Hot hatch enthusiasts have a rough go here in the United States. Outside of the Volkswagen GTI and Golf R, the older generation of the Subaru WRX and STi, and the Ford Focus ST, there has been little in the way of a hardcore performance compact. Abroad, you’ve got the Peugeot 208 GTi, Seat Leon Cupra, and Ford Focus RS, among many, many more. But for the American market, things are about to get a little more interesting.
Ford has formally announced that it will be approaching a new direction with its performance division, and as a result, the previously Europe-only Focus RS will be made a global vehicle — and that includes America. It will be one of 12 new performance models that the brand will offer through 2020, and the first RS-badged model since 2009.
“Ford remains committed to innovation through performance,” Raj Nair, Ford’s vice president of global product development, said in a statement. “Our new global Ford Performance team ties together racing, performance vehicles and parts. It will allow us to more quickly introduce products and accessories that meet the needs of customers around the world on-road and on the track.”
The RS badge has been in use since 1968, and Ford is hoping to build on its heritage moving forward. The Focus RS — the car in question — was among the most powerful hot hatches on the market and provided the foundation for Ford’s World Rally Championship car.
The current Focus ST and Golf GTI — regarded as its principal rival — provide 252 and 210 horsepower, respectively. That’s a lot of power for what they are (compact hatches), and the way that the power is delivered makes them all the more fun to drive. But there’s a whole other league of hot hatch above these two reigning kings of fun affordability, currently occupied by the Golf R, and, previously, the Focus RS.
The Golf R is back for 2015, and it’s packing 296 horsepower, all-wheel drive, and a gauntlet that it has thrown down before Ford. The only acceptable answer, of course, would be a new Focus RS, but the major news is that the two companies are bringing the fight to the global stage.
“To earn the RS badge, the vehicle has to be a no-compromise driver’s car that can deliver exceptional performance on the track when required while providing excellent every day driving,” said Nair, offering few other details. It’s almost assured that it will be EcoBoost-powered, perhaps by a tuned-up version of the 2.0-liter unit found in the current Focus ST, or even the 2.3-liter EcoBoost that provides the 310 horsepower beating heart of the 2015 Mustang.
The Focus RS produced about 300 horsepower during its day, and that was in 2009. It’s a given that things have improved since then, and owing to the fact that a Focus ST ran with about 223 horsepower at the time, there’s substantial room for improvement. Especially during a time like now, when automakers can generate so much additional power with little concern over blowing up their fuel consumption numbers.
But we know that Ford is capable of far more. Not just in terms of sheer performance — we’ve all seen the Ford GT, the Shelby GT500, et cetera. But in strict terms of the Focus line, Ford has whetted appetites for much more than the what the previous Focus RS has offered: the RS500, which took the RS’s volume knob and turned it up to 350 horsepower, in the same compact hatchback body. The results, as you can imagine, were mind-blowing, but the company only made 500 examples, to commemorate the end of the RS’s production.
The new RS will join the existing Fiesta ST, Focus ST, the SVT Raptor, and, naturally, the higher-end Mustangs. But no further indication was given to what the other performance models would be, though we can guess a range-topping ‘Stang and a new Raptor (that will use the new F-150’s design language and structure) will be in the cards.
It’ll be extraordinarily exciting to see what develops from Ford’s skunkworks, especially in light of Volkswagen’s apparent intention to put the Golf R 400 into production. In case you missed it, that was the nearly 400 horsepower, AWD Golf that promises to be the most mental production hatch ever — unless Ford can get to it first.
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