Hot Hatch of the Year 2016: Ford Focus RS

The Ford Focus RS is the 2016 Auto Express Hot Hatch of the Year, with the Honda Civic Type R and SEAT Leon Cupra 290 commended

The flames of the hot hatch fire were well and truly fanned when the Ford Focus RS hit the market. Nurburgring lap records had been shattered by SEAT, Honda and Renault, but Ford pulled the rug from underneath them, arriving with a 345bhp four-wheel-drive monster for £31,000.

While that may still sound like a lot of money, it actually makes the Focus RS a performance bargain – especially given the clever tricks the car has up its gaping tailpipes.

Best hot hatchbacks on sale

With development input from stunt driving sensation Ken Block and thanks to its incredibly clever all-wheel-drive system, the RS has been developed to drift. There’s even a special drift mode that can send all of the power to one individual rear wheel, kicking the Ford’s tail into a graceful slide. Yet there’s still a huge amount of grip to lean on, with adaptive dampers to firm the chassis up even further. It’s stiff as standard, but in RS mode the Focus feels like a hardcore rally car with incredible traction to haul it out of bends, making the most of the engine.

It’s not just a retuned Focus ST engine under the bonnet, though. Instead, there’s a 2.3-litre turbo four-cylinder that’s had input from Cosworth – rekindling a link between Ford RS and the British engineering firm to great effect.

Ford Focus RS

Helped by launch control, the snarling engine hurls the Focus from 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds, but it’s the way the car darts into B-road corners and thumps out of them that makes the driving experience so infectious. The solid Brembo brakes and fast steering ensure it stops and turns as well as it goes, and with a popping and crackling exhaust note, there’s a soundtrack to match the speed.

Best performance cars

Despite the muscular styling, the RS is still practical – just as a hot hatch should be. Five doors and a 260-litre boot mean you can carry plenty of people and luggage, while optional Recaro seats are comfy on long journeys and hold you firmly in place on track.

Ford has put distance between the hottest Focus out there and the rest of its similarly priced competition. In fact, the RS has graduated into the mega hatch league of the Mercedes-AMG A 45 and Audi RS3, only it’s a lot cheaper. Plus, it’s crammed full of clever technology.

Our choice

Ford Focus RS (£31,000)

The Ford only comes in one spec, but you can add extras like the figure-hugging Recaro seats, bigger 19-inch wheels and a Luxury pack that brings keyless go and cruise control. Whatever you choose, the rorty engine, scintillating chassis and four-wheel-drive wizardry remain, delivering high-performance sports car speed for a reasonable outlay.

Commended

Honda Civic Type R

Honda Civic Type R long term - First Report front tracking 2

Honda’s latest Civic Type R may have lost its spine-tingling, naturally aspirated VTEC engine in favour of a gutsy turbo unit, but it still sticks to the traditional front-wheel-drive hot hatch recipe. Performance isn’t in doubt, and with a slick manual gearchange and vast reserves of grip, it’s another performance bargain. 

SEAT Leon Cupra 290

SEAT Leon Cupra 290 2016 UK - front tracking 2

Last year’s champ has been treated to a facelift and an extra injection of power, making it more desirable than ever. It lacks the raw pace of the Focus RS and the wild looks of the Honda, but the SEAT Leon Cupra’s ability to change seamlessly from sports car to comfortable family hatch makes it a compelling choice.

Auto Express New Car Awards 2016 

For complete, in-depth coverage of the New Car Awards 2016, buy your collector's edition copy of the Auto Express magazine now or click here to subscribe...  

Recommended

New Honda Civic Type R 2020 review
Honda Civic Type R

New Honda Civic Type R 2020 review

We find out if the revised Honda Civic Type R can stay at the top of the hot hatch class
22 Sep 2020
New 2020 Honda Civic Type R: UK prices revealed for updated line-up
Honda Civic Type R

New 2020 Honda Civic Type R: UK prices revealed for updated line-up

The lightweight limited edition model has sold out, but the subtle Honda Civic Type R Sport Line model now joins the range
7 Sep 2020
New 2022 Honda Civic Type R hot hatch set to stick with tradition
Honda Civic Type R

New 2022 Honda Civic Type R hot hatch set to stick with tradition

The next Honda Civic Type R will grow in size, but it won’t use a hybrid powertrain. Our exclusive image previews how it could look
5 Jun 2020
Best hot hatchbacks 2020
Hot hatches

Best hot hatchbacks 2020

The best hot hatches offer giant-killing performance and a gripping drive, all wrapped in a user-friendly package
7 May 2020

Most Popular

New 2021 BMW M3 launched with huge grille and 503bhp
BMW 3 Series M3 Coupe

New 2021 BMW M3 launched with huge grille and 503bhp

The new sixth-generation BMW M3 Competition saloon gets a 503bhp straight-six engine and four-wheel-drive
22 Sep 2020
New 2020 Volkswagen ID.4 electric SUV revealed with up to 323 miles of range
Volkswagen ID.4

New 2020 Volkswagen ID.4 electric SUV revealed with up to 323 miles of range

The new Tiguan-sized Volkswagen ID.4 electric SUV becomes VW’s second ID. model, rivalling the Tesla Model Y
23 Sep 2020
New Range Rover Velar PHEV launched with 33-mile electric range
Land Rover Range Rover Velar

New Range Rover Velar PHEV launched with 33-mile electric range

Land Rover has given the Range Rover Velar an update, with a new plug-in hybrid powertrain and an improved infotainment system
23 Sep 2020