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Ford's monster RS hatch ready

2008-07-04 07:57
Focus RS

Focus RS

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Ford
Model Focus RS
Engine 2.5-litre in-line five, turbo
Power 223kW
Torque 400Nm plus
Transmission six-speed manual
Tyres 235/35 19-inch Continental
Despite ever stringent environmental regulation Ford is forging ahead with its second generation Focus RS.

With the Focus ST having proved immensely popular as a hot hatch, Ford is keen to challenge for top-flight hot hatch bragging rights with the latest RS.

Rich Rally heritage

The pervious version RS - an extremely limited edition hot hatch produced from 2002-2003 – had only 158kW on tap, less than a current garden variety ST. It gained a cult following due to its resolved chassis dynamics and trick, automatic torque sensing front differential.

Differing from the seminal Ford super hatches – the Escort RS Cosworth and RS 2000 – in being only front-wheel drive, the RS was lamented when production ceased after only a year at the end of 2003. True blue performance fans have been waiting in vain for a replacement ever since...

London calling

Fortunately the five-year RS hiatus is nearly over. RS acolytes are keenly anticipating the London motor show on 22 July, when the second generation RS debuts. Press leaked pictures, rendered by Ford’s design headquarters in Belgium – which would explain the car’s green hue – showcase an unashamedly brash design.

Whereas most performance model ranges are being toned down aesthetically by manufacturers keen to garner an environmentally friendly, and ecologically sensitive, public image the sole eco-friendly aspect of the new RS is its green finish. The Shrek-like paintjob is an ode to the Le Mans-green of the Escort RS1600s from the 1970s.

Aesthetically front and rear quarter panels are revised to incorporate the wider wheel arches and wider track, complemented by revised, deeper side rocker mouldings.

RS-badged vents sit behind the front wheel arches, whilst two bonnet louvres should thrill the Benoni faithful and provide a check on engine bay temperatures. Focus RS incorporates a deep front airdam with a large, mesh lower grille, ensuring maximum rear-view mirror overtaking presence.

At the rear, a deep new rear bumper incorporates a large venturi tunnel to its lower edge with small vents at each corner of the bumper, whilst two chromed exhaust tailpipes sit each side of the black venture.

The styling package is rounded off with a black RS rear spoiler atop the Focus RS’ roofline. We think it looks fabulous, distinctly more purposeful than the new Impreza STI for instance.

Agile two-wheel driver

During 2007 rumours were rampant regarding the traction design direction Ford would take with the new ST.

Would they revert back to all-wheel drive – expensively so – to tame a commensurate hike in power? Or would they again employ a trick limited-slip differential and hope to quell torque steer as far as possible as they did on the previous RS?

Well, the men tasked with signing off design details on the mean green RS machine decided upon the latter, confident they could design around the 400Nm odd torque figure to be channelled through the front wheels.

Once again British traction specialist Quaife has been tasked with controlling torque distribution amongst the front wheels. Their latest automatic torque biasing limited-slip differential will be aided by what Ford calls RevoKnuckle suspension technology – and yes, we think it’s a rather silly name too.

In essence RevoKnuckle allows the simplicity of a traditional McPherson strut arrangement, but with geometry settings that minimize steering disturbances and torque steer, rendering a reduction in steering offset. Blend this with a 40mm wider track, stronger, longer driveshafts, revised springs and dampers and a thicker, longer rear anti-roll bar and you have the engineering stew for a seriously sharp handling hot hatch.

Brakes are now 336mm ventilated front discs and 300mm rears with larger callipers peeking out from behind unique, WRC-like white 19-inch mags, shod 235/35 low profile Continental tyres.

A unique version of Ford’s ESP system is present in the Focus RS, designed to allow a very high dynamic threshold before activating. Intensive work to refine the natural handling abilities of the car has allowed the ESP system to carry a full de-activation option for enthusiast drivers and especially for track use.

“We are refining all the handling characteristics of Focus RS without ESP, to hone its natural responses, rather than use ESP to help its handling. In Focus RS, ESP is a pure safety device”, explained Jost Capito, Ford of Europe’s Vehicle Line Director for Performance Vehicles.

Still a high fiver

Powering the latest RS will be an upgraded version of the Volvo sourced 2.5-litre, inline-five cylinder turbo engine, which has shown huge power potential in the hands of aftermarket tuners since the original ST was launched.

Ford have massaged it with ECU tweaking, an upgraded turbo and stainless steel exhaust to up power to 223kW and torque to a level ‘above’ 400Nm according to Ford. Although many were hoping for 250kW, Ford has been forced to take a long-view with respect to blending high-performance engine design and ever increasing emission controls.

Designers are rumoured to be keen on a pretty low spec level in the interest of keeping the RS as lithe as possible for optimal accelerative performance – hence the scrapping of all-wheel drive from the outset, to save weight. Anything less than a sub six-second 0-100km/h sprint time will be seen as abject failure.

Unlike standard STs the new RS is likely to be available in three-door configuration only. Ford aims for annual production of around 5 000 cars, and this time around the RS is a decidedly more production sensible, in-house designed package.

This is in stark contrast to previous one, which was an expensive loss-leader for the struggling American auto giant in 2002. The RS is expected to go on sale in Europe during early 2009.

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