Ford’s looking to extend its performance line-up further with an upgraded version of its Focus ST, judging by recent pictures from Car Magazine's spy photographers.
This prototype, spotted undergoing tests on the roads around the Nürburgring, sports a range of cosmetic tweaks – and it’s mooted to be more powerful than the standard ST.
Recently, Ford launched the Fiesta ST200 – a slightly warmer version of its ever popular hot-hatch – and the thinking is that the same concept might be applied to the Focus ST.
After all, there’s a nigh-on 100bhp gap between the 247bhp ST and the full-fat 345bhp RS. A more powerful ST wouldn’t impose on the fabled RS’s territory much, anyway, given that the flagship has all-wheel drive – and more – in its favour.
Car Magazine sources suggest that the hotter version of the ST would likely pack somewhere in the region of 260 and 280bhp, along with suspension upgrades to further improve its performance.
As the spy shots show, Ford also appears to be investigating a few aerodynamic upgrades. These, in conjunction with some new trim pieces and wheels, would also serve to distinguish the top-spec ST from the regular model.
Does this power hike put the ST in contention of becoming a uberhatch? Only time will tell, but it sure as hell will put the ST on the coat tails of the Cupra 290, Civic Type R and of course the Golf GTI Clubsport.
1973 Simca 1100TI
Meet the world’s first Uber hatch - it has a 1.3-litre engine, breathes through two Weber carburettors and makes 82 horsepower. Not much by modern standards, but when it landed in 1973 its sub 12-second 0-60mph time and 105mph top speed was trouser-tightening stuff.
It also involved all the fripperies of future attempts to spice up a family hatch - reinforced clutch, stiffer shocks, bigger brakes and special paint (called ‘Sumatra Red’, fact fans).
Alas, the 1100TI never made it to England, and it may look a bit depressing, but this, dear internet, was genesis…
1976 Renault 5 Gordini
This little Renault’s launch date pipped the Golf GTI’s by a few months, so it just slips in as the icon’s predecessor. It got a 1.4-litre engine - mounted well behind the front wheels for better balance - making 92bhp, which could hit 60mph in 9.7 seconds and topped out at 104.7 mph. It also had other hot essentials like front and rear spoilers and BIG SHOUTY RACING STRIPES.
Called the Gordini in Britain and the Alpine everywhere else, it had the potential to be a full-blown legend. If it weren’t for the success of the Golf, people would talk about this car in the same way as the Mk1 GTI.
1976 Golf GTI Mk1
Introduced in 1976, the Mk1 GTI is often considered the spiritual father of hot hatchery. And while it wasn’t the first, it was one of the earliest, polished fast hatchbacks. Lightweight construction meant it could outrun Ferrari 308s on country lanes, and a 0-60mph time of 9seconds meant it wasn’t far behind at the lights. And you could get a chest of drawers in the boot.
1984 Peugeot 205 GTI
After launching in 1984, the little Pug quickly built a fine reputation for its free-revving 1.6-litre four-pot engine and tendency for lift-off oversteer. Like the Golf GTI, 104 horsepower seems piffling by modern standards, but a 900 kg kerbweight meant it was mighty quick in its day.
1991 Lanica Delta Integrale
After the insanity of Group B rallying, the following - and altogether more conservative - Group A regs limited cars to 2.0-litre engines, 300 horsepower, and the need to be built from a far greater percentage of, y’know, road car…
Which is why Lancia integrated the Delta into its rallying program, changing the hot hatch landscape once again. In road trim it made 207 horsepower, it got to 60mph in 5.7 seconds and topped out at. Sadly, the Integrale was only available in left-hand-drive only and this stopped it being a big seller in Britain.
1997 Daihatsu Cuore TR-XX Avanzato R
Meanwhile in Japan, a unique translation for hot hatch was developing. As well as building quick versions of normal-sized hatches, several manufacturers turned their attention to their ‘kei’ cars - baby-engined minicars designed to comply with stringent tax and insurance regs. When the TR-XX was released, there was a 660cc displacement limit, and 3.3-meter by 1.4-meter size limit. Which is worth remembering when you take into account it’s 63bhp output. But anyone that’s played Gran Turismo will know that the combination turbocharged engine, permanent four-wheel drive, and sub-Elise kerb weight made it a hilariously addictive, if not out and out fast.
