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First drive: Ford kicks RS with potent Focus swansong

In Focus: Ford's fast Focus RS is said to be quicker around Ford of Europe's test circuit than the Ford GT supercar.

Wild 224kW Focus RS finally arrives to stake Ford’s claim for hot hatch supremacy

23 Sep 2010

FORD Australia is sending its second-generation Ford Focus off with a bang, unleashing the potent 224kW Focus RS here just as the MkIII version of Ford’s global small car is making its debut in production guise at the Paris motor show.

But the three-door, five-cylinder RS flagship will be long gone from showrooms by the time the all-new Focus range makes it to Australia in 2012 because all 315 RS hatchbacks that Ford Australia has managed to hijack from European production are already spoken for by a queue of eager hot hatch fans in Australia and New Zealand.

Ford says its dealers have been begging for more of the German-built cars, but that’s just not going to happen, with the small-car factory set to down tools for the change to the new Focus.

Ford Australia president and CEO Marin Burela said that when Ford announced it would sell the Focus RS in Australia recently, the enquiry rate at dealerships doubled.

“I would like 1015 (cars), not 315 - but that’s all we could get,” he said of the RS, which was launched 18 months ago in Europe.

The main benefit of the RS to Ford will be to sprinkle some stardust over the ageing Focus range which is struggling, down 18 per cent this year, against newcomers such as the Holden Cruze in a segment up 14.4 per cent.

Claimed to be faster than the Ford GT supercar around Ford’s Lommel proving ground in Belgium, the RS is the most powerful and most expensive model to bear the Focus nameplate in Australia, with 35 per cent more power, 38 per cent more torque and a 40 per cent higher price than the previous champ, the $36,490 166kW/320Nm Focus XR5.

The $59,990 Focus RS – the 22nd hot Ford to carry the RS tag since its debut on the Escort RS1600 in 1970 – will be pitched directly at the $59,990 Subaru Impreza STi and $61,390 Mitsubishi Evo X.

27 center imageLeft: Ford Focus RS. Bottom: Ford RevoKnuckle.

The Focus has marginally more power and significantly more torque than those rivals, thanks to a Volvo-developed five-cylinder 2.5-litre turbocharged engine.

But unlike the all-wheel-drive Japanese models, the Focus RS channels all 224kW and 440Nm to the ground via its front wheels.

To cope with all that adrenaline without armloads of torque steer, Ford enlisted the help of its World Rally Championship team to help design a patented new front suspension knuckle – called RevoKnuckle – to brace the MacPherson strut sports suspension and keep the hatchback on the straight and narrow.

That new suspension set-up also includes a 40mm wider track, which in turn means the car not only requires unique flared mudguards, but also requires the front suspension to be fitted as a subassembly because the car otherwise would not fit down the Saarlouis production line in Germany.

However, the wider track at both front and rear also means a bigger footprint on the road, helped by 19-inch alloy wheels bearing meaty 235/35 R19 Continental rubber.

Ford Australia national product marketing manager Robert de Filippo said Ford had looked at fitting the Focus RS with all-wheel drive, but had elected to go front-wheel drive to save weight, reduce inertia and cut both fuel consumption and cost.

At 1492kg, the Focus RS is lighter than the STi and EVO by 28kg and 73kg respectively.

Mr Filippo said Ford had also been determined not just to mask torque steer with electronic controls and the like, but to find a solution, which it did through its two-piece C-section knuckle.

As well, the RS gets a trick Quaife limited-slip differential to help dispense that torque more controllably to the driving wheels.

Mr Filippo said Ford also decided to produce the car only with a six-speed manual transmission – a beefy unit also designed to cope with the massive torque.

While this might put it at a disadvantage to potential rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf R that offer the alternative of dual-clutch automated gearboxes, Ford is selling all it can build anyway.

The Volvo-sourced engine is based on the same five-cylinder powerplant as employed in the Focus XR5 – and Volvo models such as the S60 – but it got a thorough pull-through in the engineering workshops.

Pistons, conrods, camshaft profile and both inlet and exhaust manifolds are unique, along with a barrel-chested turbocharger that delivers 1.4 bar of pressure – double that of the XR5’s blower.

Peak power is achieved at 6500rpm, while maximum torque rolls out at 2300rpm and continues to 4500rpm.

The combined fuel economy reading of 10.4 litres per 100km just pips the 10.5L/100k of both the STi and Evo. Carbon dioxide emissions are said to be 246g/km.

Compared with the Focus XR5, suspension spring rates are firmer by 25 per cent on the front and 15 per cent on the rear, while the steering ratio is 10 per cent faster.

The ‘Control Blade’ independent rear suspension also gets sports tuning and is lowered by 20mm.

Electronic handling and safety controls, such as ESC and traction control, were tuned over 400 laps of Germany’s famed Nurburgring, where engineers, naturally, erred on the side of sportiness.

Braking is supplied by beefy 336mm front discs and 302mm rears, with single-piston callipers.

Compared with the XR5 and the other six models in the current five-door Focus range in Australia, the three-door RS has no panel in common.

At the front, a gaping, 30 per cent larger grille is underpinned by an aerodynamic splitter, which, along with a prominent twin-blade rear wing, is said to have real downforce benefits at race-circuit speeds.

With more than a nod to the design of the Focus WRC cars, the aggressive aero package also includes side skirts and bonnet louvers.

The black-and-charcoal interior is dominated by deep leather-faced Recaro race-style seats, with contrast blue twin-stitch seams. Because the rear seats are also moulded like sports seats, the RS is four-seat only.

Carbon-fibre-like material cloaks the console and instruments, and while the Focus RS is high on equipment, such as climate-control air-conditioning, an eight-speaker audio system and keyless entry and start, there is no modern-style in-dash screen to accommodate sat-nav.

Rain-sensing wipers, auto-leveling Xenon headlights and parking sensors are also standard.

The first three-door Focus in Australia, the RS will be sold in just one specification and three colours – a stand-out green borrowed from the WRC team called Ultimate Green, plus Performance Blue and Frozen White.

There are no options.

Deliveries are expected to start at the end of this month.

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