Ford is planning an even faster, more powerful and more efficient Focus RS for the 2020 model year and will use it to showcase a suite of 48V mild-hybrid technologies the company is introducing across its global medium- and large-car ranges.
With the combination of its combustion and electric motors, the car’s power output is expected to exceed 300kW, rivalling next-generation offerings from Mercedes-AMG and Audi.
While improving the RS’s already impressive acceleration times and driving characteristics, the model’s new-tech features should dramatically cut both CO2 and toxic emissions to meet rapidly tightening world demands. European regulations require car makers to meet a 95g/km CO2 fleet average by 2021 – a little more than half the outgoing Focus RS’s 175g/km figure.
The new RS is part of Ford’s 40-model electrification offensive announced in Detroit in January. At a stroke, the company doubled its spending commitment to AUD$16b by 2022 and said it would spend the money both on all-new electric-only models and platforms (such as the new Mustang-based Mach 1) and on updating existing models to 48V hybrids from 2019.
Ford’s president of global markets, Jim Farley, is also one of the main architects of the Ford Performance division the firm now regards as a major asset. He revealed a new Ford plan to enhance the credibility of future electrification technologies by applying them first to iconic models, such as the Focus RS.
Ford of Britain chairman and CEO Andy Barratt reiterated the importance of the RS brand when he launched a final, Heritage Edition version of the fast Focus, marking the 50th anniversary of the appearance of RS on an Escort, the Focus’s predecessor.
“The RS brand is hugely important to Ford and is recognised across the globe,” he said. “It has a special place in the hearts of UK Ford fans. This latest RS is the best we’ve ever produced.”
The next Focus RS, whose launch is likely to follow the April 2018 debut of new mainstream Focus models by at least two years, is tipped to use the outgoing model’s 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine.
This motor now produces 276kW and 510Nm of torque following a recent round of Mountune upgrades, thanks to a high-flow induction kit, an uprated turbo recirculating valve and calibration changes. Ford has a history of adopting Mountune ‘tweaks’ for later models.
The new Focus RS engine’s output of 276kW is likely to be augmented by a contribution of around 20kW – and, more important, between 80-95Nm of start-up torque – from a 48V integrated starter/generator (ISG). Its effortless restarting will save fuel and reduce CO2 by allowing longer engine-off periods, will more efficiently collect regenerated energy from braking and will sharpen the car’s low-speed accelerator response by contributing extra torque from standstill.
This will both improve acceleration times and allow the engine to operate more often in its most efficient power bands, a means of reducing emissions, especially NOx.
The total combined power and torque – an estimated 298kW and 576Nm – should allow the forthcoming Focus RS to match, and possibly beat, the new wave of top-end hot hatches from Germany. It should also enable Ford to cut the Focus RS’s 0-100km/h time from today’s 4.7sec to the 4.2sec of the current class-leading Mercedes-AMG A45.
Even more important than outright pace in a difficult era for high-performance cars are the impressive cuts in exhaust pollutants offered by the new ISG set-up.
It’s unlikely that the new Focus RS will use an electrically driven turbocharger – as recently showcased by Audi – although Ford is known to have been experimenting with these for at least four years. Estimates suggest that an ISG-equipped next-gen Focus RS should return cuts of 20-30g/km in its CO2 output, a vital contribution to reducing the fleet average.
All Focus RS editions so far have had six-speed manual gearboxes, but the fourth-generation version could offer a dual-clutch automatic option. This would take advantage of the ISG’s ability to provide ‘torque pulses’ to smooth gearchanges.
The availability of a self-shifter could also strengthen much-needed demand for the car in auto-crazy China and US markets. In the US, especially, the car is seen as costly for its size. Ford also has multi-speed automatics available, but they’re unlikely to be used because they’re heavier and bulkier in a car that already presents packaging difficulties.
Even the extra space required to house a shoebox-sized 48V battery (probably under the rear seat) is likely to have been hard-won: the new Focus sits on a modified version of the outgoing Focus C2 platform with a 50mm-longer wheelbase and a slightly increased 4.4m body length.
As with the current model, the next Focus RS will be a five-door hatchback. Three-door hatches are nowadays seen as unnecessarily costly as they sell poorly in cheaper guises.
Family-oriented versions of the next Focus are tipped to be around 50kg lighter, model for model, but the RS’s extra battery and electric hardware are likely to eat up the difference. Acceleration (and circuit lap times) should nevertheless benefit from the car’s better power-to-weight ratio.
The new Focus RS’s hardware similarity to its predecessor makes it almost certain that production will resume at the Saarlouis plant in Germany, where the current car has been made.
The new Focus’s cabin and trim are being redesigned along new Fiesta lines to simplify the control layout, increase interior space and improve visibility. There has also been special attention paid to quality enhancements across the Focus range. Ford is majoring on further improvements to switchgear and materials, and a better integrated central touchscreen.
Although Ford continues to regard an affordable RS as vital to its everyman self-image, the next generation of the fastest Focus is almost certain to take a price hike to help pay for its more sophisticated electrical hardware.
Ford has already taken half a step towards indicating this by pricing its outgoing Limited Edition at $56,990, around $6000 above the standard RS range-topper. By the time it reaches launch, the 48V car is likely to hit the early $60,000s, at which level it will still undercut the Germans and look decent value given the new-found ‘green’ power and performance.
What happened to the Focus RS500?
Those following the Focus RS story closely at home may remember rumours of a hotter RS500 version of Ford’s current hot hatch. MOTOR understands that such a car was in development and close to release, however, unlike the previous generation Focus RS, it never saw the light of day.
Nevertheless, the UK-only ‘Heritage Edition’ used a number of upgrades that were rumoured to be considered for the ‘RS500’ (it’s unlikely the production version would’ve been called such).
A factory-approved Mountune upgrade lifted outputs from the standard car’s 257kW/440Nm (470Nm on overboost) to 276kW/510Nm. In addition, a Quaife limited-slip front differential aided traction and standard-fit forged alloys with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres improved overall grip.
The chassis upgrades made it to local models as the ‘Limited Edition’, which comprised the final 500 cars imported into Australia. Focus RS production ended on April 6. - Scott Newman
The 'Rallye Sport' Dynasty - The six that made the Legend
1970-73 || Ford Escort RS1600/2000
BDA-powered Escorts dominated rallying in the early 1970s.
1975-82 || Ford Escort RS1800/2000
Mk II RS2000 won 1979 and ’81 WRC; remains world’s most loved rally car.
1984-86 || Ford Escort RS Turbo
Turbocharging brought 97kW, but the chassis couldn’t keep up.
1992-96 || Ford Escort RS Cosworth
An icon. Homologated for rallying, incredibly popular with car thieves.
2002-03 || Ford Focus RS Mk1
Rare, hugely modified and controversial thanks to wild torque steer.
2009-10 || Ford Focus RS Mk2
Epic engine note and brilliant front-drive chassis; just 315 came to Oz.
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