here is a bit more on a similar subject
Ford is on a mission. The company is ready to put itself back on the map as maker of the world's best affordable drivers' cars. And Auto Express is the only magazine to be given access to its two key weapons of assault, the Focus RS and Mondeo ST220.
Guilty of lumbering along oblivious to the resurgence of the performance car market, Ford is now finally set to respond to the opposition with these two models, plus several other fast machines in the future. This exciting pair will set the tone when they blast on to the performance car market within the next 18 months. Notable by its absence during recent years, the company now sees its sporting brands as a key element to defining its role as the world's leading expert on driving dynamics.
Customers will soon find ST, RS and, in the longer term, Cosworth derivatives of Ford model ranges in showrooms. We got up close to the first two to find out whether they're the kind of product that enthusiasts can expect to get excited about...
First to come under the spotlight is the Focus RS. This has the potential to go right to the top of the performance car league. The restyled bodywork delivers a finely judged impact at just the right point between menacing and sophisticated. Features such as the gaping front air intake for the radiator, front brake disc vents cut into the bumper, the larger 18-inch Oz alloy wheels and Brembo brakes are sure to grab attention without the need for huge wings and spoilers. Inside, it's great to find that just as much – if not more – effort has gone into making the RS special. Attention to detail is the key ingredient, with Sparco sport seats supplemented by a chunky steering wheel, alloy and rubber-trim pedals, unique instruments and alloy finishing on the gearshift, handbrake and door handles.
What a contrast it makes with the Mondeo. When you go from one to the other, it's obvious that with its ST branding Ford is aiming to strike more of a balance between Grand Tourer and civilised comfort.
Externally, it looks terrific. Our main concern is that the finished production version does not differ from what we see here, because it's the finer detailing – such as the aluminium foglamp surrounds – which gives it that essential edge. Inside, contemporary colour schemes lift the atmosphere upmarket, and add a dynamic slant at the same time. Details such as the calibrated alloy dial surrounds, ST kickplates and ST badging in the steering wheel make a big difference, and may well be the bait to tempt Audi or BMW buyers.
The man guiding this product turn-around is Martin Leach, Ford of Europe vice-president, product development. He is responsible for more than 40 per cent of Fords sold worldwide, and is directing the firm's 45/5 plan involving the launch of 45 new models in Europe within five years.
We spent a morning talking with him in a bid to get a closer understanding of how the Focus RS and Mondeo ST220 will fit into the company's portfolio. Leach is no stranger to fast Fords. He worked on projects such as the original Escort RS Turbo, the XR2i, the Sierra Cosworth and Escort Cosworth. He also knows a thing or two about driving fast cars. A one-time karting racer who came third in the World Championship and locked wheels with greats such as Ayrton Senna, he still finds time to line up on the grid by competing in the Nürburgring 24-hour race each year. Undoubtedly, the Focus RS will be a serious driver's car. Ford has turned to its World Rally stars, Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz, for input into making the car as responsive as possible. As Leach put it: "This won't be a car for everybody. We wanted to create an on-the-road driving experience reminiscent of the World Rally Focus. It will have an edge to it, and was designed from the outset to be a car that's big on personality."
Beneath the bonnet, there's a 2.0-litre four-cylinder Zetec turbo engine, expected to deliver in the region of 210bhp. According to Leach it drives with "a thumping and brutish feeling from the turbo unit's ability to deliver loads of low-down torque and instant response to the throttle."
The car will use a tweaked front-wheel-drive chassis, which will be ultra-responsive without the need for driver aids such as traction control, according to Leach and his team.
There's no reason to doubt that, either, as the Ka, Fiesta, Focus and Mondeo set respective benchmarks in terms of ride and handling in their classes, and models such as the Puma Racing have taken that a step further into enthusiasts' territory.
The bad news is that production of the £20,000 (estimated) RS will be limited to 3,500 cars a year. So, get your order in quickly for what promises to be the finest fast Ford since the Escort Cosworth.
The Mondeo ST220, on the other hand, will prove slightly more sophisticated and be made in higher numbers. "It will be a somewhat civilised model, a performance flagship for the Mondeo range which will be agile and responsive but still true to the Mondeo's roots, with a tilt towards fast touring," Leach said.
It packs a 3.0-litre Duratec V6 boasting 220bhp, which is sufficient to make it a 150mph express capable of taking on the Honda Accord Type R or BMW's 3-Series. By early next year it will have reached the showrooms, priced at around £23,000. Before we see either of these, however, there will be the debut of the more affordable Focus ST170. This GTi-rival is what fast Ford fans have been waiting for, at a price they can afford, around £16,000.
Beyond this, after the introduction of the all-new Fiesta at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, next year we will see a pocket-rocket ST150. There are also rumours of an RS version of the Fiesta, which would make it a seriously feisty machine. Also on the list is the Street Ka, a small roadster to be built by Pininfarina from 2003.
Enthusiasts waiting for a Focus Cosworth shouldn't hold their breath. though. It seems the complexities of making a four-wheel-drive 280bhp-plus roadburner have been too much. "It's not a question of money, I have the budget for it. But four-wheel drive is a major undertaking for a firm which doesn't have such a platform at its disposal," Leach said. However, he did not rule out a Cosworth version of the next-generation Focus, or indeed the new Mondeo.
Which means that this generation of the Focus family won't see a Cosworth model. Instead we'll have to wait until the car's successor arrives in 2003. Behind the opposition, but better late than never, from the evidence of this pair of fast Fords we know the company is on a mission to please enthusiasts.
Let's just hope it sticks to the promises made by the RS and ST220 and retains all the features and detailing which make them so appealing. We also hope that this treatment filters down through the future fast Ford family.