But the Focus has its flaws. Sure, the revised front spring and damper set-up and stiffened body structure of this 2015 update result in keener turn-in, but the steering still feels more scrappy than you might hope. It’s overly keen to self-centre and has little of the natural building of weight that the Honda delivers. It’s just a bit harder to place the Focus precisely at that key moment as a result.
The Ford’s reliance on electric systems to rein in the 247bhp of its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine denies you the traction levels of the Civic, with its proper diff. This is as obvious on the road as it is on a circuit. Exit a tight junction with any gusto and it becomes an exercise in moderate throttle application to avoid spinning the inside front wheel, resulting in more weaving than actual progress.
We put the 306bhp Honda Civic Type R through its paces on the road and track
The Civic isn’t faultlessly grippy, either. It has torrents of power going through its front wheels, so you do get torque steer on occasion, but it is remarkably manageable, given the power. You can be more heavy-handed with getting on the power in the Civic, and it just sucks up the punishment, gathers itself together and fires you up the road, with the engine spinning through a broad torque band and on to 7000rpm.
Although the shorter-lived, heavy boost of the Ford has its own mid-range merits, the Honda’s motor has the sort of rev-hungry attitude that has echoes of the VTECs of yore.
Yes, it’s a bit lacklustre at low revs, but keep it on the boil above 3000rpm and it delivers the frenetic character that you expect, given its caricature looks. That snappy gearshift, with a throw supposedly identical to the NSX’s, is an absolute joy, too, and more so than the Focus’s precise but slightly softer-feeling shift.
In fact, the whole car feels like a caricature – from how it claws its way through corners, to the supportive yet comfortable bucket seats, the bonkers rear wing and chin-heavy fascia. Even the damping is over the top. Or perhaps ‘under’ would be more accurate, given that in firmer mode it tends to amplify rather than cushion small ruts and bumps. Certainly, this is not the most comfortable car, although the softer setting is more palatable and ticks the ‘everyday usable’ box adequately for such a focused car.
The Focus is the more forgiving in terms of ride comfort and the more playful but, ultimately, it comes second here. It falls short of the Civic’s ferocious performance and handling machismo, making the latter feel somehow closer genetically to Gordon Shedden’s weekend wheels than your average cooking Civic. For that hilarity alone, it gets the nod.
Junior handling test 2015 - how much fun for £30,000?
Ford Focus ST-2
Price £23,995; Engine 4 cyls, 1997cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 247bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 266lb ft at 2000-4500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1437kg; Top speed 154mph; 0-62mph 6.5sec; Economy 41.5mpg; CO2/tax band 159g/km/26%
Honda Civic Type R
Price £29,995; Engine 4 cyls 1996cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 306bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 2500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1382kg; Top speed 168mph; 0-62mph 5.7sec; Economy 38.7mpg; CO2/tax band 170g/km/29%
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