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Third-generation Ford Focus RS will powered by a 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine producing 316bhp, and gets all-wheel drive for the first time
by Jim Holder, 3 February 2015
The third-generation Ford Focus RS will be powered by a turbocharged 2.3-litre engine producing “more than 316bhp” - and it will channel its power through a variable all-wheel drive system as part of a raft of technical innovations designed to make it the highest-performing RS model yet built.
Initial performance and technical facts about the new Focus RS - pictured here in exclusive Autocar photos - have been officially released ahead of full details, including pricing and on-sale dates, being confirmed at next month’s Geneva motor show.
The so-called All-Wheel-Drive with Dynamic Torque Vectoring system is by far the most significant mechanical upgrade for the RS over other Focuses, including the ST.
It is also a surprise because the early indications where that Ford had decided to stick with a two-wheel drive system for the car after trying both set-ups during development work led by Europe’s Ford Performance division. Ford claims the system provides “class-leading corner speed, limit handling and a unique drift capability”.
The all-wheel drive system is based around twin electronically controlled clutch packs. These are located on each side of the Rear Drive Unit (or RDU, which works like a limited-slip differential).
The RDU uses sensors that monitor conditions 100 times per second to distribute power continuously between the front and back wheels and on either side of the rear axle. Up to 100 per cent of the available torque can be sent to either wheel.
The system diverts torque to the outer rear wheel during cornering, aiding turn-in and stability. Ford says this “virtually eliminates understeer” and lateral grip in excess of 1g is possible. Ford also says the system helps to “provide neutral and adjustable limit handling and the ability to achieve controlled oversteer drifts at the track”.
Raj Nair, group vice president of global product development, confirmed that the decision to adopt four-wheel drive was taken early in the development program, which began at the end of 2013.
"There are always debates about which way to go, but as soon as the advantages became clear it was a pretty straightforward decision," said Nair. "The twin clutch set up offered us some real advances, not just out of corners but also on turn-in and with mid-corner stability.
"Crucially, the technology doesn't detract from the driver experience either. This is a car you can have fun in and drift in a totally controlled way, or which you can go out and set a fast lap time in. Those two things don't always tally, but this technology gives us the scope to do that."
Nair also confirmed that the case for four-wheel drive was strengthened by a decision by Ford's top management to use Performance branded vehicles as showcases for innovations on all vehicles. "You saw with the Ford GT how it will act as a halo for Ecoboost technology - we see a lot of technology that the Focus RS can highlight across the range."
The 2.3-litre four-cylinder Ecoboost engine is an uprated version of the unit available in the new Ford Mustang. Changes from the Mustang engine include a low-inertia twin-scroll turbocharger with a larger compressor to aid airflow, plus a notably larger intercooler and air intake.
The Focus RS’s engine is linked to a six-speed manual gearbox that has had its shift action shortened for faster, more accurate changes. The transmission and clutch have also been uprated to cope with levels of torque that are confirmed only as “increased” over the Mustang’s 320lb ft. Current reports suggest as much as 340bhp could be possible from the engine.
The engine is also linked to a larger-bore exhaust system. As well as boosting performance, the system is said by Ford to be tuned to “deliver a rewarding and sporty sound character during spirited driving, with the distinctive burbles, pops and crackles that are an RS signature”.
Autocar’s spy photographers, who have witnessed prototypes in action in recent months, have described the new Focus RS as sounding “very loud”.
In addition, and in the quest for high-temperature durability, the cylinder head is made of an upgraded alloy and mounted on a strengthened head gasket. For the same reason, the cylinder block also has stronger high-tensile cast iron liners. A significantly larger radiator than in the Focus ST aids cooling.
The engine’s power figure of more than 316bhp is the only performance figure released to date and remains subject to ratification. However, it establishes the Focus RS Mk3 as the most powerful ‘standard’ Focus RS to date. The Mk1 Focus RS had 212bhp and the Mk2 had 301bhp. However, the special-edition Focus RS500 had 345bhp.
The new Focus RS will be sold as a five-door model only, in line with Ford’s global strategy for the entire Focus range. Inevitably, though, the Focus RS is significantly upgraded, even from the Focus ST.
