The hot hatchback arena is dynamite at the moment with practical performance cars making headlines. Within this battle ground are two names with cult following and high expectations. We have grabbed the keys to drive these combatants back to back. Both cost the same, both are aimed at a similar audience, and both have big claims to their names.
In the blue corner is the 2016 Ford Focus RS, and in the red corner is the latest Honda Civic Type R. Now on paper one has a significant advantage over the other, but as this type of car is all about real world performance, we want to know what machine ticks the most hot hatch boxes. Focus RS vs Civic Type R.
The Ford Focus RS still ticks the sporting box with its large intakes, boot spoiler, and diffuser, That said, this being a global car means that it can’t afford to be as loudly styled as its predecessor. Not everyone goes for bright green paint. However, our test car in its signature Nitrous Blue with contrasting forged alloy wheels looked great. 61% of UK preorders are in said blue and I don’t blame them.
When it comes to the Type R it clearly isn’t a shy car. Flaunting its WTCC wind tunnel proven bodywork, this pumped up Civic means business. As this car is only being sold in select markets Honda have gone bonkers and given it a very aggressive design. Splitter, huge rear wing, diffuser, all there for downforce and stability. Oh, and to frighten pensioners.
Looks are subjective and some will prefer the more subtle looks of the Ford, or the “all or nothing” approach of the Honda.
On this topic I am going to open by saying that neither of these cars have the best interior in their class. Both feature plenty of plastics and are very similar to the car of which they are based upon.
The Focus RS features a Sync2 touchscreen infotainment system (Sync 3 from 1st May) and a set of excellent Recaro seats. Seating for five makes it more practical than the Type R and rear visibility is much better.
In the Type R’s defence I would say that its alcantara seats are my choice looking the part and providing more lateral support for track use. It might only seat four but it does have an excessively large boot. Rear visibility is impaired, not by the wing as it bows above the roofline, but the rear deck lid found on all Civic models. It also has Honda’s latest touchscreen infotainment system as standard.
In terms of interior, it is the Type R that wins out when all things are considered.
On Paper Performance
There is only one winner in this category. Whilst the Type R puts up a good fight with 306 BHP from its 2.0 litre turbocharged VTEC engine, all wheel drive from the 345 BHP RS ultimately deals the killing blow. 0-62 MPH is done in just 4.7 seconds vs 5.7 seconds respectively, but the Honda will do 168 MPH vs 165 MPH.
Both cars present themselves as being practical enough to live with everyday. Each has a firm ride even its their softest setting, but the Focus is slightly more forgiving on rutted surfaces. There is also more road noise in the Civic thanks largely to the size of its alloy wheels. But the real reason people buy these cars is to enjoy their performance and each of these cars offers an interesting proposition.
The Honda Civic Type R Really gets a move on once that turbo is spooled up. It’s surge of torque is quite addictive and the rush continues right up until the shift lights glow red. Very precise steering and a lack of body roll makes the car feel agile. Factor in grippy bespoke Continental tyres and the feel of driving this car quickly is nothing short of exhilarating. It’s 350mm Brembo brakes are another star attraction as they are full of feel and can bring things to a halt impressively quick. A sweet short throw 6 speed manual transmission is a joy to use. You very much feel involved in the driving experience in the Type R. The genius engineers at Honda have clearly used black magic to almost eradicate torque steer and should be applauded for this engineering achievement. It is simply the best handling front wheel drive car in a decade. However, the laws of physics do come into play when road conditions become wet. You need to be more cautious and the car can experience some wheel spin under heavy acceleration. It isn’t enough to prevent you from enjoying yourself behind the wheel, but it is something that the Focus RS dresses with all wheel drive.
Capable of putting its power though all four wheels, the 2016 Ford Focus RS always feels very surefooted at any speed. Pick up the pace and its torque vectoring will have this car darting for an apex. The noise from RS is fantastic! Put it in sport mode and the raspy note gains bass as the revs increase. Ford’s 6 speed manual is a good shift, but falls just short of the Type R’s more mechanical feel. This RS is also an engaging car to drive and it absolutely wills you on to drive it faster. With AWD the performance is much more accessible to the everyman in all weather conditions. The Type R is more of challenge to drive and demands more of its driver. The majority will prefer the RS, but I do feel that its added weight and clever computers do take away from the man and machine element a little more than the rawer Type R.
As you have likely gathered, the RS is the better all-rounder but in “perfect conditions” the Type R is a bit more exciting. The only trouble is that in England we rarely have perfect conditions. RS provides as more accessible means of blitzing challenging roads.
Send these cars out on track where there aren’t speed cameras around every corner, speed bumps laying in wait, or Policemen armed with their hairdryers, and you get a real sense of what they are capable of. For Focus RS vs Civic Type R this is an interesting segment.
This 2016 Ford Focus RS’ track mode is exactly that, for track use only. It sets the car up to be very firm with all of its systems now focused on efficiently vanquishing one corner after the next. With only a little body roll, the Focus with its excellently executed steering is both good fun and incredibly quick. Even in the pouring rain and on a set tortured tyres it is just so easy to drive at a pace. Launch control will leave you breathless as to how quickly this car can accelerate. Then, of course, there is the Ford Focus RS’ party trick. Drift Mode enables the rear to come out and play forming a gracious drift. It is brilliantly satisfying and very easy to achieve the sort of sideways motion that will no doubt impress your friends.
Whenever you hit the +R button in the Honda Civic Type R the cars temperament changes dramatically. No longer is it just a fast hatchback, instead it takes on the roll of a hardened track veteran. This mode is far too stiff for the road, but on track the 30% stiffer dampers extinguish body roll and aid in the car feeling hyper alert. Achieving perfect shifts using the dashboard mounted lights makes you feel like an ace as the car continues to flatter you. To get the best out of the Type R you need to work for it, but it is gratifying hooking up a perfect lap.
Both cars offer a very slightly different flavour of the hot hatchback formula. The Type R is a real track-bred machine that is rewarding to push to its limits, whilst the RS offers a broader range of abilities and is more approachable. Honda’s effort with the Civic Type R deserves plenty of praise and I wouldn’t blame a single person for placing an order. However, the new Focus RS is a real performance bargain costing the same £29,995 as the Honda. For the majority of people it is the RS that ticks the most boxes.