"We're not so different, you and I," said every nemesis ever, but can the same be said for Ford and VW's chalk and cheese mega hatches?
Nic Cackett
2 September 2017

In previous years, the courteous Volkswagen Golf R and rambunctious Ford Focus RS would have been almost certainly destined to joust it out in the final reckoning of this event – and even with the premium-level strength of the competition assembled, there were short odds of the winner emerging from this first-round shoot-out. 

Why? Well, both have done a remarkably good job of preserving their lofty reputations. The VW is fresh from the light makeover that has finally afforded it a metric output beyond 300bhp, while the RS has been the recipient of Mountune’s attention and now boasts 370bhp in its uprated FPM375 guise. 

Britain's best affordable driver's car: how it works

Audi RS3 vs Mercedes-AMG A45

The two have been thrown together so often in the past 24 months that it’s almost tempting to see them
as peas in the same sub-£35k, all- wheel-drive pod. In reality, though, they could hardly be more different. Much of their dissimilarity is about lineage: the R is unashamedly plush and soft to the touch, because its multi-purpose urbaneness is meant to represent the peak of middle-class Golf-dom. The RS, meanwhile, with its democratisation of rear-driven sports car driftability, is Ford at its blue collar best, unrepentant about its silly vaunted driving position or the stock nature of many of its fixtures and fittings. 

Previously, the Golf has emerged triumphant from comparisons because, in the broadest possible sense, it is more accomplished. Certainly nothing about the £899 Mountune kit – a familiar mash- up of revised software code and breathed-on components – fitted to this Focus RS is about to change that. The latest R barely needs 10 minutes of driving on the B-roads around Llandow to reconfirm that you’d drive it not only happily home but also for the rest of your life in benign contentment. Equipped with the optional (but wholly essential) adaptive dampers, its supple ride, supremely biddable power delivery and trademark precision make a compelling case against almost any real-world performance rival, let alone the occasionally chafing knife- edge dynamism of the granular and cheerily raucous Ford. 

Leave behind the Welsh roads and enter the business end of a pit lane, however, and the rebalancing of the scales is more striking than ever. Unequivocally it is to VW’s credit that the R’s road-biased submissiveness doesn’t cause it to tumble from a handling cliff on a circuit. Just as the car’s drive modes extend to an optimistic Race setting, so its talent stretches all the way to the edge of
its almighty mechanical grip. The remarkable neutrality of the 4Motion system, usually only hinted at on the road, is immediately brought to the foreground at Llandow, and while the R remains nose-led in a way that’s plainly inclined towards stability, it doesn’t unduly prejudice any given opportunity to adjust the car’s line with mid-corner throttle-off antics. 

Throw in the seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic ’box that delivers a 4.6sec 0-62mph time and it all smacks of R-branded peachiness. 

It’s only moments later you’re abruptly reminded that Ford had the Focus RS custom-built to turn what might reductively be called hot hatch chopsticks into a full-blown concerto. Setting aside the misnomer that is Drift mode (no, it won’t – not really), the car still does things with its crazy-brave back axle that no five-door family hatch has ever endeavoured
 to do without the power going there exclusively. And while it would 
be overstating the case to call the FPM375’s additional power the key in the RS’s lock, there’s no questioning the 376lb ft of dump valve-subsidised potency available from 2000rpm, nor its tantalising extra proficiency at making the car pivot on cue. 

Of course it is the higher output that helps make the Focus a full second quicker around Llandow than the Golf, but it’s the often very real sense that you’re wrestling now with a properly hairy beast that best describes the difference between the two on track. 

Which ultimately returns us to a familiar debate: do you want your hot hatch to be snarling, slideable, working class cult hero or supreme purveyor of buttoned-down speed, sewn-up comfort and sought-after classlessness? Had the final round remained on track – or, better still, transferred to the high altar of a rallycross stage – the VW would be a dot in the Ford’s mirror. But once again, as real-world Wales beckons, it’s the Golf by a princely nose. Nick Cackett

Second opinion - Matt Prior

Ah, trusty Golf R. Ever present, ever predictable, like the light that comes on when the fridge door opens. And, some might argue, in this company, almost as exciting. Drama be damned; if what you want is a car that is highly entertaining yet practical, comfortable, ergonomically sound and able to blend into any company, the Golf R is the one. Matt Prior 

