2016 Ford Focus RS VS. 2015 Ford Mustang
It finally happened. Ford has finally seen fit to send the hottest of hot hatches to North America. We had to sit on the sidelines and watch our friends in Europe enjoy the previous two Focus RS generations on YouTube, but now we’ll finally get a chance to sample this 315-horsepower, fender-flared (and for the first time), all-wheel-drive forbidden fruit.
Great for us, but you can’t help but wonder if the introduction of the Focus RS presents a bit of a lineup conflict for the suits in Dearborn. Until now, the Mustang and the hottest of the Focus models were never available in the same market. The RS was never sold here and the Mustang was never officially sold in European markets, though they were easily imported under grey import laws. You wouldn’t be going out on a limb in assuming this was done to prevent one from cannibalizing sales from the other, but now, after thinking long and hard, Ford has decided to let the 2016 Focus RS and Mustang compete for buyers.
The situation is further complicated by the inclusion of a 2.3-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine to the 2015 Mustang’s option sheet. It’s priced above the V-6 and happens to be the same engine found in the Focus RS. Ford has made the decision to sell both of these amazing cars to us. Now, we have to figure out which one we would put in the garage.
Click past the jump to learn which car is better: the new Focus RS or the Mustang.
No one would ever accuse the sixth-generation Ford Mustang of blending into the background, but next to the WRC-inspired styling of the Focus RS, it may as well be a Ford Aspire. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A friend in England owned a second-generation Focus RS, but had to get rid of it because boy street racers would follow his wife around wherever she went. A shouty car seems fun in theory, but sometimes it’s nice to be ignored.
Conspicuousness aside, the Focus RS looks great in the same way JDM Subaru WRX STis and Mitsubishi Evos of the mid-1990s looked great: Cartoon-like fender flares, hood louvres, big 19-inch wheels and a gigantic rear wing are the orders of the day. The front fascia has a new trapezoidal grille above a deeper front splitter, with functional brake-cooling ducts on either side. The rear-end sports a massive diffuser with integrated dual exhausts. Ford says it all works in concert to produce usable downforce. Aesthetically, the transformation is so drastic that it’s barely recognizable as a Focus, but it will no doubt win over a few Subaru fan boys bemoaning the lack of a five-door STi.
For the sixth-generation Mustang, Ford made the decision to give the lesser V-6 and EcoBoost-powered models an appearance more in line with that of the V-8-powered GT. Apparently, customers were tired of being seen in “the cheap Mustang.” Indeed, the GT’s giveaways are limited to a few “5.0” badges on the flanks and rear, and a “fanged” front grille. As for the rest of the car, I think — and I might be in the minority here — that the gen-six’s looks takes a bit of getting used to. The rear deck seem unusually low, and the Ford family headlights still look out of place, but its looks have slowly grown on me.
Comparing these two aesthetically is a completely subjective and somewhat pointless exercise. They’re styled to appeal to two very types of customers, but — gun to my head — I’d have to give the nod to the Focus and its rally-car-for-the-road looks. Besides, 320 horsepower is more than enough to outrun hordes of curious teenage street racers.
It might not be at the top of the heap, but it’s tough to fault Ford’s recent interior efforts, and both the Mustang and the Focus have reaped the benefits.
The interior of the Focus RS hides its economy-car origins well with sporty and well-bolstered, partial-leather Recaro seats and a flat-bottomed leather steering wheel. A bank of gauges unique to the RS sprouts above the center console, displaying turbocharger boost pressure, oil temperature and oil pressure. All the features you would expect in a top-of-the-line Ford come standard, including Ford’s SYNC connectivity, 8-inch color touch screen and 10-speaker sound system. It all looks very high quality, but still lags behind others in its segment, particularly the Volkswagen Golf.
As you’d expect, the Mustang is the more retro-inspired of the two. We’ve previously described it as “aviation inspired,” but it also easily has the most well-appointed interior ever seen in the iconic pony car. Center-console controls are intuitive and nicely detailed, and, should you opt for the manual, you get a nifty 8-ball shifter. The wider body and addition of independent rear suspension also means more room for front and rear occupants.
This one is close, but we’re going with the Mustang’s interior. The switches and surfaces really are huge improvements over the previous Mustang, and just barely edge out the Focus, which struggles a bit to hide its lowly origins. But, if four doors are a necessity, there’s really only one option.
Here’s where things get interesting, but first lets take a look at what you get for your cash. Ford hasn’t officially released pricing for the RS yet, but we’re estimating something in the $38,000 range (though we wouldn’t be surprised if dealership markups push it close to $50,000). Its 2.4-liter, 320-horsepower EcoBoost engine will drive all four wheels through a trick system of clutches and differentials, which we’ll get to in a moment.
For our purposes, and because it’s not really comparable to the RS in terms of price or performance, we’ll set aside the V-6 Mustang. Moving on up the range, we find the EcoBoost four-cylinder Mustang, which uses the same engine found in the Focus RS, albeit slightly detuned to 305 horsepower. Starting at $25,300, it’s a rear-wheel-drive bargain, and just $7,000 more will put you in the V-8 powered GT with a substantial 435 horsepower.
So now that we know where these cars stand in terms of engines, horsepower and cost, let’s start digging into the stuff that might make them more than the sum of their parts.
The Focus RS puts its 320 horsepower to the tarmac through an incredibly sophisticated, torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system that’s capable of sending up to 70 percent of available torque to the rear wheels using two electronically actuated clutches that mimic a limited-slip differential. Perfect for Ken Block-style antics. The extra power over the Mustang’s EcoBoost comes from a new twin-scroll turbocharger and larger compressor. A larger intercooler also maximizes air density. It’s estimated 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds and top speed of 155 mph is quick by sports-car standards, never mind hot-hatch standards.
Our two pony cars are slightly more old-school affairs, but coupled with the absence of the mass of a V-6 or V-8, and the new independent rear suspension, the EcoBoost could be the best-handling and most-responsive Mustang the world has ever seen. The 305-horsepower turbocharged engine provides plenty of push, but it does lag behind the RS and the GT with a 0-60 of 5.6 seconds. Even with the larger lump under the hood, 435-horsepower GT has already proven its handling prowess, and it matches the RS’ estimated 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds.
It’s tough to beat a Mustang GT in performance per dollar, but if money isn’t a limiting factor, then the high-tech drivetrain in the Focus RS is hard to ignore.
As you begin to dissect these cars, you begin to see why The Blue Oval eventually allowed these cars to be sold in the same markets. They’re vastly different in philosophy and buyer appeal.
The Mustang is an improved version of itself, and retains its pony-car cachet without coming off as too retro. As always, the GT provides serious performance for the money, and we can’t wait to see a comparison test between the EcoBoost Mustang and the Focus RS. But, given the choice, I have to go with the shiny new one. With all-wheel drive and four doors, The Focus RS can do more stuff more of the time. Plus, it’s just plain cool, and it’s finally here.
No matter which you prefer, you really can’t lose. We salute Ford on its newfound performance swagger and for having the courage to let use choose between two fantastic and highly desirable performance cars.