Ford Focus RS vs Audi RS3 vs Volkswagen Golf R

31 Mar, 2016 4:00pm

Ford’s new Focus RS has arrived and is ready to take on the Audi RS3 and VW Golf R. It’s time to settle mega hatch argument!

There are two letters which above all others are guaranteed to get Ford fans excited: RS. These letter stand for Rallye Sport, and since the 1970's, when it debuted on the Ford Escort RS1600, it's been kept back only for the hottest and most crazy cars produced by the brand.

The latest addition to the family is the new Focus RS. This go-faster family hatchback is the most powerful ever, thanks to a thumping 345bhp turbocharged 2.3-litre engine. It’s also the first RS since the rally-bred Escort RS Cosworth to feature a four-wheel-drive system, although this trick transmission has been designed to boost driver fun, not just to improve grip and traction.

Yet despite the incredible power and hi-tech hardware, the new Focus RS hasn’t forgotten its blue-collar roots. With a price that’s a whisker under £30,000, it promises plenty of performance per pound.

Best hot hatchbacks

Here, it faces two fierce rivals. The Audi RS3 was used as a benchmark by Ford’s engineers when developing the Focus, and its 362bhp looks good on paper. It also has plenty of upmarket appeal, albeit with a price to match.

The Volkswagen Golf R doesn’t shout nearly as loudly as its rivals here, plus it’s a little down on outright power. However, it’s competitively priced and is recognised as the handling benchmark for four-wheel-drive hot hatches. Until this point, at least.

So which of our heavy-hitting pocket rockets will land the knock-out punch? We hit the tortuous mountain roads above Barcelona in Spain to find out. 

Head to head

Engines

The Ford and VW borrow their engines from other models. So the 2.3-litre in the Focus is also used in the Mustang, but tweaks to the internals and turbo boost power to 345bhp. Under the Golf’s bonnet is a GTI engine, with power increased from 217bhp to 296bhp. 

The Audi’s engine appeared in the old-shape TT RS, and also features in the RS Q3 crossover.

Design

Ford has toned down the Focus’s styling in an attempt to rival the premium brands, but there are still plenty of RS cues, including the gaping grille and large tailgate spoiler. The Audi’s potential is equally obvious, but its additions aren’t as aggressive. By comparison, the Volkswagen is low key and could be confused with a cheaper R-Line model.

Gearboxes

The Golf comes with a choice of either a six-speed manual gearbox or a £1,415 twin-clutch DSG automatic. All RS3s feature Audi’s seven-speed twin-clutch S tronic, while the Focus is only offered with a six-speed manual – although Ford hasn’t ruled out introducing its PowerShift auto box to the RS at a later date.

Verdict

1st place: Ford Focus RS

With its eye-catching price tag and blistering performance, the Focus RS is a fast Ford in the finest tradition. Yet it’s the car’s trick four-wheel-drive system and honed suspension that star, giving the Focus incredible agility and delivering more than enough driver involvement. It also looks and sounds the part. The only black marks are reserved for the small boot and firm low-speed ride.

2nd place: Volkswagen Golf R

The Golf misses out by the narrowest of margins in this encounter. It’s faster than its power deficit would suggest and it attacks twisting back roads with incredible composure. It’s also the easiest car to live with day to day and has the most versatile interior. Yet it just lacks the excitement and involvement of the Focus – and in this class, that counts for a lot.

3rd place: Audi RS3

If this test was based purely on engine sound and straight-line performance, then the Audi RS3 would carry off the spoils. It also benefits from having easily the best cabin here and comes with most standard equipment. However, its handling feels a little lead-footed in this company, and there’s no getting away from that hefty price tag.

Other options in this category

Honda Civic Type R

Price: £29,995 Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 302bhp

Honda Civic Type R long term - First Report front tracking

Flagship Civic looks even wilder than the Ford, and was tuned at the hallowed Nürburgring race track in Germany. It also has a more practical cabin. But it’s neither as fast nor as fun as the Focus, while the boy racer styling won’t suit all.