2002 Ford Focus RS
Souped up models from the Blue Oval have always been loitering around the British performance market, and the Focus has played a huge part. Ford dropped the RS name after the Escort but with the poor sales of Racing Pumas the moniker was resurrected and a new lineage of fast Fords began.
Ford were so determined to make it faster than the slightly less hot ST170 they handed it over to their rally team. They changed 70 per cent of the parts resulting in a car with a turbocharged four-pot engine not far off WRC specs. It could hit 60mph in 6.3 seconds, a top whack of 144mph, and obscene amounts of torque steer.
2008 Renault Megane R26.R
As the swan song for the second gen Megane, the R26.R needed to go with a bang, which explains why the Renaultsport 230 Renault F1 Team R26.R was 123 kg lighter than the normal RS, had 227 horsepower, a full cage, six-point harness and plastic windows. Not so much a hot hatch, but a boiling one.
2013 Audi A1 Quattro
The Germans have a reputation for making very good, very dull cars. But, every so often they losen their grip on sanity. A recent example being this 250 horsepower, four-wheel drive supermini that can hit 62mph in 5.7 seconds and go on to 152 mph.
Thing is, it’s a little… pricey. £40,000, to be precise. And even if you could stomach the money, you can’t have it - only 333 examples were made and just 19 are coming to Britain.
2013 Renault Clio RS 200
There are several Clios that deserve a mention here - the RenaultSport 172, the bonkers V6, and the Clio Williams. But it’s the most recent incarnation that gets the final mention.
It’s a controversial step in the hot hatch’s development because you can only get it with four doors and a paddle-shift ‘box. There’s still 197bhp, 177lb ft of torque, 0-62 mph comes in 6.7 seconds, and it tops out at 143 mph. But has the spec limitation narrowed the appeal? Over to you, TopGear.commers.
Volkswagen has scrapped plans to release a production version of the 300+kW Golf R400 despite announcing it had green lit the Porsche-baiting hatch for production last year.
Developed to be a more affordable and even faster rival for the Mercedes-AMG A45 or Audi RS 3 Sportback, the R400 was confirmed for production by VW Group powertrain boss Dr Heinz-Jakob Neusser last year in April 2015 but now motoring.com.au can exclusively reveal VW’s super hatch may never see the light of day.
Commenting on the R400, a senior Volkswagen source told motoring.com.au the Gold R400 is no longer included in Volkswagen’s European launch schedule and that the project had been “paused”, along with “several other projects”, in the fallout from the Dieselgate emissions scandal.
The VW insider was keen to stress that the Golf R400 project hadn’t been cancelled but put on ice while the Volkswagen Group comes to terms with fines over its fraudulent defeat devices that could add up to billions of dollars.
First revealed as a concept at the 2014 Beijing motor show, the more powerful version of the all-wheel drive Golf R has been caught numerous times by spy photographers and was thought to be in a late stage of development.
Originally, the R400 concept was to be powered by a 295kW/450Nm 2.0-litre turbo petrol that allowed the R400 to sprint to 100km/h in just 3.9 seconds.
Incredibly, the production version was rumoured to generate even more power with the EA888 engine thought to generate as much as 309kW.
To help channel all that power and torque to the road, the Golf R400 used a modified version of the Golf R’s Haldex 5-based 4MOTION all-wheel drive system with electronic XDS+ diffs on both axles. The fastest Golf also came with adjustable dampers, 19-inch lightweight alloys, bigger brakes and 20mm lower suspension.
Back in 1973, 82bhp was enough to give the humble little Simca 1100TI the title of the world’s first ever hot hatch.
How the world has changed. Do you yearn for the days when Donny Osmond topped the charts, and a hotted up 1.3-litre family hatch with less outright power than your own lungs was considered fast?
Yeah, us neither. But this goggle-eyed, entirely implausible fast hatch was the original all-weather car. It even featured such things as stiffer shocks, a reinforced clutch, bigger brakes and some special paint.
