The arrival of the Focus RS has made 2009 a year to remember for fast Ford fans. After countless near misses and false dawns, the blue oval finally delivered a car worthy of the famous RS badge in July. Bold and brash, it careered into the hot hatch market like a bull in the proverbial china shop.
The most powerful front-wheel-drive car on the market, the Focus offers rally-inspired looks and performance that have already won over fans, ensuring it a place in the fast Ford hall of fame.
But as is often the case in this fiercely competitive sector, it hasn’t had to wait long for an exciting new rival to appear on the horizon. The latest Mazda 3 MPS is built on the same platform as the Focus RS, but in terms of design philosophy it’s a very different proposition.
Powered by a 256bhp four cylinder turbocharged engine, the five-door Mazda is aiming to steal the RS’s limelight with its rapid performance, practical cabin and sizeable £4,895 price advantage.
Seeing off the flagship Focus won’t be an easy task – the RS has already beaten the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X – but given the Mazda’s specification and value for money, it certainly has the firepower to cause an upset.
Will the subtlety and guile of the MPS outwit the thunderous RS?
There’s only one way to find out… so we brought them face to face in a keenly anticipated battle of the superhatches!
In some respects, these cars are worlds apart. The Mazda delivers its performance in a silky-smooth package with slippery looks and a cabin which is bursting at the seams with hi-tech kit.
Its price and equipment are unrivalled in the sector, while the five-door body also makes it a viable family machine.
The Ford, on the other hand, feels like a rally car that’s been toned down for the road. The looks, engine and chassis all provide something to set the RS apart from rivals.
And that’s why it takes the win here.
For all its efficiency, refinement and kit, the Mazda lacks the kind of soul and raw edge that turns a good hot hat hatch into a great one – so if you want the ultimate high-performance model, the Focus RS is still the car of choice. Even though it’s more expensive than the Mazda, enthusiasts will think it’s worth it.
* 1st: Ford Focus RS
If you want character, the Focus delivers on almost every level. While it’s not the perfect machine by any means, the 300bhp-plus power output and wild driving experience ensure it’s one of the most entertaining hot hatches out there.
* 2nd: Mazda 3 MPS
In terms of refinement, practicality and equipment, the Mazda stands head and shoulders above the Ford. Yet in creating the super-smooth MPS, Mazda engineers have filtered out too much character. It’s a quick car, but not one you can warm to.