2017 Ford Focus RS Vs Volkswagen Golf R

Dan Ilika
by Dan Ilika

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.

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.

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
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.

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.

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.

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.

Dan Ilika
Dan Ilika

Dan is AutoGuide.com's Road Test Editor, a long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan, and a car guy since childhood. He enjoys long walks on the beach and long drives just about anywhere the road, track or trail will take him. You'll see him driving around evaluating cars and in front of a camera talking about them. Dan is a member of the World Car of the Year jury.

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22 of 38 comments
  • Synchromesh Synchromesh on Oct 22, 2016

    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.

    • See 16 previous
    • Chance Ainscough Chance Ainscough on May 16, 2018

      RS walks the STI, sorry to break it to you.

  • Haifisch46 Haifisch46 on Nov 08, 2016

    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.

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    • Liam Liam on Mar 15, 2017

      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.