The world - perhaps mercifully - has moved on from the days of the Simca. No longer is humanity content with a 0-60mph time somewhere not very far below 12 seconds. No longer will we sit in silence for a top speed of just 105mph from a small five-door family car.
No, today’s buyers demand more. Much, much more. Witness the new Ford Focus RS (not the lovely RS500 pictured), which churns out 345bhp. Or indeed, the new Audi RS3, with a whopping 362bhp and the ability to hit 60mph in just over four seconds. Supercar pace, that.
So, where do the major players stack up today? Click on for our roundup of the most powerful hot hatches… in the world*
Renault Megane Renaultsport Trophy-R
Big name, big power. Renault’s Nürburgring-honed weapon of track destruction has lapped the fabled Green Hell in 7m 54s, a ludicrous time for any front-drive hot hatch. Much has been stripped out of the cabin. There’s a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot on board with 271bhp, and with just 1280kg to shift, it’ll go from 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds.
Vauxhall Astra VXR
Officially the moment Vauxhall went properly crazy. The first VXR might have been a mere sip of the Kool-Aid; the new one has a bottle on intravenous drip. That’s because the current (and now rather old) VXR features a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine producing 276bhp and 295lb ft of torque, to produce a 0-62mph time of six seconds flat and top speed of 155mph.
Seat Leon Cupra
It’s the fastest and most powerful Seat ever. With 258lb ft of torque, a 0-62mph time of 5.8 seconds and top speed of 155mph, it’s plenty of speed for your needs. And it’s one hell of a weapon, and in 'Sub 8' guise, will blitz the ring in a rather quick time....
Shares much with the Golf R, only the S3 is more expensive and therefore bit less good. Still, it’s good for 62mph in 4.8 seconds and musters up 280lb ft of torque from its 2.0-litre turbocharged four.
Volkswagen Golf R
Quite simply, the Top Gear Magazine favourite hot hatch. Whether it remains so after we’ve put it up against the Focus RS remains to be seen, however…
Honda Civic Type R
So powerful, it’s gone red with rage. Honda has finally revealed the most potent Civic in the history of ever. The new Type R packs a turbocharged engine, producing that headline 306bhp. And after sampling it on UK roads, TG’s Ollie Marriage noted how “it doesn’t do a bad impression of a touring car or tarmac rally car to be honest, but to get the best out of it you have to take it by the scruff and concentrate…”
A fine, fine car, and another that easily breaks the 300bhp barrier. A 3.0-litre turbocharged six-pot produces 322bhp and 332lb ft of torque, all wrapped up in a dynamic package that’s little short of magic. 0-62mph takes 5.1 seconds, and it costs just £32k. But can a hot hatch be rear-wheel drive? Discuss.
Ford Focus RS
The new kid on the block. Not the quickest (4.7secs to 62mph and 165mph), but with it’s super approachable, really quite drifty limits, the Focus RS is a potential game-changer.
“Enormously, mind-warpingly fast.”
That’s our official verdict on Audi’s certifiably quick RS3. A 0-62mph time of 4.3 seconds and 174mph top speed make it indecently, absurdly quick (and we suspect the former time is a touch conservative, too…). Not only does it produces 362 horsepowers, but a titanic amount of torque is on offer from as little as 1625rpm.
As powerful hot hatches go, this Mercedes hot hatch is a bloody powerful one. In fact, the Merc’s 2.0-litre turbo is the most potent four-cylinder engine… in the world. We like things like this. We also like its 376bhp, 350lb ft of torque, the ability to accelerate from 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds… and the insane array of chunters and bangs from the optional sports exhaust.
Source: Top Gear Magazine
We’re quite used to hot hatches at evo. Cars with more to shout about than their demure hatchback exteriors might suggest is absolutely nothing new. But, the Mercedes-AMG A45 and Audi RS3 – part of the new crop of uberhatches – are on a level of performance that even we find exceptional. With over 360bhp and 330lb ft of torque, and 0-62mph in less than 4.6sec there’s no doubting that these two are very serious performance cars.