Most significantly, the chassis has been retuned, with the use of stiffer spring rates, bushes and anti-roll bars, and two-mode dampers that can be switched between road and track settings.
The electric power-assisted steering has also been retuned to work with a more rigid front suspension knuckle and shorter link arms to deliver what Ford describes as “connected and responsive steering with outstanding feel”.
To emphasize the track capabilities of the new Focus RS, it will be available with a specially developed semi-slick tire for the first time. All buyers will have a choice of standard or lightweight forged 19in multi-spoke alloy wheels, which can be shod with either Michelin Pilot Super Sport 235/35 RD tires or Pilot Sport Cup 2 semi-slicks. Iconic driver Ken Block has been involved in the car's development process.
The exaggerated exterior look has been created by Ford’s stylists and the practical need for improved aerodynamic downforce and increased brake and powertrain cooling.
The interior also gets several upgrades, including Recaro sports seats, a flat-bottomed, leather-clad steering wheel, alloy pedals and a simpler dashboard layout than on standard cars. This includes a standard 8.0in color touchscreen and Ford’s Sync2 connectivity system.
The new Focus RS - the 30th Ford to be badged ‘RS’ since the Ford 15M RS launched the high-performance series in 1968 - will enter production late this year with first sales beginning next Spring. It is expected to cost about £30,000.
Buyers will get just four choices of colours, called Nitrous Blue, Stealth Grey, Absolute Black or Frozen White. The launch car pictured here is painted in what Ford calls Liquid Blue, which is “currently only a show colour”, suggesting that it may become available as a cost option.
For the first time, the Focus RS will be sold in all global markets, including North America and China. However, most Focus RS sales are still expected to come from the traditional European markets, led by the UK. It will be built alongside the regular Focus at Ford's Saarlouis plant in Germany.
The four-wheel drive system and other technical upgrades also raise the possibility of a final, extreme performance version of the car being sold some time around 2017, in the vein of the previous-generation Focus RS500. That car was developed in conjunction with Mountune and sold as a limited edition of 500 cars, 101 of which were sold in the UK.
Ford of Europe boss Jim Farley says the new RS "captures the essence" of the brand. "We make great cars that are affordable and that's what defines the RS. Bringing RS back is a high point for us and customers. We don't just want a sustainable business for Europe, we want a vibrant business. This is a part of that journey."
Q&A with Tyrone Johnson, RS engineering manager
When did Ford start work on the new Focus RS?
“We started talking about it some time ago. Certainly the engineers started thinking about it the day they signed off the last one, but of course there has to be a business case behind any decision to actually make it. Compared to making money on this kind of car, finding an extra 100bhp or so is easy. Specific approval came at the end of 2013.”
How quickly did you settle on the technical specification?
“It would have been the easiest thing in the world to add 60bhp, put bigger wheels and tyres on and bolt a wing to the back - but all of us at Ford were clear that we weren’t interested in that. We’ve been there and done that with RS; this time we wanted a different kind of RS.”
Why go for four-wheel drive?
“We actually built a four-wheel drive prototype three or four years ago, using more traditional technology. We drove it and, well, let’s say it was not satisfying to us. It didn’t have the dynamic levels that Ford has become known for and therefore we couldn’t envisage going down that route. But then this new system came on the radar, and it transformed the vehicle dynamics. We were up and running.”
How quickly did the project progress from there?
“Let’s just say it has been a busy year. Finding technical solutions was one challenge, but we were also sent back half a dozen times to try and find better solutions for less cost. We had to find better ways to achieve our goals; RS is also about being affordable, and that tension drive a lot of originality and invention.”
Was the five-door layout a hinderance?
“Of course, a three-door layout is lighter, but ultimately the five-door situation has detracted nothing from this car - nothing. It simply wasn’t an issue, and I guarantee you that this car will be amazing to drive.”
Why have road and track settings?
“We wanted this generation of Focus RS to have a greater flexibility than before. We know that RS has a purist’s heritage, and that we had to produce a proper sports car to justify that. But we also have to recognize that the world has moved on; people who bought a Focus RS Mk1 or Mk2 have families now, and we felt they might appreciate a road setting that allows them to use the car in comfort, and then to switch it for those boy racer moments.”
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