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by Tim Beissmann

The third-generation Ford Focus RS has moved into the next development stage, with CarAdvice’s spy photographers spotting the new high-performance hatchback testing at Germany’s Nurburgring.

The fresh images – which come about four months after our spies snapped an early prototype of the new RS on public roads in Michigan – give us our best look yet at the blue oval’s upcoming flagship hot-hatch that’s set to launch in 2016.

Stripped-back camouflage reveals more of the RS’s new face, which features an aggressive version of the brand’s trapezoidal grille and gaping lower central and side air intakes.

Ford Focus RS 5

This latest test car wears the same 19-inch alloy wheels and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres as the earlier prototype, and is equipped with what are believed to be four-piston front Brembo brake calipers.

Two large exhaust outlets are the only sign that the test car is anything more than a regular Focus ST. Like previous generations, the new RS is expected to gain a big rear wing, flared wheel arches and sportier side and bumper panels for production.

Despite speculation that it could make the switch to all-wheel drive, the third-generation Focus RS is set to remain driven solely by the front wheels. Ford’s RevoKnuckle front suspension system is again expected to feature to help reduce torque steer. A mechanical limited-slip differential is also set to feature to further help getting power and torque to the road.

Ford Focus RS 7

Delivering those propulsive forces will be a version of the 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine from the new Mustang. The EcoBoost unit produces 227kW and 407Nm in the Pony car, but is rumoured to be tuned beyond 240kW in the hot-hatch to give it a boost over the previous 224kW RS and put it within striking distance of the 265kW Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG.

Fuel consumption is also tipped to fall by up to 20 per cent from the second-gen RS to roughly 7.5 litres per 100 kilometres thanks to the new model’s smaller and lighter engine, and lighter and more aerodynamic body.

The new Ford Focus RS is still believed to be about two years away from production, expected in the second half of 2016. Like its predecessors, it will send the current-generation Focus off with a bang, with the fourth-generation small car due in 2017/2018.

The second-generation Focus RS was sold in limited numbers in Australia (about 300 in total) at $59,990.