Following up on its Detroit show-stealing GT, Ford has opened another chapter in its performance revival with the first look at the Focus RS, a compact supercar with more power and agility than the Focus ST. It will be the latest in a series of 30 RS (for Rally Sport) models dating to 1985, the third based on the Ford Focus, and the very first RS to reach U.S. showrooms.

The heart of Ford's potent new pocket rocket is a turbocharged (read: EcoBoost) 2.3-liter four-cylinder, adapted from the version offered in the new Mustang. In Mustang tune, this engine delivers 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. With extensive revisions (new cylinder head, new twin-scroll turbocharger, new intercooler, freer flowing exhaust) Ford predicts the 2.3 turbo to deliver "well in excess of 315 hp," revving up to 6800 rpm and a 0-60 mph time of less than five seconds. No torque figures were given. For contrast, the Focus ST's 2.0-liter EcoBoost four generates 255 hp and 270 lb-ft.

4 x 4 and more

Big power in a compact car is always a prescription for fun, but that's only part of the new RS story. The six-speed manual transmission (no automatic option) sends power to a new all-wheel drive system featuring torque vectoring at the rear wheels via twin clutch packs.

In normal straight-ahead driving on dry pavement, the system delivers 100 percent of the engine's output to the front wheels. But when sensors detect wheelspin, the system can transfer as much as 70 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels, and torque vectoring transfers as much as 100 percent of that power from side to side, depending on traction.

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The RS presentation suggested chassis-stiffening measures, with no specifics, as well as stiffer suspension components with two pre-sets to accommodate normal driving and/or track use; bigger brakes (from Brembo); 19-inch alloy wheels; and grippy 235/35 Michelin tires (Pilot Super Sport standard, Pilot Sport Cup optional). RS chassis engineers expect the car to pull over 1.0 g on the skidpad. 

More aggressive looks

In addition to mechanical enhancements, the RS development also included wind tunnel work. The front fascia features a more aggressive splitter, fender flares cover the Michelin rubber, there's a big wing integrated into top of the rear hatch, and a diffuser down low. The aero team also cleaned up the underside thereby improving downforce as the sum of the various upgrades.

Although this first look focused on powertrain, chassis, and exterior design, Ford did reveal one interior element: driver and front passenger will sit in Recaro bucket seats. The RS will also have the latest version of the company's SYNC infotainment system.

Slated for worldwide distribution, all RS assembly will take place at Ford's plant in Saarlouis, Germany, not far from Luxembourg. Billed as a rival to the recently introduced 2015 Volkswagen Golf R and 2015 Subaru WRX STI, the RS is scheduled to go on sale sometime in 2016. Official pricing is not available, but as an index the Golf R starts at $37,415 and the Subaru from $35,290. The base MSRP for a Ford Focus ST is $25,195.

While there is still much to learn about the RS, this much is certain: it will be by far the hottest hatchback Ford has ever offered in the U.S.

Check out our Small Luxury Sedan Buyers Guide for a look at what's new and what's next.


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