There are many reasons to buy the latest iteration of the Ford Focus RS. It’s not a bad looking thing for starters, the standard performance is really rather decent, and the handling almost re-defines the definition of showroom-spec ability. For the average enthusiast, looking for simple driving thrills on a fixed monthly payment, it’s hard to fault. A little rough and rude, maybe, but overall, an incredible conveyance between two geographical points – and one that clearly signals Ford’s desire to grab back the hot hatch crown from its long-time rivals at Honda, VW and Audi. Even if it can’t match their civility and composure…
With many of its Focus RS clients looking to create a car with a little more sophistication in the chassis department, and a considerable hike in the grunt stakes, UK tuner Litchfield made sure it had inked its name on the registration document of two of the very first cars to hit UK shores – and since then, it’s been piling on the miles and hours in its R&D department to create a package that not only keeps the fun and flingable nature of the original RS, but endows it with the kind of road manners that you might expect from a supercar tuner, more used to crafting bespoke 1,000 bhp monsters as its usual day job.
“We fell in love with the RS on our very first drive,” explains Iain Litchfield. “It’s a brilliant concept at a superb price point, but we know that many of our clients will want to add a little more power and handling prowess to really be able to exploit the potential of the chassis. The standard car is only hamstrung by its standard ride height and stiff springs, needed to tick legislational boxes. In race mode, it wasn’t really suitable for anything other than the most perfectly smooth of track surfaces, and we felt we could add more weight and feedback to the steering. That’s the design brief we started with.”
At this point, for most tuners, it would be a case of ordering in a few proprietary parts to see what worked. Being a little higher up the food chain than most, Litchfield was able to circumnavigate a few steps along the way by calling on its technical partners. ‘Exhibit A’ here would be the fact that the R&D team simply got on a ferry with their car and hot-footed it over to KW Suspension’s German HQ and factory to work through an all new, bespoke OEM+ quality solution, rather than faff about trying to make any existing kits work.
“On a car that’s as important as this, we often like to start from scratch,” Iain smiles. “Rather than trying to work with an existing solution, we prefer to partner up with one of our OEM-level tech partners and begin the process anew. It’s more expensive in the short term, but it actually represents much better value over the development cycle of the product, and more importantly, gives us a much better result, technically."
As well as detailed, subjective road data logging, the Litchfield and KW teams also collaborated on more empirical data gleaned from extensive use of KW’s 7-post shaker rig. This rarity of science is one of only a handful in Europe, and was originally liberated from Brawn F1 in the UK, where the team once used it to create the perfect chassis set-up. Unlike road or track testing, it allows the precise repetition of road and load conditions, even allowing technicians to ‘play back’ a perfect lap of tracks like the Nurburgring or Spa, subjecting each wheel, hub and damper to the precise load and stress it would experience under those gruelling conditions. Best of all, it also allows precise measurement of damper compression, rebound and sideload, massively curtailing the time needed to build up a meaningful set of data. KW had begun work on their own kit using a German RS for their own generic offering – and the team felt that this would create a superb starting point. Over and above that, Litchfield would seek to add several layers of additional finesse to make it perfect for UK enthusiasts that wanted ultimate combined comfort and handling ability. Having tested this initial set-up Litchfield requested changes to both damping and springs rates, sending their UK car over to Germany for further development.
‘This was a very useful first step in the chassis programme,” Iain continues. “Our brief was always to create an adjustable spring platform and uprated coil set-up, combined with an electronic enhancement and ‘remap’ of the factory electronic damper profiles to allow us to keep all of the car’s functionality, but with a greater degree of sophistication on the road.” Having lived with the car in the UK for several months during the R&D phase, covering many road and track miles, there was much that Litchfield wanted to enhance.
The end result may use all of the Focus’ switchable tricks, but is a mile away from the factory settings. Thanks to a new-found ability to set enhanced damper travel and rate settings, as well as dialling in new geometry, Litchfield’s Focus RS package offers more steering feel, more self-centring and a more communicative weight back through the steering wheel. As for the dampers themselves, the car now offers a much more useable ‘race’ mode setting, far more appropriate to most European roads and trackdays. Suddenly able to cope with undulations and surface changes, this is perhaps the most useful upgrade of all, making the car a real ‘B’ road weapon that’s hard to match at any price point. On the test roads that surround KW’s Stuttgart HQ, the car sits tautly when needed, without exhibiting the nervousness of the factory set-up. It’s more refined, it’s far less skittish, and it all feels very civilised. A handling package that can certainly take more power, and transmit it faithfully to the tarmac.
And that’s exactly what Litchfield has added; power – and plenty of it! Based around the highly regarded Cobb Accessport V3 delivery tool, Litchfield's Stage 1 ECU calibration sees peak power jump to 385bhp/390PS (standard RS power is 343bhp/350PS) and 385lbft/522Nm (standard RS torque is 350lbft/474Nm) respectively, with equally impressive mid-range gains.
A long standing relationship with Cobb Tuning has seen Litchfield market various tuning solutions for some of the most iconic car manufacturers around, including BMW and Porsche. With such an impressive track record and working relationship, it shouldn't be all that surprising that Litchfield worked with Cobb to Beta test its Accessport and ProTuner software, both of which are extremely powerful and will form the basis of Litchfield's RS OEM ECU mapping going forward.
Litchfield has also been working on a range of Stage 1 mapping solutions for some time, meaning that all RS Accessports supplied by the Gloucestershire-based concern will come with its own advanced calibrations pre-loaded and ready to access. The white demo car we tried on this set-up was immediately impressive. The numbers tell you why…
Litchfield's Stage 1 ECU calibration helpfully offers notable gains in performance and improved drivability, with peak power and torque. With over 40bhp more at 5,400rpm and 42bhp extra at peak power. Torque also jumps considerably, with 47lbft more available from just 2,000rpm, rising to 51lbft at 2,900rpm. These increases in bhp and torque fundamentally alter the way the new RS delivers its power for the better, with a reduction in lag and a sharpened throttle response being among the happy by-products. All from a simple re-map! Extraordinary, really.
If you fancy even more power, Litchfield can take you to Stage 2, which is currently under development on the firm’s black 2017 RS. Featuring its own optimised exhaust system, crafted in stainless steel, utilising 100 cell race spec, road-legal sports cats and a sonorous Remus rear back box, this system not only sprinkles a few extra horses into the mix, but gives the RS a much-needed aural improvement. While the idle noise at cold will never be one of the industry’s most melodic of offerings, Litchfield’s system at least gives some serious sonic gains throughout the rest of the rev range, and encourages you to really squeeze every ounce of power out of the throttle. In addition to this, there’s a custom-made intercooler and an optimised map. This car pulls noticeably harder throughout the rev range with more grunt in every gear. There’s much more to give at the top of the rev range. Although final beta testing has yet to be completed, I can tell you already that you’re going be seeing an entirely useable set of numbers that exceed 400bhp and 400Nm across the board. That’s straying towards figures that were on the brochures from Stuttgart and Maranello not so very long ago…
As an all-round package, Litchfield’s RS offering is impressive, and well thought out. It retains every scrap of the working-class hero that punters seem to love, but adds an additional layer of usability and drivability that will doubtless appeal to Litchfield’s well-heeled clientele – many of whom already run the RS as their sensible ‘everyday’ hoon-machine. As for the rest of us mere mortals, thanks to the packages also being available piecemeal, this is a process that can be conducted as budget allows, meaning the path to RS perfection can take as long as you need. My advice though? Stick it all on the credit card and create the ultimate hot hatch. It’s worth every single penny!