Pitting Ford’s hyper hatch against its closest rivals
Finally, after months of trying, I’ve completed the three Rs. That is the Golf R, the Civic Type R and the Focus RS.
Over the last year these three have been the holy trinity of hyper hatches, each packing 300bhp or more into a family friendly five-door shape.
The Civic and Golf are a return to the upper echelons of performance hatches for their manufacturers after a while away while the Focus is a direct replacement for the previous generation’s own RS.
It’s obviously a successor to the previous model, all swollen arches, deep bodykit and loud paintwork. In comparison, the Golf is a picture of restraint, a bit of body kit, subtle badges and unique light signatures the only giveaways to its abilities. At the other extreme, the Civic looks like an accident in a branch of Halfords.
Ford Focus RS
Engine: 2.3-litre turbocharged petrol
Power: 316bhp (345bhp on overboost)
Transmission: Six-speed manual driving all four wheels
Top speed: 165mph
0-62mph: in 4.7 seconds
CO2 emissions: 175g/km
Inside the Focus is also a middle ground between the Civic’s messy cabin layout and hateful media system and the high-end arrangement of the Golf.
On the road it’s a similar story, with the Ford fitting somewhere between the twitchy, ferocious Honda and the calmer, if less involving VW.
The Ford’s 316bhp (345 on overboost) shades the other two (296 for the Golf and 306 for the Civic) and gives it a 0-62mph time of just 4.7 seconds.
In a straight line that’s impressively quick for a £31k family hatch but it’s on the twisting, undulating back roads that the Focus really shows what it can do.
The steering is almost supernaturally direct. It doesn’t feel quite as edgy and sharp as the Civic but feels more intuitive and fluid. The RS flows along twisting roads doing your bidding exactly while sometimes you feel you’re dragging the Civic by the scruff of the neck. The Golf, in comparison, lacks that final degree of involvement, despite its unquestionable abilities.
Grip, too, is phenomenal, Ford’s all-wheel drive and torque vectoring ensuring power goes to the right wheels at the right time. Combined with the RS’s bespoke suspension it offers exceptional handling.
The payoff for such ability is a firm ride but, again, this falls between the harsh Civic and the smooth Golf, and is a compromise most will be willing to make.
Realistically, the Ford is so capable that you feel you’re not getting the most out of it much of the time. To truly exploit its abilities you need to be on a track where you could turn the traction off, hit the drift button, and generally behave like a baseball cap-wearing yobbo.
But the great thing about it, like any true hot hatch, is that when you’re not going all-out it’s still a useable family vehicle. The seats are comfortable, engine noise isn’t intrusive and its media system etc are the same easy-to-use ones found in every Focus.
It’s not perfect, however. Noise from the tyres is intrusive and makes for an unpleasant accompaniment to long journeys. The rear cabin feels cramped and dark and mechanically, the gearbox can’t match the astonishing six-speed manual of the Civic Type R or the Golf’s slick DSG.
In truth, the Focus RS and both its key rivals are all spectacular machines. For around £30,000 they are practical family vehicles that offer performance that was once the preserve of supercars. They each have their strengths and weaknesses and choosing one will come down to priorities but the Focus is probably the most balanced of the trio.
What it sacrifices in raw edgy performance against the Civic Type R it makes up for in ease of use in day-to-day life and while it’s not as refined or luxurious as the Golf it is more involving when being driven hard.
VW Golf R
Classier looking and feeling but loses out a little on driving experience
Honda Civic Type R GT
Slightly more lively to drive but harder to live with day to day
Subaru WRX STI
Near-RS performance for near-ST money but it feels dated in comparison