It’s not just the numbers that are impressive. Both of these cars cover ground at such a startling rate you see antisocially high speeds more often than you’d expect. More often than you really want, too.
Accidentally seeing such high speeds in the RS3 can almost entirely be blamed on the noise its engine makes. Once above 4000 rpm the sound its 2.5 litre, 5-cylinder turbocharged engine emits is equal parts Audi Sport Quattro and Audi R8 V10. Hearing it becomes addictive. If you let the engine rev right out to its 6800rpm limit the next gear will kindly keep the revs in the noise sweet spot. With every gear the speed just keeps piling on, with the noise distracting you from exactly how quick you’re going.
What makes these insane speeds even easier to inadvertently achieve is just how capable the RS3 is. Fast corners are a doddle; they’re eaten up with just a small lift and no drama. However, slow corners do highlight the RS3’s weaknesses. Turn in with a little trail braking and initial turn-in is encouraging.
In fact, the wavey edged brakes on the RS3 made it squirm around and feel very excitable under heavy braking. Mid-corner, as soon as you’re back on the power, your only real option is choosing how much understeer you want. With a constant throttle the RS3 stays fairly neutral, but accelerate with any steering angle and it starts to wash wide. Short, mid speed corners, where only a dab of brake and a small flick of steering is needed, the RS3 can feel quite satisfying. These situations aren’t frequent enough though, and the RS3 leaves you with a mild sense of frustration rather than any sort of gratification.
It should be mentioned that for this test the RS3 was on winter tyres, a set of Pirelli Sottozeros. Had the RS3 been on performance summer tyres, the understeer may not have been as noticeable and that would have made it more enjoyable.
On summer tyres, the RS3’s limits are even higher and it feels more secure. However, there’s a still a moment of loosesness on turn-in and it will start to understeer sooner than the A45.
The RS3’s cabin, like most Audis at the moment, is a nice place to be. The seats are plush and the cushioning feels deep, but are set a fraction too high. They do lack a bit of support around your waist but there’s plenty at the shoulders. As it’s a performance car there’s the obligatory carbon fibre and the RS3’s trim looks more convincing than most. In fact the quality of all the materials is impressive, nothing giving away its humble A3 roots.
The same can’t be said of the A45. The scratchy plastics around the transmission tunnel let you know the A45 is based on one of Mercedes’ cheapest models. The dash seems to be covered with black vinyl embossed with a carbon fibre pattern and the air vents are surrounded by shiny red. However, the steering wheel has Alcantara sections at 3 and 9 o’clock right where your hands go – unlike the RS3, where the Alcantara is on the top and bottom. The aluminium switchgear with cutout icons looks premium and feels solid. The seats, shared with other AMG models, are supportive and look brilliant. The steering wheel, seats and switches almost make up for the ill-judged splashes of red and faux carbon fibre.
The A45’s ride is severe and there’s very little roll. Its seats, although nicely supportive, are firm which adds to a slight feeling of being thrown around. The hard ride, however, does result in a huge amount of body control. Over crests or out of compressions, the body is resolutely tied down. The steering doesn’t offer much in the way of feedback, but what’s going on is translated clearly up through the stiff chassis and firm seats.
The AMG’s reluctance to understeer is as impressive as its sheer determination to reach, and maintain, exceptionally high speeds. Out of the corners, the traction generated by the four-wheel drive is huge. Get on the power early in the corner and it feels like the outside rear wheel is helping to push you round, catapulting you out of the bend. Should you wish to trim your line, a lift makes a slight difference. The AMG isn’t dramatic but it feels intuitive and gives you great confidence to drive quickly.
If you simply want something fast and practical then both cars do this well. The fact they’re so fast is almost to their detriment, though. They go about achieving high speeds at the expense of fun and involvement.
The Audi sounds spectacular, and having an engine that feels genuinely special in a fairly ordinary package is such a delight. The winter tyres might have given the RS3 an unfair handicap, but even with higher limits of grip the A45 felt more natural close to its limits and gave greater feedback. The A45 might not be the most expressive car, but it feels more resolved than the RS3 and is therefore the more enjoyable car.
