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Exclusive: up close with the new Focus RS

  1. What’s the power?

    “We’re saying at least 320, y’know.”

    Are those all-American SAE horses or German pferdestärke?

    “At least 320 - that’s all I’m going to say.”

    Weight? Another shake of the head. Under five seconds for 0-62mph?

    “Can’t comment.”

    Dave Pericak is cleaving to the official corporate line, which is a bit of a tease. Not that he doesn’t know the numbers perfectly well. He’s head of the newly formed Ford Performance division that will in future take care of all hot Fords from the Fiesta ST to the GT supercar.

    OK, let’s try another tack. Here’s Tyrone Johnson, engineering manager. What’s the Nürburgring time?

    “We use the Nürburgring for development because of the variety of corners. But we won’t be posting a time. Same with 0-62mph here or quarter-mile times in the US. It’s about feel, precision, not just the numbers. It’s more complicated than just ‘We’re the fastest.’”

    Pictures: Alex Howe

    This feature originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Top Gear magazine.

  2. I like their attitude. This isn’t merely sheltering the RS Focus from the raw heat of competition. The best fast Fords, and pretty well all the great hot hatches over the decades, have always over-delivered against their power and performance numbers. Besides, boasting a record hot-hatch ‘Ring time months before you launch (hello, Seat; hello, Honda) strikes me as a right mug’s game. When someone comes along and beats it, your balloon’s thoroughly deflated.

    But whatever. Three hundred and twenty horsepower. In a Focus. With some still up their sleeves. Good times.

  3. Despite Ford’s coyness about actual numbers, it’s already OK, from what we do know, to judge the book by the cover. This RS’s looks are a lot more sophisticated than the previous bad boy Focus RS. And so it will be different and more sophisticated to drive too. Here’s why: all four wheels are driven.

    At this point, Pericak comes over all M&S on us. “This isn’t just a standard AWD, it’s Ford Performance AWD. We’re using a system we believe no one else is.” So it’s not the same as the basic get-you-out-of-the mud Kuga set-up. Crucially, it mostly doesn’t control the car’s trajectory using the brakes. “We can control the torque front to back but also side to side. With more power to the outer rear wheel dynamically, you can drive the car through that corner and eliminate understeer. The capability is unbelievable. It’s going to shock you guys when you get behind the wheel.”

  4. We’re standing inside a big empty hall in Ford’s Cologne plant, and to illustrate Pericak’s point, 20 minutes later the doors open and in screeches a Focus RS prototype, snaking about the arena with gales of smoke and armfuls of opposite. At the wheel is Mister AWD Interweb himself, Ken Block, who it turns out is engaged as a part-time development driver in the project.

    The AWD affects the way the RS looks. The shared traction means it didn’t need oversized front tyres, so all its mechanical goodness has been fitted in beneath standard Focus wings and bonnet. No flares or bulges, and a general sense of having been designed to satisfy aesthetic considerations as well as the need to barge its way through the atmosphere. Trust us, though, the RS is an easy spot. It’s rocking an omni-gulping front bumper/bib, a set of side skirts, a fat rear diffuser clasped by a pair of gutter-sized tailpipes, and a rear wing mounted with priapic clearance from the roof. These aero aids tell no fibs. Johnson says it has zero lift at both ends, “Which was no easy task with all that cooling requirement.”

  5. The design was done in Europe. It became a world car later in the project, when Ford reorganised its performance car development and marketing arms into a global entity, but that didn’t change the result. Hot hatches are a European thing. An American thing is a Mustang.

    The Focus benefits from the Mustang. Specifically, it has a development of that car’s 2.3-litre four-cylinder Ecoboost engine. The turbo is larger here, but a lower-inertia twin-scroll job. It’s linked to a bigger intercooler, and better intake and exhaust breathing. On paper, you’d expect that lot to give less mid-rev lag and a better kick at high revs - the Mustang gets a bit saggy beyond 5,500rpm. “The Focus needs to have a very quick response,” says Pericak. “And it has to have enough torque and power that it will be leading the pack, not trying to catch up. That’s what this engine modification was all about.” The red line is 6,800rpm. Of course, because it has a bigger capacity than the 2.0s of the Audi RS3 and Mercedes AMG A45, I’d guess we ought to see better low-down response than in those turbo nutjobs. An opening valve in the exhaust pipes will spice up the racket when the official homologation noise inspectors have turned their backs, and apparently we can also expect fusillades of pops and crackles when fizzing through the gearbox. Which is a six-speed manual with none of your paddlery, thank you.

  6. This AWD system’s mechanics are pretty simple, actually. There’s no rear diff at all. Instead, either side of the crownwheel and pinion are clutch packs. Each of those packs, one per side, is independently controlled by the electronics, so that the torque to each rear wheel is determined by the amount of slip in its clutches.

    Unique? Hmm. As far as I can see the rear-drive unit comes from the same GKN family that gives the latest Evoque and Discovery Sport their off-road cleverness, and the principle of rear vectoring was endowed to cars like the late-model Mitsubishi Evos by some very complex mechanical diffs. But no hot hatch, including the A45 or new RS3, does it.

    The real voodoo is the calibration and control of those clutch packs. The black box sucks data from a bundle of inputs, including steering angle, engine output, wheel speeds, lateral and longitudinal g, and rate of turn. It then figures out how to open or close those clutches to send torque to the wheel that’ll get the car into, through and out of the corner in best style.

    If both clutch packs are open, it’s 100 per cent front-drive. But because the rear drive is geared faster than the front, it’s possible to close the clutches and send 70 per cent of the torque to the rear. Mr Block can be found on YouTube demonstrating the effect.

  7. As for the rest of the chassis, the springs and bushes are all stiffer than the Focus ST’s, and it’s backed up by two-stage adaptive damping. The rigid bits such as uprights have been made stronger so they stay rigid. There’s a new steering rack, and the brakes are Brembos snuggled inside 19-inch wheels, optionally these lightweight forged jobs. Those come gift-wrapped in 235/35 Michelin Super Sport tyres, but there’s also an option of semi-slick Cup tyres “for track use”.

    Right, then. Add AWD and extra cooling to a Focus ST, and you’re at about 1,550kg. Looking at what they did to the Mustang engine, I’m guessing 330bhp and 330lb ft. Because there’s no DSG, gearshifts won’t be instantaneous. Feed those numbers into my guessotronic calculator, and it says straight-line acceleration between a Golf R’s and an A45’s. But remember, we prefer the R. Like the men said, numbers don’t always rule.

  8. Another thing. The RS shows long-term commitment from Ford to have a full line-up of juicy fast cars, rather than a few sporadic launches. Pericak’s Ford Performance division is responsible for them all, plus a nice line in tuning accessories. It brings joined-up engineering from around the world, and selling the cars globally gets the revenue up. He has a long-term perspective. “It allows us to capture a younger audience and that will be critical to the longevity of the company.”

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