2017 Ford Focus RS vs Volkswagen Golf R

American Power vs German Precision

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It’s a good time to be a gear head.

From 700-horsepower Hellcats to supercars that are ready to blast into the stratosphere, there are plenty of high-performance players to choose from. But they aren’t exactly practical and don’t make the best commuter cars. Luckily, there are some seriously fun dual-purpose options out there for those in need. And high on that list are the Volkswagen Golf R and Ford Focus RS, the hottest of hot hatches on the market today. There haven’t been two more natural competitors since Coyote and Roadrunner. Both hatches are based on commuter cars, have powerful turbocharged engines, and all-wheel drive.

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The Pirate’s Choice

Powered by a re-tuned version of the Golf GTI’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder, the Golf R makes 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, the latter of which kicks in at a low 1,900 rpm. Turbo lag is a factor, though only barely, with the all-wheel drive system helping the Golf R gallop from a rest to 60 mph in a scant 4.9 seconds (zero to 100 km/h in 5.2 seconds) with the six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Capable of running through the gears faster than you can say Direkt-Schalt-Getriebe (DSG), the dual-clutch unit has the edge over the available six-speed manual, which slows the benchmarking sprint by about half a second.

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The all-wheel-drive setup, Volkswagen’s 4MOTION system, can send as much as 50 per cent of the torque rearward when needed, and uses what is essentially a brake-vectoring differential to help cut understeer. Add in the adaptive damping system that can be set to comfort, normal or sport and drive mode selector, and the Golf R can be as uneventful or exciting as you want it to be.

It’s Finally Here

After collecting gallons of enthusiasts’ tears, Ford has finally unleashed the Focus RS on the North American market, and with it one of the wildest hot hatches ever built. Packing the same 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder found in the Mustang EcoBoost, the Focus RS makes a ridiculous 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque thanks to a new twin-scroll turbocharger and larger intercooler. (That’s a jump of 40 hp and 30 lb-ft compared to the Mustang, for those of you keeping score.)

Compare Specs

Volkswagen Golf R
vs
Ford Focus RS
Vehicle Volkswagen Golf R Advantage Ford Focus RS
Engine 2.0L turbo 4-cyl - 2.3L turbo 4-cyl

Horsepower  292 HP Focus RS 350 HP

Torque  280 lb-ft Focus RS 350 lb-ft

Transmission 6-Speed Automatic -  6-Speed Manual

Weight  3,340 lb (Auto.)- Unavailable

Rear Legroom35.6 inchesGolf R33.2 inches

Trunk Room 22.8 cu.-ft. Golf R 19.9 cu.-ft.

Fuel Economy (MPG)  23 city, 30 hwy (Auto.) Golf R 19 city, 25 hwy

Fuel Economy (L/100 km) 10.4 city, 7.9 hwy (Auto.)Golf R12.1 city, 9.3 hwy

US Price (As Tested) $41,110Golf R $44,240
CAN Price (As Tested)  $43,410 Golf R$50,664

All that power heads to the pavement through a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system that features a pair of clutch packs that can split power front to back and side to side before you even know you need it there, sending power outside, for example, to kill any semblance of understeer.

ALSO SEE: Ford Focus RS500 Could Pack 400 HP

The only gearbox available is a six-speed manual, but it is one of the finest examples on the market today, with short throws and a nicely weighted clutch that is neither too heavy or too light. Running through the gears takes no time at all, and hitting the proper shift points — which are somewhere in the 5,000 to 6,500 rpm range, depending on the mood you’re in — is rewarded with a burbling backfire that is unrivalled in the segment and beyond.

2017FordFocusRS004

As you would expect, the RS has a drive mode selector that can be set to normal, sport or track, with all kinds of electronic trickery at play to adjust engine and steering response, suspension, all-wheel drive and traction control on the fly. Regardless of drive mode, the suspension can be adjusted independently through a button on the signal stalk, with two settings on offer: Stiff, and stiffer. Leave it in normal and you’ll feel almost every bump in the road. Put it in sport and count on a trip to the chiropractor after a long drive. Of course, none of that matters when you’re behind the wheel, with even the most mundane of drives sure to leave a smile on your face.