There are two letters guaranteed to get fast Ford fans excited: RS. They stand for Rallye Sport, and after the famous badge debuted on 1970’s Escort RS1600, it has been reserved for the hottest Fords ever since.
The latest addition to the family is the new Focus RS. This go-faster family hatchback is the most powerful ever, thanks to a thumping 345bhp turbocharged 2.3-litre engine. It’s also the first RS since the rally-bred Escort RS Cosworth to feature a four-wheel-drive system, although this trick transmission has been designed to boost driver fun, not just to improve grip and traction.
Yet despite the incredible power and hi-tech hardware, the new Focus RS hasn’t forgotten its blue-collar roots. With a price that’s a whisker under £30,000, it promises plenty of performance per pound.
Here, it faces two fierce rivals. The Audi RS3 was used as a benchmark by Ford’s engineers when developing the Focus, and its 362bhp looks good on paper. It also has plenty of upmarket appeal, albeit with a price to match.
The Volkswagen Golf R doesn’t shout nearly as loudly as its rivals here, plus it’s a little down on outright power. However, it’s competitively priced and is recognised as the handling benchmark for four-wheel-drive hot hatches. Until this point, at least. So which of our heavy-hitting pocket rockets will land the knock-out punch? We hit the tortuous mountain roads above Barcelona in Spain to find out.
Head to head
The Ford and VW borrow their engines from other models. So the 2.3-litre in the Focus is also used in the Mustang, but tweaks to the internals and turbo boost power to 345bhp. Under the Golf’s bonnet is a GTI engine, with power increased from 217bhp to 296bhp.
The Audi’s engine appeared in the old-shape TT RS, and also features in the RS Q3 crossover.
Ford has toned down the Focus’s styling in an attempt to rival the premium brands, but there are still plenty of RS cues, including the gaping grille and large tailgate spoiler. The Audi’s potential is equally obvious, but its additions aren’t as aggressive. By comparison, the Volkswagen is low key and could be confused with a cheaper R-Line model.
The Golf comes with a choice of either a six-speed manual gearbox or a £1,415 twin-clutch DSG automatic. All RS3s feature Audi’s seven-speed twin-clutch S tronic, while the Focus is only offered with a six-speed manual – although Ford hasn’t ruled out introducing its PowerShift auto box to the RS at a later date.
1st place: Ford Focus RS
With its eye-catching price tag and blistering performance, the Focus RS is a fast Ford in the finest tradition. Yet it’s the car’s trick four-wheel-drive system and honed suspension that star, giving the Focus incredible agility and delivering more than enough driver involvement. It also looks and sounds the part. The only black marks are reserved for the small boot and firm low-speed ride.
2nd place: Volkswagen Golf R
The Golf misses out by the narrowest of margins in this encounter. It’s faster than its power deficit would suggest and it attacks twisting back roads with incredible composure. It’s also the easiest car to live with day to day and has the most versatile interior. Yet it just lacks the excitement and involvement of the Focus – and in this class, that counts for a lot.
3rd place: Audi RS3
If this test was based purely on engine sound and straight-line performance, then the Audi RS3 would carry off the spoils. It also benefits from having easily the best cabin here and comes with most standard equipment. However, its handling feels a little lead-footed in this company, and there’s no getting away from that hefty price tag.
So it's coming. After a year of rabid speculation, and will they won't they arguments.
We at VWROC HQ are pretty stunned actually. Only one of us in the office truly believed this car would be released, and these spy shots indicate that VW are intent on bringing this beast to the masses.
So rather than rehash what's been said a million times, lets study the spy shots and see what's behind those thinly veiled, standard R clothes.
Well for starters the rear spoiler is probably the most noticeable feature. VW must reckon it makes more than a cosmetic impact or else they wouldn't have put it on a disguised mule car.
The new inter-cooler is clearly visible through the lower vents of the front spoiler.
The wheel arches are not standard Golf R either. they have lost the standard flat edges and have been pulled out to accommodate what we can only assume is a wider track for those massive wheels.
The new R400 is significantly lower than the standard R.
Enough talking from us, lets hear what you have to say on the matter.