How Ford Is Revolutionizing the Hot Hatch Segment
The third time’s the charm, right? After the debut of the Focus ST in 2012 and the Fiesta ST the following year, Ford Performance Vehicles is set to release the 345 horsepower, all-wheel drive Focus RS in spring 2016.
Despite the hype surrounding its arrival, the decision to bring the RS stateside is a large gamble by Ford. Rewind to summer 2012, when Ford faced the same dilemma with the Focus ST. The international hot hatch segment was already flooded with tried and true competition from Japanese and European automakers, so the demand for a likely inferior domestic option seemed lacking. But with a resounding burble resonating through its center-exit exhaust, the Focus ST answered its critics loud and clear. A six-speed manual gearbox was standard, and a 2.0 liter four-cylinder with 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet ensured the ST had ample performance to back up its boy-racer styling.
If those numbers don’t excite you, Ford Performance now offers a power upgrade pack for ST owners that increases torque an additional 90 pound-feet without voiding your factory warranty. At 360 pound-feet, you’ll think a Ford technician transversely mounted the Mustang’s 5.0 liter Coyote engine to the chassis by mistake.
It worked. According to a Ford press release in 2013, the Focus ST was a sales hit, in the U.S. and attracted many younger buyers to the brand. Thirty-two percent of buyers were under 35 years old, compared to 22% for overall Focus sales.
Strong Focus ST sales numbers and its renowned acclaim made the Fiesta ST’s rollout in spring 2013 a bit easier. Consumers now knew what to expect from the brand and Ford’s latest pocket rocket certainly didn’t disappoint. Its nimble handling is every bit as good as its big brothers — perhaps even more so with the absence of torque steer. With a starting MSRP of $20,970, the Fiesta ST offers more bang-for-your-buck than almost any other competitor in its class.
Ford hopes to keep its hitting streak alive with the release of the Focus RS. The European legend will finally make its long overdue voyage across the Atlantic much to the delight of hot hatch lovers. No longer will Blue Oval enthusiasts have to suffer through news about Ford of Europe hogging the best toys while we’re stuck with the “misfits.” While the Focus RS’s debut on U.S. pavement is long overdue, there’s no question it will be worth the wait.
After Subaru’s decision to ax the WRX hatchback in 2014, the Focus RS seems to be arriving at the perfect time. Though it will still compete with the WRX STI and the short-lived Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution for buyers, the decision will be an easy one for those who prefer the utilitarian advantages of a hatchback. Other auto manufactures are struggling to keep up with number of Ford’s performance hatch offerings; in the U.S., the landscape is even more barren with General Motors and Dodge absent from the segment completely. That is, unless you find the 138-horsepower Chevy Sonic RS an exhilarating option.
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
With Subaru and Mitsubishi focusing their attention on the compact sport sedan segment and Chevrolet and Dodge dozing behind the wheel, Ford’s only true competition will come from Europe where hot hatches are at a premium. The VW Golf R is the reigning heavyweight champion and the Mini John Cooper Works is a robust challenger even if it’s a bit light on power. After accidentally leaking the $35,730 MSRP on their website, Ford appears to have priced the RS perfectly in line with its competition.
In spite of its doubters, Ford has taken the hot hatch industry by storm. With the RS on the horizon, adhere to the sirens before it’s too late. Though the play date will be fun, nobody likes to share their toys for very long.