Inferior Interiors

One common thread tied rather unfortunately through both cars is their somewhat disappointing interiors. It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with either aside from the fact that there’s nothing that sets them apart from the commuter cars on which they’re based.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Ford Focus 1.0-Liter EcoBoost Review

Climb into the Golf R, and it looks and feels an awful lot like any of the more mundane Golf models out there. There’s some extra bolstering on the front seats, and the steering wheel has been swapped out for one with a flat bottom, but those are the only visual clues as to what lurks beneath the sheet metal. The same goes for the RS, with its cabin looking almost identical to just about every other new Focus on the road. The steering wheel, Recaro seats, and some boost and oil gauges on the dash are the only differentiators to be found. Both cars are in desperate need of something — body-colored trim pieces, carbon fiber inserts — to set them apart from their donors.

2017FordFocusRS007

Opposite Lock

When it comes to exterior appearance, these two take very opposite approaches. Where the Golf R is understated, the Focus RS is in your face. If you’re looking for a sleeper, the Volkswagen has you covered. The tailpipes and discreet badges are about all that set it apart from the rest of the Golf lineup, which, unlike the interior, is a good thing when looking to fly under the radar.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Volkswagen Golf R Review: Quick Take

The Ford, on the other hand, is about as loud visually as it is at redline, and definitely takes a little getting used to. The gargantuan grille, massive spoiler, and rear diffuser complete with huge exhaust tips are definitely not doing anything to hide what the RS is packing under the hood. Add in the optional nitrous blue paint, and the Focus borders on aesthetically offensive, and has “cop-magnet” written all over it.

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The Verdict: 2016 Ford Focus RS vs Volkswagen Golf R 

So which is worthy of your hard-earned dollars? The practical buyer will likely gravitate towards the Golf R for its low-key looks, more comfortable suspension and commuter-friendly automatic. Push it hard and you can definitely feel the extra mass of the all-wheel drive system (automatic Rs tip the scales at 3,362 lb), and it doesn’t feel quite as engaging as the GTI, but the Golf R is fast and fun, and responds to throttle and steering input without a fuss. It does suffer from bouts of torque steer under hard acceleration, but tends to sort itself out with a little help from your hands, rocketing around with a cool confidence that’s hard to match. When you’re done flogging, simply put the drive selector back in normal and the Golf R transforms into a casual commuter.

But it just doesn’t have the same character or raucous exhaust note as the Focus RS. It’s not exactly livable for daily duty, with the stiff suspension and go-hard attitude enough to drive you mad on the morning commute, but it will gladly play along when pushed, nudging you further and further as the needle climbs. And just when you think the car has hit its limit — when heading into a corner a little too hot, for example — its unshakeable confidence and composure shine through, and it simply finds a way. The whole package comes together so nicely it’s scary. The car is so capable and user-friendly, I can’t decide whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It handles phenomenally well, laughs in the face of understeer, and puts down enough power to outrun just about any other new car this side of $50,000.

  • Bug S Bunny

    “But it just doesn’t have the same character or raucous exhaust note as the Focus RS. It’s not exactly livable for daily duty, with the stiff suspension and go-hard attitude enough to drive you mad on the morning commute…”

    But a raucous exhaust note, stiff suspension, and a go-hard attitude is what makes it worth getting up and going to work every day.

  • Al A Luya

    As a nearly 70yo man I choose the Ford. I do not want another sleeper otherwise I would buy a Passat. Just cause I am a senior doesn’t mean I have a foot in the grave. GIVE me speed, tuning, manual tranny, sound & tight suspension.

  • Mike

    I got my Focus for $38k, and that effects none of the items in the chart above. Less expensive than the Golf R

  • windel Vernon

    I’ll take the VW because my wife doesn’t drive a stick. But he RS is comparably preferable.
    Ok dear, I’ll take out the garbage right away. Can I have a drink afterwards?

  • Mark S

    The turning circle, the one setting suspension and the MPG are main negatives for the RS, the power and trick all wheel drive are the main positives. I think if you future involves track day fun, as long as you some how cool the rear diff, the RS is the way to go. I would go for the Golf R as my daily though – swiss army knife of a car.