Subaru WRX STI

Price: £28,995 Engine: 2.5-litre flat-four, 296bhp

Subaru WRX STi 2014 - front

With its rich motorsport pedigree and characterful flat-four engine, the WRX STi has plenty of appeal. It’s also cheaper than the Ford and packed with kit. It’s let down by its cheap-looking cabin and firm ride, but on the right road it’s a blast.

Figures

Ford Focus RS Volkswagen Golf R Audi RS3
On-the-road price/total as tested £29,995/£32,900 £31,775/£38,685 £40,795/£51,185
Residual value (after 3yrs/30,000) £15,027/50.1% £16,873/53.1% £23,539/57.7%
Depreciation £14,968 £14,902 £17,256
Annual tax liability std/higher rate £1,779/£3,557 £1,766/£3,533 £2,576/£5,152
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles) £2,474/£4,123 £2,280/£3,800 £2,600/£4,333
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost 40/£644/H/£205 34/£542/G/£180 40/£689/J/£265
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service TBC £287^^ £295/£394/£295
Length/wheelbase 4,390/2,648mm 4,276/2,630mm 4,343/2,631mm
Height/width 1,472/1,823mm 1,436/1,799mm 1,411/1,800mm
Engine 4cyl in-line/2,300cc 4cyl in-line/1,984cc 5cyl in-line/2,480cc
Peak power  345/6,000 bhp/rpm 296/5,500 bhp/rpm 362/5,550 bhp/rpm
Peak torque  440/2,000 Nm/rpm 380/1,800 Nm/rpm 465/1,625 Nm/rpm
Transmission  6-spd manual/4wd 6-spd manual/4wd 7-spd auto/4wd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel 62 litres/sealant 55 litres/space-saver 55 litres/sealant
Boot capacity (seats up/down)  260/1,045 litres 343/1,233 litres 280/1,120 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight 1,547/478kg/N/A 1,476/484kg/N/A 1,520/500kg/N/A
Turning circle 11.9 metres 10.9 metres 10.9 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery 3yrs (60,000)/1yr 3yrs (60,000)/1yr 3yrs (60,000)/3yrs
Service intervals/UK dealers 10,000 miles/781 Variable/223 Variable/121
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos. 25th/26th 22nd/30th 13th/25th
Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars 92/82/72/5 94/89/65/5 95/87/74/5
0-60/30-70mph 5.0/4.3 secs 5.6/4.6 secs 3.8/3.1 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th  2.4/3.0 secs 2.3/3.1 secs 2.2/3.1 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th/7th  3.7/4.6 secs/N/A 4.1/5.1 secs/N/A 3.9/4.8/6.6 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph  165mph/2,400rpm 155mph/2,700rpm 155mph/2,000rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph  48.4/39.9/8.0m 48.1/32.1/9.1m 46.5/34.1/10.9m
Noise levels outside/idle/30/70mph 65/48/65/73dB 60/43/59/67dB 63/45/63/71dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range 24.7/5.4/337 miles 26.8/5.9/324 miles 23.5/5.2/284 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined  28.3/44.8/36.7mpg 30.1/47.9/39.8mpg 25.2/44.8/34.9mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined  6.2/9.9/8.1mpl 6.6/10.5/8.7mpl 5.5/9.9/7.7mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket 264/175g/km/30% 243/165g/km/28% 278/189g/km/32%
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/camera Six/y/£1,000*/£465* Seven/yes/yes/£165 Seven/yes/yes/£275
Auto box/launch control/cruise ctrl No/yes/£1,000* £1,415/no/yes Yes/no/£255
Climate control/leather/heated seats Yes/part/no Yes/£1,720/£275 Yes/yes/yes
Metallic paint/xenon lights/AEB^ £525/yes/£200 £545/yes/yes £550/no/no
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/Bluetooth £465*/yes/yes/yes £765/yes/yes/yes Yes/yes/yes/yes