How can Honda justify the Type R’s asking price against Ford’s Focus RS bombshell?

For older stateside hot hatch fans out there, it’s probably crystal clear that we’re currently in a new golden age of performance, one that was once relegated to the realm of fantasy and bench racing. High-powered, tear-drop-shaped compacts with an odd number of doors, turbocharged power, and sports car-like handling are finally, finally finding their way to the U.S. market, and after decades of waiting and ogling from afar, U.S. buyers will soon have a chance to get behind the wheel of four-wheeled superstars previously considered forbidden fruit solely for Europe and Japan. Two of the biggest contenders in this space are the Honda Civic Type R and the Ford Focus RS, both incredible cars aimed squarely at the enthusiast buyer. But which is better?

You can’t help but put these two compact titans in a side-by-side comparison. Both are roughly the same in terms of cost, both come with turbocharged four-cylinder engines, both get manual transmissions, and both offer five-door practicality. Both also carry a long history of making speed lovers smile, and command a veritable army of zealous followers to champion their claim to hot hatch supremacy.

But there are some serious differences as well. While the Focus is an AWD hammer, boasting four corners of grip and some impressive firepower under the hood, the Civic is a FWD scalpel, packing less weight and a history of apex-hunting prowess.

Which will come out on top – the Blue Oval Drift Mode bomber, or the H Badge slice and dice katana? It’s America versus Japan in a hot hatch shakedown. Read on for our take.

Continue reading for the full comparison.

Looks, Styling, And Aero

Let’s be honest – no one buys a screaming hot hatchback because they want to fly under the radar. One of the most important aspects in this segment is the way the car pleases the eye – you know, the curb appeal, if you will. How does it look, whether it’s flying down the freeway, or parked in your driveway? Does it turn heads? Does it make you stop to look back and stare after shutting the door and walking off? These are all important things to consider. And since we’re examining the exterior styling, we might as well take into consideration the more practical aspects of aerodynamics as well.

Civic Type-R

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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400-pounds lighter than a Ford Focus RS

One look at the new Civic Type R, and there should no doubt that this thing is a special kind of car. It’s absolutely drenched in go-faster bits and bobs, giving it the appearance of a high-tech slot racer from beyond the moon.

At its heart, the Type R uses the same body as the current tenth-generation Civic hatchback five-door. At its most basic, the Civic is still outfitted with a striking design, with tons of angles, curves, and chunkiness throughout. However, after Honda handed it over to the aero department, the result announces itself like a banshee with a bullhorn –

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback High Resolution Exterior
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2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior
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Standard tenth-generation Honda Civic hatchback pictured on the left, new Honda Civic Type R pictured on the right.

Placed side-by-side, the Type R’s origins are obvious. However, it’s also obvious that the hot hatch is a whole heap more as well.

Placed side-by-side, the Type R’s origins are obvious. However, it’s also obvious that the hot hatch is a whole heap more as well. Let’s start in front, where we find the same basic fascia as before. Like the standard model, the Type R gets a broad, black insert up top, with narrow, aggressive-looking headlights and C-shaped daytime running lights. Below this, there are three smaller inserts divided by an X-shaped wedge in the lower bumper. Twin fog lights sit in the corners.

However, the Type R stands out thanks to a longer splitter that juts out from the bumper with red trimming, vertical side wings, and a whole lot of attitude. The lower corner inserts get horizontal slats that suggest brake duct intakes, while the hood gets a center section with a more pronounced rise to the center section, plus a hood scoop divot placed centrally and towards the rear. Don’t forget the requisite red badge and Type R logo in the bottom right of the upper intake.

Don’t forget the requisite red badge and Type R logo in the bottom right of the upper intake.

Moving to the sides, we find the front fenders have gained an impressive amount of extra volume, as evidenced by rear-facing cutouts just ahead of the front doors. The wheels are an impressive 20 inches in diameter, and get a red outline around the rim with black spokes and red center caps, but I’m sure Honda will offer numerous options for the roller design when this thing hits dealers. Along the lower edge of the car are more prominent side skirts, also finished in black and lined with red, terminating in an upturned flick towards the rear wheels. The character lines and window line are unchanged, as are the side-view mirrors.