  • Gavin

    Own an RS. Turning circle is bad. It hasn’t caused any issues for me yet though. The suspension is 2 setting, and the non-track setting isn’t that bad at all. The reviews make it sound worse than it is. MPG is bad. Trunk is smaller than you’d expect. The seats are uncomfortable until you break them in. Those are the biggest negatives for me.

    The Golf R and the RS are made for two different customers. If you want a car that can do everything and not be flashy doing it, the Golf R is the way to go, even if driving it isn’t quite as fun as the RS. The RS is if you want a fun car. Never mind the reviews. Never mind the numbers. If all you want to do is have fun, the RS is the choice. It is unabashedly fun. The fact that I should be able to keep it after I get married and have kids is nice, but the draw is how fun it is.

  • Mark S

    Makes a lot of sense. I think the R is great fun though when compared to many other cars. For the VW fans, the issue maybe go with the R or save money and go with the GTI Sport (is the extra power and Haldex worth the money). That RS Twinster though, and the adjustable suspension seems to make it a signicantly different car compared to the ST.

  • Cody Beisel

    Why compare an auto and a manual? The manual golf r is much much more fun! Booooo AutoGuide

  • Synchromesh

    If you’re buying a hot hatch like that with an automatic – you’re a pathetic weenie. I don’t care if your commute is all traffic, this is the kind of car that you buy only with manual.

    If I had to choose – I’d choose a WRX STi in the same price range. I just trust Subaru more than Ford or VW. But if it had to be one of these 2, definitely the RS. Imho, VW is just a piece of trash. Maybe a fast one at that but a piece of trash nonetheless.

  • labdrive

    The only reason there are still manual transmissions sold is because of nostalgic weenies requesting those to mimic their grandfather. This VW is a good example: half a second faster for the automatic compared to the manual. And it is like that for many modern performance cars. Some prefer going fast, some others changing gears. Do you also shun calculators, going for the pencil-and-paper thingy for arithmetics?

  • Istok

    R flashy? To who, people who know what it is? Oh and the RS is not flashy with the rear wing and all.
    I get what your saying but to the untrained eye the Golf looks just like any other Golf with a set of upgraded rims.

  • Gavin

    I think you misread. I said the R isn’t flashy. The RS definitely is. We’re in agreement.

  • Istok

    I did misread lol
    Sry

  • Istok

    He dont know sh*t. The modern autos even get better gas mileage. It is a tough time for sticks and the auto industry- nostalgia does not sell cars.

  • AND YOU ARE A BULLSHIT BECAUSE THE HONDA RIDGELINE IS THE BEST OF ALL CARS IMMHHHHHHO!

  • But for those who want the best of both worlds, the Honda Ridgeline RS is the way to go.

  • Haifisch46

    Will someone please explain to me what in the world the manufacturers are thinking by equipping four door sedans as performance cars?

    This is a classic example of a manufacturer insisting that you buy something which you neither need nor want. Those extra doors represent at least $1K-2K addition expense and 300-500 lbs of dead weight. Neither manufacturer sells these pocket rockets that way in Europe, and the reason is that their drivers are much cannier than Americans, who will accept anything you shove down their throats.

    An automatic transmission doesn’t belong in a performance automobile, period. And please don’t tell me about manual modes, and silly little paddles on the steering wheel or “selectin” shift points. A clutch allows a driver to precisely meter the amount of torque going to the rear wheels – and that ability, by the way, is a necessity anywhere it snows.

    Moreover, have you seen the JD Power initial quality rankings for dual-clutch transmissions? They’re all rough as a cob, but fragile as well. Ford’s dual-clutch transmissions are particularly unreliable. Oddly enough, I’ve never heard anyone complain about the durability of manual transmission cars which, by the way, are $1-2K cheaper than the same model equipped with an automatic. Simply another case of ramming something I neither want nor need down my throat.

