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Next Focus XR hits Nurburgring

In action: Disguised Ford Focus ST prototype undergoes a regime of tests.

Ford reveals the gruelling development program for its next-generation Focus XR

12 May 2011

FORD of Europe has released details and images of its next-generation Focus ST development program, but has provided few clues to the all-new Focus XR that is due on sale in Australia next year.

Previously confirmed to join mainstream versions of the third-generation Focus hatch and sedan, which will go on sale in Australia in August, the hot ST version is currently undergoing validation testing in Europe.

Ford says a fleet of about 60 prototypes based on the garden-variety models already on sale in the US – plus a few based on the previous Focus ST/XR – have been put to the test on everything from British B-roads to Californian freeways and from Germany’s famed Nurburgring to extremely cold conditions in northern Europe.

It is therefore unclear from the three frontal ‘spy’ images of the same semi-disguised five-door prototype whether the Focus range-topper will wear the gaping Aston Martin-style grille of the bright orange show car that debuted at last year’s Paris motor show, or its oversized rear wing and dual central exhaust outlets.

Ford has, however, confirmed the 2012 Focus ST – a nameplate that could also be seen in Australian showrooms, unless Ford decides to continue with the outgoing five-cylinder model’s XR5 nameplate – will come with a “highly tuned” version of the new Focus’ Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS) system.

27 center imageFrom top: Disguised Ford Focus ST undergoing tests, orange Focus ST show car, diagram of Ford's EcoBoost engine.

As we reported from its global launch in the US in January, the new Focus – like Ford Australia’s upgraded Territory – offers one of the best electric steering systems we’ve sampled, but it is not as communicative as the conventional hydraulic system that makes the current Focus so agile.

Nevertheless, Ford says the new Focus ST/XR will steer, handle and ride better than its predecessor, with driver involvement being central to its primary aim of delivering “an even more engaging driver experience” in the redesigned Focus performance flagship.

“We will build upon and improve the ride, steering and handling strengths that defined the current European Focus ST,” said the chief program engineer at Ford of Europe’s Global Performance Products division, Matthias Tonn.

“We’re sweating all the details – finetuning, testing and finetuning again many of the small but critical details to make sure it is worthy of the ST badge.”

The Focus ST/XR will also come with “unique, driver-orientated” sports seats, which are also part of the test regime now being undertaken by Ford’s Team RS and SVT teams in Europe and North America respectively.

“The seats and seating position were very good in the previous Focus ST, but the new model is sleeker and the driver will sit lower,” said Mr Tonn. “The new seats which will provide even more support.

“We’ve done all the engineering groundwork and now we’re using some of the most demanding roads we can find in Europe and North America to validate and finetune the performance and driving dynamics.”

No further details have been provided for the Focus ST/XR powerplant, which will be a higher-output version of the 149kW/300Nm 2.0-litre direct-injection EcoBoost turbo-petrol engine that will become available in the facelifted Mondeo in mid-2011, similar to the EcoBoost four that will power the first four-cylinder Falcon early next year.

Ford continues to name a peak power target of 250ps (184kW or 246hp), which represents a step up from the 166kW output of the Volvo-sourced 2.5-litre inline five-cylinder turbo-petrol engine in the existing Focus XR5 ($36,490).

But it falls short of the 224kW maximum delivered by the outgoing Focus RS ($59,990), just 315 examples of which arrived here from last August.

While Australia’s current Focus XR5 offers 320Nm of torque, a beefy 440Nm is available to drivers of the Focus RS, which retains a front-wheel drive configuration but quells torque steer with Ford’s patented ‘RevoKnuckle’ suspension system and a Quaife automatic torque-biasing helical limited-slip front differential.

The next Focus ST/XR has been confirmed to feature firmer suspension, a lower ride height and a six-speed manual transmission, but Ford has now also announced it will offer lower fuel consumption than Europe’s outgoing model.

“Fuel efficiency is a key leadership target for Ford Motor Company globally,” said Mr Tonn. “We want to be class-leading even with a performance vehicle, so we’re working on getting the best possible blend of high performance and fuel economy from the new ST.”

Ford has previously said it estimates the high-output 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine, which includes a low-inertia turbo that spins at up to 195,000rpm and is designed for a lifecycle of 150,000 miles (240,000km) or 10 years, to deliver 250ft-lb of torque (339Nm) between 2000 and 4500rpm.

The Focus ST will be sold in North America and Asia for the first time and Ford will update fans of the first global performance model to emerge from the new ‘One Ford’ product development strategy via its Facebook page.

Ford’s director of Global Performance Vehicles, Jost Capito, said: “For enthusiasts in North America and Asia who have asked why our compact performance models were not available to them, well, the wait is almost over.

“The new Focus ST will offer exactly the same exciting driving experience wherever it’s on sale.

“It must live up to Ford’s reputation for producing affordable yet exciting and sporty versions of its smaller cars that reward and delight enthusiast drivers, but can also be used every day.

“Like the Focus ST and RS models before it, the new Focus ST’s final set-up will be achieved after painstaking tuning on some of the most demanding roads we can find in Europe and North America to validate and finetune the performance and driving dynamics.

“Keep your eyes open for our prototypes as we work on delivering a Focus ST driving experience that will delight performance car fans around the world.”

Ford Australia’s MkIII Focus range will go on sale here in August in both four-door sedan and five-door hatchback body styles, powered by a new downsized 1.6-litre Duratec Ti-VCT four-cylinder petrol engine, a new 2.0-litre GDi direct-injection petrol four and an upgraded 2.0-litre Duratorq TDCi turbo-diesel.

There is no sign of the 1.6-litre EcoBoost turbo-petrol four or 1.6-litre TDCi turbo-diesel models now being rolled out across Europe, which also receives a wagon derivative of the gen-three Focus – and Ford has so far ruled out a three-door Focus this time.

The fuel-sipping (3.5L/100km) Focus Econetic is under consideration for Australia, but Ford is yet to commit to a local release of the Focus Electric that will go on sale in the US and Europe in 2012.

Australia will initially receive its MkIII Focus from Ford’s Saarlouis plant in Germany – where the current Focus XR5 is built. All other versions of the current Focus are produced in South Africa for Australia.

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