In the not-so-distant past, we Americans weren’t exactly spoiled for choice when it came to picking a hot hatchback. Sure, we’ve always enjoyed plenty of tire-roasting drag racers, but these machines could never quite satisfy when it came to cornering prowess and practicality. Call it the grass-is-greener syndrome if you like, but the fact remains that many drivers in the U.S. felt slighted when gazing across the Atlantic, dreaming of high-strung, boosted engines stuffed in front of rounded rooflines over an odd number of doors.

Thankfully, that time is behind us, because the hot hatchback is coming to these star-spangled lands in droves. No longer need fans of the do-it-all, agile super-commuter feel jealous of folks overseas. Finally, automakers have realized the potential sales of affordable, power-to-weight superstars. 

Two of these vehicles, the Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R, represent two of the best hot hatches that money can buy. Both are turbocharged. Both have AWD. Both promise a combination of worry-free highway cruising, copious space to carry things, and enough race-inspired engineering to embarrass the average sports car. 

But which is better?

Click past the jump to learn which car is the best: the new Focus RS or Golf R.

Exterior

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior
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Let’s start with the basics- how these things look. The Focus screams hot hatch from every angle. The fenders are enormously flared, there are louvers across the hood, a matte-black diffuser framing twin exhaust pipes, and an enormous wing attached to the rear glass. This is the essence of what a car in this segment needs to look like, to some. Onlookers will never mistake this hot version with a lowly base model. The more attention garnered, the better, I say.

2016 Volkswagen Golf R High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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By comparison, the Volkswagen is muted. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it looks good — the proportions are perfect, the lines are simple and uncluttered, and it exudes that characteristic VW quality. But the end result is still too old-fashioned, and next to the Focus it simply blends into the background. Of course, if you like the idea of something that’s a bit more sedate and not so much a cop magnet, it might be just your cup of tea.

Point – Focus

Interior

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Interior
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The Ford’s cabin ticks all the right boxes. Open the door and you’ll find highly bolstered Recaro seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, high-performance gauges, and a smattering of RS badges, not to mention sat-nav, a large color touchscreen, and smartphone connectivity.

2016 Volkswagen Golf R Interior
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But the Volkswagen has all that and more. The fit and finish is outstanding, radiating quality that outshines its price. There’s an inherent sense of luxury that the Ford simply can’t compete with — a feeling that the interior is more than the sum of its parts. While the Focus still shows its econobox upbringing, the Golf transcends it. When it comes to actually sitting in the thing, you have to go VW.

Point – Golf

Drivetrain

2016 Volkswagen Golf R Exterior
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This is, without a doubt, the most important consideration for any potential hot-hatch owner, and both brands are bringing the heat. The Golf boasts a 2.0-liter, turbo four-cylinder with 292 horsepower at 5,400 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque between 1,800 and 5,500 rpm. This is routed through a standard six-speed manual for a run to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds. There’s also an optional six-speed DSG automatic that trims that figure down to 4.9 seconds, a vast improvement over the three-pedaled tranny. 4MOTION permanent AWD makes the grip, while the chassis dynamics are alterable through three different driving modes. There are also standard 18-inch alloys, and oversized 13.4-inch brakes. It’s an impressive package, more than worthy of a day of lapping at your local road course or autocross.

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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The Focus takes one look at the Golf’s specs, then promptly drops a big, blue, oval-shaped sledgehammer on them. The Ford’s engine is a 2.3-liter, turbo four-cylinder with 315 horsepower, although I wouldn’t be surprised if a dyno run saw actual output tip the scales north of that figure. But the real story is in the new AWD system. Using something called a Rear Drive Unit, or RDU, up to 70 percent of available torque can be sent to the rear axle. That means loads of power oversteer, something the 50/50, nose-heavy VW will have to watch with envy.

Point – Focus

Conclusion

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 615056

WINNER – Focus
Of course, these are merely the sentiments of a keyboard monkey pounding away an opinion or two in some windowless corner. The actual fight will take place when these two cars meet on a track with a dedicated hot-shoe on call to wring them out. Should the Golf actually manage to hang with the Focus, its lack of styling flair won’t matter an ounce. But on paper, it looks like its Ford for the win.

2016 Ford Focus RS

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior
- image 615057

2016 Volkswagen Golf R

2016 Volkswagen Golf R High Resolution Exterior
- image 613744
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