    But, I notice that there are those of you gentlemen who, in your lofty wisdom, question those of us who are REAL drivers who want to drive REAL cars. For example, this fellow says:
    “The only reason there are still manual transmissions sold is because of nostalgic weenies who keep requesting those to mimic their grandfather.” Got news for ya, little boy – I’m seventy, I’ve owned fifty cars, I collect classic Alfa Romeos, I’ve owned BMWs, hot Fords, Chevrolets, and Nissans. I know whereof I speak.

    I’ve also owned Subarus, which are wonderful cars. If you have to have an automatic and all-wheel drive and four doors, you can’t do better. But a Legacy is by no means a performance automobile.

    But, if you love to drive, buy a Nissan 370Z. It’s a much better choice than a used Porsche for the same money. Or, personally, I’d look for a well-cared late model Corvette, preferrably owned by an old man like me who appreciates performance cars and knows how to both drive and maintain them.

  • Haifisch46

    The WRX is nothing less than a road-legal rally car and, as such, is far superior to the Volkswagen R. It is probably a better performance car than the Focus RS – at least in American tune. I’d buy one in a heartbeat, four doors or no four doors.

  • Jeff Rosenberg

    yeah. herd it sucks. but I have a vette so I know about that. what about the power and ride ? I herd it dont feel 350hp fast and ride is a little jarring. Are you on PS2 or the CUPS ?

  • Gavin

    I’m on the Pilot Cup Sport 2’s. The 350hp doesn’t feel like 350hp in Normal mode. It feels more like 350hp in Sport mode. Honestly, it may not feel like a lot of hp in a straight line, but I end up going faster than I think I am pretty much every day. It is one of those cars where the speed will get up there without you noticing. Also, if you put your foot into it and have it in the appropriate gear, it will launch you. It doesn’t feel weak anywhere in the powerband.

    As for the ride, in normal mode, it’s not as bad as everyone says. The car is rigid, but the suspension absorbs more than most reviewers give it credit for. When I exit or enter a parking garage that has a steep/harsh angled driveway, sometimes I’ll get a wheel to lift off the ground. That’s how rigid the body is. You feel bumps, but it’s not bad. Even potholes aren’t that bad. The suspension absorbs a lot of the jarring, spine realigning feeling you get from some cars. My 1995 Toyota Supra was much worse.

  • akaBobo

    If you are driving a car for fun, manuals are way more engaging and fun to drive, for me. Automatics put me to sleep. It has nothing to do with commuting, gas mileage or reliability, it is simply more fun to drive.

  • Tom Kennedy

    Exactly. A better comparison might be windsurfing vs. motorboating, or backcountry skiing vs. snowmobiling, hunting on a pay-to-play ranch with a shotgun vs. bow-hunting. Manuals keep you more engaged with the driving experience.

  • Steve Hartsock

    The DSG transmission is superior, plain and simple. There is a reason F1 cars use paddle shifters. Once you try it, you’ll never go back to that old fashioned manual again.

  • Synchromesh

    Big load of baloney. I tried it more than once and I still own only manual and nothing else. There is no feel or fun with those DSGs. There is more to enjoying the car than sheer speed. Example: I have 2 cars right now, one has about 50hp, the other has about 300. I love driving ze old Beetle more. It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow, we all know that.

  • Synchromesh

    You know, one day it might happen that you don’t have a calculator when you need to do some arithmetics and that’s the day you’ll have a major problem on your hands. Because you don’t have any pencil-and-paper skills and you’re used not using your brain. Overreliance on technology is never a good idea.

    But that aside, I like my cars to be fun. I enjoy driving something that’s fully mechanical and I can work on myself. This is why I haven’t owned anything but stick for nearly 20 years and I don’t intend to. You are a good example why Camry is the best selling car in USA – a sedan with an appeal of a refrigerator and driving excitement of a toaster. Sure, it’ll get you from A to B in a reliable, safe, comfortable fashion. But it’ll never be anything but a yawn-inspiring soulless appliance.

  • Synchromesh

    I’d be careful with statements like that. I’ve been driving a manual for nearly 20 years and no dsg, smg or 123 has ever prompted me to buy one and I’ve driven several. Because numbers are not the end all be all. I would rather drive a slower car and have more fun doing it than a fully automated fast boring piece of crap.

