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Driven: High hopes for sell-out Ford Focus RS

Head ache: Ford’s Focus RS has run into head gasket woes, although only one case has been reported in Australia so far.

Ford predicts sustainable demand for Focus RS with up to 500 already finding buyers

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Ford logo14 Jul 2016

By DANIEL GARDNER

FORD is rapidly finding homes for all of the firecracker Focus RS hot hatchbacks on offer in its first year of sale, with almost 500 sold before the model officially launched in Australia, and the car-maker says it can maintain interest in its most vicious small car thanks to growing demand in the segment.

The arrival of the new flagship of the Focus small hatchback line-up is part of Ford’s fresh product push in Australia and the bid to retain fans of the Blue Oval after the end of local manufacturing in October appears to be working.

Between 400 and 500 fast Ford fans have already placed orders for the third-generation Focus RS, which offers a mighty 257kW bang coupled to all-paw traction and a conspicuous aerodynamic work over for just $50,990 before on-road costs.

High-performance variants and sportscars typically spike at launch before leveling out due to lower demand, but speaking at the launch of the feisty RS, Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman said the company could maintain interest in the car despite the common trend and a downturn in less effervescent Focus variants.

“I think it functions in a different space,” he said. “I’m not saying it will be exactly the same (sales) every year, but if you segment it down and stratify the market, C-segment high-performance, let’s say 150kW plus and the 200kW plus, that 150kW plus is actually growing and is constant in its trajectory.

“There is an ongoing appetite that sits there. There is such a base of normal mainstream hatch customers who aspire to jump in. It’s not what I would call a fringe high-performance vehicle that vacillates. I think actually it’s got a strong enduring demand because there are many people who aspire to have a performance derivative of the hatch they have driven or currently drive.”

Unlike the runaway success Mustang sportscar that has a near two year waiting list, the Focus RS order logging system works differently and does not allow the exact figure to be generated, but Mr Whickman confirmed that the complete allocation of up to 500 RS variants was on track to sell out.

“It’s a little bit harder to forecast because Mustang has a closer view because we put a manual customer handling process in place to monitor customers that were putting down a deposit, so we actually very closely monitor the demand.

“That’s a very intensive exercise that we can’t do with every vehicle, so it’s a little less clear (for Focus RS) because we are not monitoring every customer who puts down a deposit.

“We believe that we will sell between 400 and 500 this year. That will effectively sell out everything that we’ve got this year and we are in the process of starting to take the orders for next year.

Ford has experienced a slight slowing of registrations in the rest of its Focus line-up, but Mr Whickman said the arrival of a new Ford Performance representative would have a positive effect on the entire brand, as well as lesser variants of the small hatchback.

“Halo vehicles like the RS or a Mustang or the ST always provide an opportunity to polish the oval,” he said.

“The fact that this is in the showroom gives us an opportunity to shine a light on other parts of the showroom, including Focus, that perhaps some people may have not considered in the past.”

While many customers will be drawn to the RS for the same practicalities and reputation of the rest of the Focus line-up, the new flagship trades on its potent performance figures, headlined by the 2.3-litre turbocharged EcoBoost engine and driveline.

The four-cylinder donk is closely related to the engine under the snout of Ford’s popular Mustang EcoBoost, but differs in its transverse orientation and a power boost to 257kW and 440Nm thanks to some fettling from the engineers at Cosworth. Peak torque can be pushed to 470Nm for 15 seconds with an over boost function.

For the extra 24kW and 38Nm the Cosworth engineers did not simply retard waste gate operation to work the turbo harder, instead they set about remanufacturing the cylinder head, fitting a bigger turbo and intercooler increasing boost pressure to 23.3psi.

A higher flow induction system helps get more air in, while a big-bore exhaust on the other side of combustion assists getting waste out. An electronically controlled valve, adds “distinctive burbles and pops that are an RS signature,” says Ford.

The cooling system has been beefed up to deal with the extra output and the radiator is the largest yet fitted to a Focus. The net result is a zero to 100km/h acceleration that takes just 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 266km/h.

Despite the potent power, Ford says the Focus RS can still return a fuel economy figure of 8.1 litres per 100km, while producing 190g of CO2 per kilometre, thanks in part to fuel-saving idle stop.

Unlike the previous Focus RS that sent power from its five-cylinder engine to the front wheels via a sophisticated differential, the new version brings all four 19-inch wheels into play for a significant traction advantage.

Ford has made the most of its new all-paw grip with a launch control mode for humiliating two-wheel drive hot hatches at the traffic lights, and a frivolous Drift mode that initially sends almost all torque to the rear wheels for serious sideways action. Power is diverted to the front end when the driver runs out of talent and needs to bring the tail back in line.

Other drive modes consist of Normal, Sport and Track, which is intended, as the name suggests, solely for the raceway.

Petrol heads will rejoice at Ford’s decision to offer the RS as a purist’s six-speed manual only, bucking the trend of some other car-makers such as Renault that only offers its smaller Clio RS as a dual clutch automatic.

Underneath, the chassis has been tailored for fast driving with RS tuned sport suspension and adjustable dampers all round, and a significantly revamped rear end with an almost straight anti-roll bar. The ride is 40 per cent stiffer in Track mode and Ford advises using it only on perfect surfaces.

Braking is taken care of by a bespoke Brembo callipers and 350mm disc package for the front end.

The extensive performance and tuning modifications are complemented by a generous revision of the exterior, headlined by a heavily vented front bumper and fascia, more vents and fins at the back end, and a conspicuous twin exhaust.

Front and rear spoilers are “optimized” not for downforce, but have eliminated lift according to Ford, as well as adding a racier look.

The Focus RS is available in four colours consisting of White, Shadow Black, a metallic grey Magnetic or the most-eye-catching Nitrous bright blue which has a subtle metallic fleck. All except White add $450 to the bottom line.

Headlights are bi-Xenon and are framed by LED daytime running lights. Keyless entry and start is for people who are holding the correct key, while the standard Thatcham alarm is fitted as standard for people who aren’t.

On the inside, the RS gets Recaro seats upholstered in a combination of leather and synthetic suede, D-shaped RS-branded leather steering wheel, boost, oil temperature and oil pressure gauges, and alloy pedal plates and gear knob, while signature blue stitching is featured throughout.

Ford’s Sync2 information and entertainment system offers access to a number of features including navigation, a nine-speaker sound system, reversing camera, air-conditioning and phone connection via an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen.

For those wanting to splash a little extra cash, Ford offers a $2500 Performance Wheel Pack that swaps out the standard wheels for a set of lighter forged 19-inch rims, decorated in satin black and dressed up in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber.

Opting for the posher pack will save you 950g of unsprung weight per corner, boosting track potential and bragging rights at the bar.

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