This third episode of the eight in this terrific documentary series covering the development of the 2016 Ford Focus RS starts in Denver, Colorado where Ford engineers from around the world have met for a thousand mile development drive on public highways of RS prototypes including several target competitors.
Raj Nair Group Vice President, Global Product Development and Chief Technical Officer, has set the bar very high (as RS enthusiasts expect) with his statement: “We are not going to put out a vehicle that doesn’t deserve that RS badge”.
The focus for this drive is vehicle dynamics – not speed (as David Put laments “we’re waiting for the day that we can floor it”). Both kinds of testing are important for those of us who will drive our own RS on streets and highways as well as on high-speed racetracks (which we’ll see in Episode 4!). Particularly interesting is the long list of evaluation criteria reviewed in the evening after each drive. Driving Enthusiasts will likely agree with the comment from one engineer that “I thought the brakes could be more aggressive” (we’ll have to find out how that developed in our own drive sometime in the late winter).
Those of us looking for more technical details will note this image of the Focus RS from underneath, taken when a suspension issue sidelined the testing temporarily. Note the large center exhaust pipe, the new saddle-type gas tank, and the aero panels to smooth the airflow.
It’s also nice to see Jamel Hameedi, now the Global Chief Engineer of Ford Performance, whom we once met in the earliest days of his former roles in SVT. We particularly like his statement “the one thing that I always felt that people were just waiting for that last little bit was the AWD system”. We couldn’t agree more: traction, steering, and braking from a front-wheel drive system is a compromise that can’t be overcome. Performance FWD cars from the last Focus RS to the current Civic Type R (once the initial magazine hype dies down) were inevitably found in track tests to be compromised by the inherent limitations of their FWD architectures (and in the Civic Type R, the incredibly cheap beam-type rear suspension). The MazdaSpeed3 was the worst example of the lot (especially when compared to its brother with all-wheel drive and the same engine – the MazdaSpeed6). The Focus RS sets the bar higher because it doesn’t have those limitations. Furthermore, with its mechanical torque vectoring rear differential and the accompanying software and sensors moving torque side-to-side, it also significantly raises the bar on competitors who only have the simplistic Haldex front-to-rear torque distribution (such as the Golf R).
Episode 4 will take us to the test track in Europe, where Ken Block will rejoin the story.