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Ford set to electrify next-gen hot hatches

Hybrid under study for next Ford Focus ST – and possibly with return of manic RS!

22 May 2020

FORD’S all-important Focus ST hot hatch looks set to move to electrification in its next generation as the Blue Oval brand meets its obligations to reduce emissions in Europe and other markets while remaining committed to performance hatchbacks – but perhaps not as we know them now.


After officially confirming last month that the flagship Focus RS hyper-hatch would not be built in this current generation, Ford is now studying electrification options for its next-generation small (C-segment) performance cars which will apply to the hot ST and could even see the manic RS return as an all-new hybrid hero model.


In an interview with Australian media via video link this week, just as the Focus ST started entering showrooms across the country, Ford Performance Europe chief Stefan Muenzinger said a “conventional” RS was off the table but that “all sorts of studies” were underway, including hybridisation.


He said he was unable to confirm details of the successors to the current ST – and the RS – but revealed that traditional combustion engines were in doubt and that the company’s contenders in the category may need to embrace electrified powertrains to meet increasingly stringent emissions standards.


Asked whether it was inevitable that Ford’s hatchbacks will head down the electrification route in future, Mr Muenzinger said: “In Europe, as you know, there are significant CO2 constraints and legislations, so manufacturers must meet CO2 fleet consumption targets which really puts tremendous pressure on the OEMs as a fleet to deliver on those targets.


“If you do a fully conventional RS-type product, with a CO2 above 200 grams (per kilometre) let’s say, it really hurts you for your fleet compliance. 


“I can’t give you any particular timeframe here but we’re looking at things and what customers would like and what would make sense from a business perspective … it’s under consideration, absolutely,” he said. 


As to whether the current Fiesta ST and Focus ST would be the last conventionally powered hot hatches from Ford, Mr Muenzinger said they “could be”.


“It’s tough to do a fully conventional hot hatch in that (small-car) segment in Europe,” he said.


“That’s why we announced we’re not going to do a conventional Focus RS … I can’t really be too specific here about future product plans.”


Many industry observers have speculated in recent weeks that the decision to bench the RS for this current generation means the end of the line for the sizzling fan-favourite hyper-hatch, which most recently relied on a turbocharged 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder engine producing 257kW of power and 440Nm of torque. 


But Mr Muenzinger’s comments indicate that the program might simply be on hold while Ford, which is pumping huge sums into EV R&D worldwide, considers the best options for its performance hatchbacks ahead of super-stringent Euro 7 emissions regulations due in 2026.


What’s more, the Ford Performance Europe chief also revealed this week that there are no plans to offer the new (front-drive) fourth-generation ST in four-wheel-drive guise now that the AWD-only RS has been sidelined, describing the notion as “naturally” being “the RS proposition”.


This keeps open a key point of differentiation between the ST and RS, and also keeps a lid on emissions for the new – and probably last – conventionally powered ST while Ford works through the powertrain and driveline options for the next generation. 


“I personally think this car (ST) doesn’t need all-wheel drive because of the e-differential,” Mr Muenzinger said.


A period on the sidelines for RS will also do no harm to its reputation, stirring up demand and healthy speculation from the fast-Ford fanbase during the current lifecycle while every major manufacturer works through the same issues as the electrification age intensifies.


These include Volkswagen (Golf GTI/R), Renault (Megane RS), Honda (Civic Type R), Hyundai (i30 N) and Toyota (forthcoming GR Corolla), not to mention premium brands such as Mercedes-Benz (A45/35), Audi (S3/RS3) and BMW (M135i).


The ST enters Australian showrooms priced from $44,690 plus on-road costs and armed with a slightly detuned version of the RS engine – down to a still-impressive 206kW/420Nm. 


It is paired with either a six-speed manual gearbox or (no-cost) seven-speed torque-converter automatic, the latter marking the first time an automatic has been offered with the hot hatch.


The previous RS, meanwhile, used a six-speed manual gearbox only and could reach 100km/h from standstill in 4.7 seconds. The new ST can hit the benchmark speed in 5.7s with the manual, or 6.0s with the automatic.

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