On December 11, Ford introduced us to its new Ford Performance division and promised to deliver 12 new performance models by the end of the decade. Just 54 days later, we’re already staring at the automaker’s fourth such model: the 2016 Ford Focus RS. Following the Detroit Auto Show debuts of the Ford GT Concept, Shelby GT350R and F-150 Raptor, the new Focus RS becomes just the 30th Ford car to adorn the coveted “RS” label since it was created in 1970.

That first “Rallye Sport” car was the revered 1970 Escort RS1600, and it sparked a series of successful, specially tuned homologation rally racers that had two things in common: they were all small, fast cars and none of them were offered in the U.S. We’ll get the new RS, but before it hits our streets, lets a quick look back at its history.

Click past the jump to read more about the Ford Focus RS.

Why it matters

The Focus RS has only been around for 13 years, but it builds on a legacy of Ford RS performance cars that have dominated World Rally Championship Racing since 1970.

Ford Escort RS Cosworth Rally Car

Ford Focus RS: Historical Retrospective High Resolution Exterior
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Over its history, the RS name has been worn by cars such as the Sierra RS Cosworth, Capri RS Cosworth and the Group B RS200, but it was finally returned back to its Escort roots starting in 1993 with the Escort RS Cosworth rally car. The heart of this beast was a Cosworth-tuned, turbocharged engine that sent its power to all four wheels, which proved to be a great combination as this car racked up a total of 53 podium finishes, including 10 wins, during its six seasons.

Ford Escort RS Cosworth

Ford Focus RS: Historical Retrospective High Resolution Exterior
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The road-going version of the Escort RS Cosworth was available from 1992 to 1996, with production limited to around 7,000 units. It was instantly recognizable by its louvered hood and massive whale-tail rear spoiler, but it was the 225-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system that made this car a monster as a production car. This RS had a top speed of 137 mph to go along with a 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds, which put it on par with other cars of the era such as the Acura NSX, E36 BMW M3 and the Toyota Supra Turbo.

Ford Focus RS WRC - Winner In 2006 and 2007

Ford Focus RS: Historical Retrospective High Resolution Exterior
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In 1999, Ford switched to the Focus for its WRC efforts, with the Focus RS WRC. It picked up right where the Escort had left off. Weight was down and power was up compared to the Escort, and it dominated on the rally circuits, posting 151 podiums and 44 wins over its 12 seasons of competition, as well as two WRC manufacturer titles in 2006 and 2007, before being replaced by the Fiesta RS WRC in the 2011 season.

Ford Focus RS - MK1 (2002-2003)

Ford Focus RS: Historical Retrospective
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There was a six-year gap between the Escort RS Cosworth and the Focus RS Mk1, and there were plenty of changes in store for RS fans — and not all good. For starters, unlike the race car, the street-legal Focus RS was only available with front-wheel drive. Power was also down to 212 horsepower, 0-60 time had increased to 6.4 seconds and the only transmission offered was a five-speed automatic. Still, the 2002 and 2003 RS was very exciting to drive, proving that handling can trump horsepower when done right. The Ford Focus RS Mk1 had improved steering, suspension and brakes, as well as a wider track for better handling.

Ford Focus RS - MK2 (2009)

Ford Focus RS: Historical Retrospective
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Again, six years separated the Focus RS Mk1 from its successor, but the 2009 RS Mk2 was a meaner car in both style and performance. The Mk2 had a Volvo-sourced, 2.5-liter, turbocharged five-cylinder engine that was tuned to 301 horsepower, allowing the car to sprint from 0-62 mph in just 5.9 seconds on its way to a top speed of 163 mph. Better yet, the unique six-speed manual gearbox was designed specifically to reach 62 mph in second gear. One thing that didn’t change was the continued reliance on front-wheel drive, but a beefed-up helical limited-slip differential helped.

Focus RS 500 - 2010

Ford Focus RS: Historical Retrospective High Resolution Exterior
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A year after the Focus RS Mk2 was released, Ford brought out the mighty Focus RS500. Ford started off by giving the RS500 improved engine output of 345 horsepower, which resulted in a 0-60 time 5.6 seconds. As if all Ford RS cars aren’t special enough, Ford upped the ante by limiting production of the RS500 to just 500 units, with all of them coming in matte black paint.

Ford Focus RS - Mk3 (2016)

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior
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Later this year, the 2016 Ford Focus RS will continue the legacy of Ford’s high-performance RS division with a return to all-wheel drive. It will sport a 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine (borrowed from the 2015 Ford Mustang,) with more than 315 horsepower. Looking at the images and spec sheet of the RS Mk3, it’s almost as if Ford has encapsulated the entire history of RS into this single car, with performance numbers and aggressive styling that will be sure to impress buyers from around the world. Not only will the 2016 RS be the first RS sold in the U.S., it will also be the first without a WRC counterpart. Now, how to decide between RS and the 2015 Mustang?

Jeffrey N. Ross
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