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Ford Focus RS takes on the VW Golf R

By raccars Published

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The Ford Focus and VW Golf are long term rivals, both high spec hot hatches. So which one?

Overall the Ford Focus outsells its German counterpart in the UK, partly due to its lower price. However, high performance Golfs have always enjoyed a better reputation. The new Ford Focus RS is hoping to unseat the Golf R, provoking one of the hardest comparisons on the market.

Both are superb cars but the Golf R has been designed to a slightly different commercial brief than the rather more hardcore Focus RS. Volkswagen's R badged models have always retained an everyday usability which Ford's RS engineering team has decided to disregard.

VW Golf R

The difference in the brief means that the Golf R is a more comfortable ride than the Ford, with convenience features such as adjustable damper settings in the form of selectable driving modes. A certain degree of ride quality has been lost to sporting performance but the Golf R can still quite reasonably be used on the school run and always feels very civilised to drive. It's available with a dual clutch automatic gearbox and a six speed manual unit.

Ford Focus RS

In contrast, the Focus RS is designed for driving purists and so only comes with a six speed manual transmission. That's not the only sacrifice to sporting prowess, as the Focus RS is a far less cosseting experience, particularly over a poor road surface. Ford has stripped out most concessions to comfort in order to concentrate on the essentials.

It's really quite curious that the two cars offer such different driving experiences as there isn't that much between them in terms of basic mechanicals. The Focus RS uses a 345bhp 2.3 litre engine compared to the Golf R's 2.0 litre, 296bhp unit. This gives the Ford the edge in a sprint, but on the average British road you're not likely to notice that too much. There's greater divergence provided by the four wheel drive systems used by each.

The Golf R is fitted with VW's 4Motion system which assigns power to the front or rear wheels according to necessity. You're never likely to find it driving 100 per cent from the rear and the front wheels take the lead for the majority of the time. The whole thing is controlled by a very clever electronic system which ensures a smart compromise between thrust and stability. For example if you are a little adventurous turning into a corner, 4Motion will start redistributing power to prioritise the outside rear wheel before you even realise you could lose your balance.

By contrast, the Focus RS defaults to a 70/30 rear front power split, and from there the car's electronic brain shuffles power from side to side as it deems necessary.

From the outside, the Focus RS is more aggressive looking, but it tones it down a bit on the inside. Meanwhile, the Golf R offers the sort of conservative refinement you'd expect from VW. There's enough adjustment to the seating position in either case to keep most drivers comfortable.

Sort your priorities

Once behind the wheel the Focus RS is beautifully supple with confident, responsive steering that requires you to really engage with the mechanicals. The Ford is a touch more rapid than the slightly lower powered and more sensible Golf, and this is its strength. The Golf R is a little too composed to match the kind of driving thrills the Focus RS can offer. You'd probably have to be in something like a Nissan GT-R to get round a corner any faster, all the while without fear of losing your seat.

It's hard to think of anything that could offer the same amount of entertainment as the Focus RS from its sub-£30,000 price point. On the other hand, if your hot hatch is also your daily driver, you'd probably want to stick with the Golf R.

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