Volkswagen Golf R 

Rapid and refined. The non-denominational premium hot hatch 

Price £32,710

Engine 4 cyls, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol

Power 306bhp at 5500-6500rpm

Torque 280lb ft at 2000-5400rpm

Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch auto

Kerb weight 1483kg

0-62mph 4.6sec (claimed)

Top speed 155mph

Economy 37.7mpg (combined) 

CO2/tax band 160g/km, 31% 

Ford Focus RS FPM375

Working class hero gains a new thuggish edge. Fast and raucous if not refined 

Price £32,265

Engine 4 cyls, 2261cc, turbocharged, petrol

Power 370bhp at 6000rpm

Torque 376lb ft at 2000rpm

Gearbox 6-spd manual

Kerb weight 1547kg

0-62mph 4.5sec (claimed)

Top speed 165mph

Economy 36.7mpg (combined)

CO2/tax band 175g/km, 34% 

Read more:

Britain's best affordable driver's car: how it works

Audi RS3 vs Mercedes-AMG A45

Our Verdict

Ford Focus RS

Is Ford’s new AWD mega-hatch Focus RS as special as we first thought? And can it beat off stiff competition from the Volkswagen Golf R and Mercedes-AMG A45?

Join the debate

Comments
15

2 September 2017

Get ready for the backlash.

Spanner

2 September 2017

The thing about the Golf is that other than the four exhausts it looks like any other Golf.  It also drives like a Golf when you just want to get somewhere without the drama, which is 95% of the time for most people.  You can also get the estate which surely makes it one of the best all rounders ever.

2 September 2017

The major  day to day issue with these cars is down to one thing - compromised engines !!!! Please can I have a Golf R with the fantastic 5 cylinder engine from the audi. Even in the 80's the 5 cylinder engine in the Audi 90 I had made a great noise. The M135i engine would be a great doner too but unfortunately would not fit in the golf.

Curly

2 September 2017
Curly55 wrote:

The major  day to day issue with these cars is down to one thing - compromised engines !!!! Please can I have a Golf R with the fantastic 5 cylinder engine from the audi. 

No you cant, because that would steal sales from Audi, but they will sell you an Audi with it, and thats the point as you rightly observe, compromise, if they allowed SEAT or Skoda access to this powertrain as is, instead of a dumbed down version, no one but a badge snob woud buy the Golf.  

2 September 2017
Citytiger wrote:

Curly55 wrote:

The major  day to day issue with these cars is down to one thing - compromised engines !!!! Please can I have a Golf R with the fantastic 5 cylinder engine from the audi. 

No you cant, because that would steal sales from Audi, but they will sell you an Audi with it, and thats the point as you rightly observe, compromise, if they allowed SEAT or Skoda access to this powertrain as is, instead of a dumbed down version, no one but a badge snob woud buy the Golf.  

 

I take it from this you have extensively tested both the golf  r and seat Cupar, and on this basis selected the Seat? 

Spanner

2 September 2017

The article clearly states best drivers car - which is clearly the Ford in the article. It's not about cabin plushness, or mundane a-b driving as expressed in the A3 vs A Class test......

2 September 2017
Jimbbobw1977 wrote:

The article clearly states best drivers car - which is clearly the Ford in the article. It's not about cabin plushness, or mundane a-b driving as expressed in the A3 vs A Class test......

The Golf may as well be a fridge or a washing machine, even the article points out that the "OPTIONAL" adaptive dampers. are "ESSENTIAL". Its not the best drivers car, its a front wheel drive shopping trolley given a bit of extra grip by the addition of a mild AWD set up. 

2 September 2017

... by that comment you've obviously never driven one...

3 September 2017
Wellsi wrote:

... by that comment you've obviously never driven one...

I have and I almost fell asleep. 

3 September 2017
Citytiger wrote:

Wellsi wrote:

... by that comment you've obviously never driven one...

I have and I almost fell asleep. 

 

Really?? You must have left the handbrake on. If you found a golf R boring to drive, try F1, the address is Mercedes, Near Bracknell, England. They will be waiting for you.

Spanner

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