Underneath the 2016 Ford Focus RS


Ford has been on a roll lately, introducing several high-performance models to much applause. The restructuring of its performance divisions around the globe also means that engineers from all corners of the world now have input into Ford’s new car development programs.

The first performance model to be unveiled from this One Ford program is the Focus RS, which marks a significant departure from previous RS models, by adopting an all-wheel-drive (AWD) layout, rather than front-wheel drive.

“When I got this job, two and half years ago, I began with discussions and meetings about what the Focus RS should be,” explains Tyrone Johnson, vehicle and engineering manager at Ford Performance, a new division that brings together the old Team RS, Ford SVT, and Ford Racing operations. “Originally, it was set in the Ford cycle program as a FWD program. After a couple of months of discussions, convincing arguments, and late night presentations to Raj Nair [Ford’s group vice president and CTO], we managed to convince everyone that AWD was the way to go.”

The AWD system selected for use in the Focus RS is an evolution of GKN Driveline’s Twinster system, as found in the Range Rover Evoque. “The first prototype that we built, we took one of GKN’s prototype systems, installed it in our car, and that is the thing that convinced us we needed to go AWD,” continues Johnson. “But, we soon failed that part as it just wasn’t strong enough. We were asking a lot of things from this part that Land Rover simply wasn’t at the time, in terms of torque transfer.”

Left: The revised AWD system implemented in the Focus RS allows up to 70% of torque to be distributed to the rear wheels, with up to 100% of that figure being diverted to either of the rear wheels, depending on circumstance.

“It’s a very simple system,” explains Johnson. “The rear drive unit is not a differential in the traditional sense, because it simply has a drive shaft coming in, and through the use of a worm gear, it transfers the torque right or left. But between that transfer, there is a clutch pack on both sides, and that clutch pack decides whether the torque is transferred or not.”

Modifications to the car, made in order to accept the AWD platform, were surprisingly limited, thanks to the bloodline of the chassis. “The car is on the C1 platform, which is what is under the Kuga, C-Max, etc,” states Johnson. “It was created 15 years ago when Volvo and Mazda were both part of the Ford Group. It was the platform for the Mazda 3, and the Volvo S40 and V50, which were all created in Cologne. Volvo insisted that the platform had AWD capability at that time, although there was no interest from Ford for an AWD application, but that has really benefitted us now.

“The rear subframe on this car is something we created for Volvo too, back when we were together,” he adds. “We never used it, but Volvo did on some applications. We took that as it slotted right into the C1 platform, and we made some modifications to it so it will accept the RS’s anti-roll bar and the GKN system. Fundamentally it allowed us to start at a point that wasn’t ‘absolute zero’.

“There’s a certain beauty in that, as a new subframe would cost in the region of US$6-7m worth of investment,” he continues. “We didn’t have that money, and we had to look at other solutions.”

Left: The Twinster rear drive unit (RDU) has been modified by Ford for application in the RS, allowing the car to be ‘drifted’

The car’s steering system is also a marked departure over previous models, in that this is the first RS to gain fully electric power steering. “The previous generation was electrohydraulic,” explains Johnson. “The RS system does differ from the standard car’s EPAS, as that has a variable assist. For the RS, we’ve removed that variability as we felt it detracts from the car. We have a linear rack on the car now.”

Ford worked with Michelin to develop a choice of high-performance 235/35R 19 tires. As a result, the car will be offered with Pilot Super Sport tires as standard, with the option of Pilot Sport Cup 2s for owners who have track time in mind. These tire choices are wrapped around 19in lightweight, forged alloy wheels.

Behind the lightweight wheels is an all-new brake system by Brembo. In comparison with the previous generation car, the ventilated front brake discs are marginally bigger in diameter, now measuring 13.78in, up from 13.23in. These discs are specified in combination with aluminum four-piston calipers.

With track use being identified as a distinct possibility for many potential RS owners, Ford has ensured that the brake system is properly cooled. Two ‘jet tunnel’ stylized ducts in the front bumper direct cool air on to the brakes. This effect is enhanced through the use of dedicated airflow guides mounted to the lower suspension arms.

The front suspension setup for the car is largely new. “Because we’ve had to install the power transfer unit, the front suspension location has changed, and so we had to make a new knuckle to get the steering curve we wanted,” states Johnson. “We’ve also fitted new, shorter steering link arms.”

As with the previous RS, this third-generation car’s dampers are supplied by Tenneco. Unlike previous versions, however, the new car makes use of Tenneco’s dual-mode dampers, offering a dedicated track setting. Ford states that the system is ‘marginally’ more comfortable than the previous car, while the ‘sport’ mode is significantly harder.

When it came to benchmarking cars for the Focus RS, Ford turned its attention to two cars that helped redefine what a fast car should be. “We looked at the Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Evo,” says Johnson. “We also looked at the modern versions of those ex-rally type cars, such as the Golf R and the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG.”

Johnson believes that the next RS entertains more than it’s modern counterparts, which he feels fall a bit flat in terms of dynamic ability. “We bought a Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG,” he concludes. “As when it was being announced we all thought ‘Hmm… 360bhp, that’ll be the thing to have…’ But, it’s boring. Very boring. The engine’s good, but that’s about it.”

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