsport Clio, disgruntled baseball cap folk turned away from the ST. Yup, there was actually a time when the fastest Fiesta wasn’t the default fast small car, believe it or not.

Right now, with the Fiesta ST insurmountable as the pocket rocket champ, and the old Focus RS giving the likes of AMG and Quattro GmbH a bloody nose, it’s difficult to imagine Ford not being on top of the hot hatch game. Wonder how history would’ve been different if this little show star had got the green light…