More focus stuff
Ford is set to stun driving enthusiasts at next month's Frankfurt Motor Show with this astonishing Focus-based coupé. This world exclusive picture, officially supplied by the car's designers at Pininfarina, is a first taste of the model the company will unveil at 10am on 11 September.
To be called the Start, the coupé will open a new chapter in Ford's history of building two-door performance cars. Unlike the poorly received Cougar and Probe, it will be tuned to European tastes in terms of its road manners and styling. So buyers can expect precise steering, supple suspension and excellent body control when it goes on sale.
Designed by Italian coachbuilder Pininfarina – the firm that will build Ford's daring StreetKa – the Start points the way to a secret project that will see the blue oval return to the high-performance coupé market. It also represents a fast-growing policy within Ford to make the most of its driver-oriented platforms. Both the Ka and Puma use the current Fiesta platform to great effect, and the Start will continue this by basing itself on the award-winning Focus.
Described as a new 2+2 rather than a direct replacement for the current Puma, the new coupé is a medium-sized car. Given that the Focus, Racing Puma and Mondeo all offer excellent handling, it's also reasonable to expect the Start to be nothing short of brilliant to drive.
But driving enjoyment is not the only motivation for Ford. While large coupés have suffered a loss of popularity in recent years, cars such as the new Vauxhall Astra Coupé and Honda Integra Type R look set to change this – and the firm wants a slice of the growing market.
However, these rivals can rest easy for the time being – while the concept looks well advanced, Ford still has some work to do before it launches the Start for real. The concept car is built around the chassis of the current Focus, but the road-going edition is expected to use the underpinnings of the next-generation model, due late in 2003. That means this Ford will hit the road before 2004.
But the wait should be worth it. Due to the versatility of the design of the next Focus, bosses are likely to have a huge range of engines and transmissions to choose from.
The entry-level car is likely to be a front-wheel-drive 1.6-litre machine offering 150bhp. But at least two performance models will also be available, using a pair of race-bred turbo engines offering 210bhp and 300bhp respectively. The latter will power a four-wheel-drive flagship, badged as RS or Cosworth.
Within Ford, there is tremendous enthusiasm for the Start project. When it goes ahead in the next few months, it is likely to be moved to the firm's development centre at Cologne, where the new Mondeo and Fiesta were both fashioned.
The car will be constructed using expertise from across the globe, thanks to the blue oval's new C3P computer-aided development system. This allows working prototypes, which may have been fine-tuned by engineers worldwide, to be built straight from the computer.
In designing the Start, Ford will ensure it offers vast cabin space and class-leading safety. The project is likely to be led by Martin Leach, Ford's vice president of product development, who promised at the launch of the latest Mondeo that nine new cars would be unveiled by 2005.