With circa £30,000 price tags, 300bhp-plus and a host of tech enabling performance to rival supercars from the not-so-distant past, today’s Ford Focus RS and Honda Civic Type R hot hatches have never been more exciting – or run closer for class superiority. It took a weekend on road and track to work out which is the most fun to drive...
Getting stuck in straight away, the Focus RS feels exciting and accommodating in equal measure – yet it’s not intimidating, even when seriously pushing on. It entertains even at conventional road speeds, despite the steering being a little less direct and the gearbox less slick than the Civic Type R’s. Its superbly accomplished dynamics and superior mobility in this company take the fun factor further than the hot hatch sector has ever witnessed. Yet while the Ford’s engine is astoundingly fast, as well as torquier and less laggy than the Honda’s, it can’t match its rival’s for high-rev vigour.
In fact, if you can imagine the thrills being turned up to an even higher level, the Civic has achieved it. That the Japanese car is at least 125kg lighter in weight can be detected in the acceleration, braking and turn-in; this is one alive-feeling machine. It tackles corners in a different manner to its Brit rival, with massive mid-corner assurance and superb traction for a front-wheel-drive car. Bumpy roads highlight that it’s not quite as fluent as, say, the Megane Renaultsport 275 Trophy, but it’s certainly not skittish.
Show both cars a smooth, fluid circuit, and their true character really emerges. The Focus RS is immediately at home. It’s faster than you could dream of, if less willing to rev high than you’d expect, and its dynamics are grin-inducingly confidence inspiring. From precise, quick responses to full-on boisterous behavior, it’s got the whole spectrum covered. The extra weight shows, though, when braking and in the fuel economy count, and that means once again it can’t quite match the Civic Type R.
Despite occasionally struggling for grip through bends – more down to choice of tyre on our test car than an intrinsic fault – the Honda’s turn-in and chassis composure are excellent. The drive is enhanced by a free-revving engine, amazing transmission response and action, plus consistently strong and willing Brembo brakes. Its precision and agility are standout features.
Anyone looking to buy from the current crop of hot hatches is truly spoiled for choice. There is no such thing as a bad, or even an average, contender these days, and taking the runner-up spot in this test cannot detract from the fact that the Focus RS is a seriously accomplished, entertaining and well rounded machine that offers something for novice and enthusiast alike.
For this test, however, it’s the Type R that proves the more exhilarating and absorbing model. Fun times indeed.
HONDA CIVIC TYPE R GT
Price: £32,960 as tested
Engine: 1,996cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (bhp): 310@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@2,500-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.7 sec
Top speed: 167mph
Weight: 1,382kg (Honda figure, with fluids and driver)
MPG: 38.7mpg (Honda internal figure)
CO2: 170g/km (Honda internal figure)
FORD FOCUS RS
Price: £34,640 as tested
Engine: 2,261cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Power (bhp): 350@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 324@2,000-4,500rpm (347lb ft with 'transient' overboost)
Top speed: 165mph
Weight: 1,599kg (inc. 75kg driver)