The new Ford Focus RS is a car that needs no introduction. Ford teased their latest mega hatch for over a year, building up excitement unparalleled by any hatchback before it. As Americans, we are especially excited since this is the first time a Focus RS will grace our shores; However, this is not the first time Ford sold a German engineered hot hatch in America. During the late 1980’s Ford sold the Merkur XR4Ti, a German built hatchback that has a lot in common with the new Focus RS. Both the RS and XR4Ti are powered by Mustang engines, built in Germany, and represent a large price premium for a hatchback, except the Focus RS is a sales success while the XR4Ti was a sales flop.
The Merkur XR4Ti is based on the European market Ford Sierra XR4i but needed a name change to avoid copyright infringement on the established GM products. Ford chose to sell this new hot hatch under the Merkur nameplate since it didn’t fit in the lineup of Ford, Lincoln, or Mercury. Merkur means Mercury in German and was meant to capitalize on the changing tastes of American car buyers who shifted their attention to European makes. The Merkur brand was short lived and never reached its sales potential or managed to make a lasting impression on Americans. Before Merkur became another failed car brand, they tried to sell us the XR4Ti, a misunderstood hot hatch the lives on in the Focus RS of today.
Both the Focus RS and Merkur XR4Ti borrow 2.3-liter turbocharged engines from their Mustang stable mates but that’s where the similarities end. The Merkur XR4Ti was powered by the same turbocharged engine from the SVO Mustang in place of the cologne V6 used in the European Sierra. The XR4Ti’s 2.3-liter turbocharged inline 4 may have the same displacement as the new Focus RS, but it only produced 160-horse power. When compared to the Focus RS’s 350 horsepower engine we can see just how far engine technology has progressed.
The Ford Focus RS is the only Focus you can get that’s built in Germany and then imported into the United States. This is a more expensive way for Ford to manufacture the RS but Germany knows a thing or two about making special cars and the RS deserved special treatment. Back in the 1980s the Merkur XR4Ti was also imported from Germany after being built at Karmann Coachworks, the same factory used by VW to build the Scirrocco and Corrado. These German built Ford hatchbacks were assembled with a higher level of care when compared to similar vehicles to ensure they lived up their claimed quality and performance.
With increased performance, and cost associate with production in Germany, the Focus RS and XR4Ti are very expensive hatchbacks. When it was new the XR4Ti started at $16,361 or $35,862 in 2016 dollars making it extremely close in price to a new RS of today, which is supposed to start at $35,900.
So if the RS and XR4Ti have so many similarities why is the RS such a sales success while the XR4Ti is one of Ford’s worst sales failures? Well to start, American buyers are more interested in hot hatches than ever and the market is growing every year. More customers see the benefits of a fun practical ride, which allows Ford to sell three different hot hatchbacks while still turning a comfortable profit. During the 1980’s $16,000 could have purchased a very nice 3-series instead of an off brand Ford hatchback. The price coupled with a brand that lacked any credibility among the 1980’s luxury car shopper ensured that Merkur and the XR4Ti would be a failure. The automotive landscape has dramatically changed since the 1980’s, cars are more expensive than ever and a $35,000 Ford hatchback can now shame any super car of that era which makes it even more of a bargain.
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