  • Drewmin

    First, the focus is always a 4-door, even in Europe. Second, manual is standard on the R. Third, the RS is ONLY available in manual, so I have no idea why you’re talking about Ford dual-clutch automatics.

  • Wayne

    Guess they are thinking they will sell to someone like me, who wants a practical car that goes like snot.

  • Wayne

    I’ve tried DSG. I prefer a clutch and stick. I’m not driving in F1 or racing at all, so I don’t care if DSG is technically superior or not.

  • Wayne

    It’s also slower, but I agree, it is much more fun.

  • flyimac

    A Passat cannot do 13.1 in a 1/4 mile. Even if you choose the v6 it is still a 14.3 car. It’s not a sleeper, it’s asleep.

  • Liam

    More then a few things wrong with what you said there. first off, 370z’s are slow, plus they’re just as heavy as these cars are, they’re massive, its not like you’re going to be saving yourself a ton of weight buying a Z! they don’t keep up to my GTI, let alone a golf r or an rs, these cars would leave a Z in the dust. also, 300-500lbs from doors? uhmm why dont you look up weight specs of a 2 door gti vs a 4 door, here, i did it for you; the weight difference is 62 pounds. 500 pounds is completely out to lunch, very minimal weight difference, definitely not enough to feel. A automatic doesnt belong in a performance vehicle? oh please… why dont you take a look at pretty much, ahem, every singe super or hyper car being produced and sold. They’re faster, more efficient, more responsive and more controllable then a manual transmission. you’re talking about fords dual clutch transmission? uhmm i know of no such thing that has been released yet (until the new GT arrives), so i can see you’re just talking out of your ass. Volkswagen’s dual clutch on the other hand are exceptionally reliable, as long as they’re serviced, which is quite an easy thing to do. Ill leave you with this thought, why would you want a 370z or an older corvette, when you can have the same performance, in a car that is the same amount of fun to drive, all while being super practical, spacious, comfortable (for the Golf r at least). All your experience with owning different cars and all this knowledge you have sound like nothing more then ignorance to me. you’re such a “real drivers” and drive such “real cars” and then recommend to buy a 370Z or a corvette… what a Joke. Go discuss this with like minded old farts like yourself, not real car guys.

  • liam

    The WRX is trash, understeers worse then a golf r, and the motors have so many problems. try making any power out of them, they’ll go boom in no time. I’d take an EVO over any of these cars if it came to rallying. WRX is at the bottom of the bucket when it comes to comparing these cars, weakest engine, ugliest, and least refined, interior is complete trash.

  • Liam

    maybe its more fun if you’re an old fart like yourself. i like going to the track, that’s where the real fun is had. i’d take the rs for a track day, and the r for a daily, the build quality of the r is exceptional, the interior is beautiful (i don’t know what this article is talking about when it comes to interior, go to a dealership and see for youself, its gorgeous, and a nice place to be) and they make big power on just a tune (400hp on a stage 1 tune). don’t like DSG? well save youself some money and spec manual then… its that easy. i don’t know why DSG is getting brought up so often in the comments here, its an option. you know you can get it with a manual to if you desire to go slower and shift gears?

  • Synchromesh

    I’m not nearly as old as you think I might be. But then again I’m not a 20 year old bro with tattoos and a backwards pointing cap either.

    I have absolutely nothing against the track and if you drive your car exclusively there then DSG or other automatic makes sense because you need those few extra milliseconds. But if you drive your car in other places (like I do) like twisties, etc, manual is and always will be far more fun than any crap flappy paddles.

  • Liam

    totally respectable opinion, I think we’re on the same page, i just don’t understand why people are bashing dual clutch boxes. I live in canada, they work quite well in the snow, and they’re a hell of a lot more enjoyable to drive then a traditional auto. i like manual too, especially if I’m buying an older car, and it is fun to drive, especially at the track as well nothing beats the feeling of nailing a perfect heal toe downshift. Biggest reason why the new 911R was such a hit. manual is for people who love the experience of driving, if i had a weekend warrior street car, manual would be my pick. I’m currently in the process of importing a s2000 for this reason. not super fast, just a hell of a fun car to drive.