In back, we find the eternally necessary oversized wing, looking technical and angular with L-shaped endplates and a curved upper blade finished in black. The shape complements C-shaped taillights and a pinched lower bumper bookended by side inserts that mimic the corner inserts in the front bumper. On the roof, you’ll find the telltale dimples of vortex generators, while a more aggressive diffuser hugs the ground. Further red pin striping adds more layers to it, while three exhaust pipes sit centrally. Additional red badging is found on the deck lid.

Honda is adamant that all those wings and canards and spoilers and ridges are very much a functional piece of the design.

So the Civic Type R has a look all its own, that much is obvious. But believe it or not, the styling isn’t just for getting attention – Honda is adamant that all those wings and canards and spoilers and ridges are very much a functional piece of the design. Underneath it all is a smooth underbody, which combines with the aero up top to produce a claimed best-in-class lift/drag balance – exactly what you want for high-speed stability. And while such assertions are common place in this industry, I’m inclined to believe them in this case, especially when you consider the extensive testing the Type R underwent at the infamous Nurburgring, a track where high-speed stability and downforce can make all the difference in the world.

Finally, the Civic Type R is equipped with tons of LEDs for the lighting, including in the headlights, the fog lights, the brake lights, and the turn signals.

Focus RS

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Like the Civic, the Focus RS takes its more pedestrian equivalent to ever-greater heights of visual performance thanks to a variety of well-wrought exterior upgrades.

2015 Ford Focus
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2016 Ford Focus RS - Driving Impressions
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Standard Ford Focus hatchback pictured on the left, Ford Focus RS pictured on the right.

The aesthetic, while striking, is equally functional. According to Ford, it’s primarily the result of two specific areas of vehicle performance – aerodynamics, and cooling efficiency. As such, the Ford gets a hugely expanded intake in the nose, with a trapezoidal outline for the insert bisected a prominent matte-black crossbar. Below this is an extended front splitter, plus enlarged side intakes to draw in fresh air to the brake cooling ducts, plus vertical fog lights.

The stance is wide and low, perched on the pavement with an attitude that seems to promise hard launches and squealing tires.

The stance is wide and low, perched on the pavement with an attitude that seems to promise hard launches and squealing tires. The profile doesn’t differ all that much from the regular Focus, although the corners are outfitted with large 19-inch rollers finished in black.

Moving to the rear, we find a positively massive spoiler attached to the trailing edge of the hatch, with body color-matched endplates bearing an embossed RS logo, and a black center blade. Towards the ground, we find a black diffuser insert, which houses a duo of rounded exhaust tips.

All these tweaks help keep the pumped-up powertrain nice and cool, but also keep the car planted at speed.

All these tweaks help keep the pumped-up powertrain nice and cool, but also keep the car planted at speed, with zero lift and 9 percent less drag than previous models.

Finally, buyers can get their RS in a variety of colors, including Nitrous Blue metallic, Stealth Grey, Absolute Black, and Frozen White.

The Bottom Line

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Centered, triple exhaust outlets - a first
2016 Ford Focus RS
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Honda Civic Type R pictured on the left, Ford Focus RS pictured on the right.

Let’s cut straight to the chase here – both these machines are loud and in your face. Both come adorned in the telltale signs of a tuned-up pocket rocket. Both are aggressive as hell.

However, placed side-by-side, one thing becomes crystal clear – the Civic is simply more. While the RS cranks the body language up to 10, the Type R turns it up to 11, then breaks the knob off, douses the amp in gasoline, and sets it on fire.

While the RS cranks the body language up to 10, the Type R turns it up to 11, then breaks the knob off, douses the amp in gasoline, and sets it on fire.

As such, the Honda is most definitely a “love it or leave it” sort of proposition. It’s impossible to stay neutral when you look at this thing, and some folks will undoubtedly be drawn to it because of that. Incredibly, it manages to make the RS look, for lack of a better word, a bit safe.

Which looks better? That’s a matter of opinion, but personally, I prefer the Type R. Sure it’s over the top and you probably need earplugs to look at it, but that’s what I want in a hot hatch. I want to be noticed and draw stares everywhere I go, even if that means I get a few looks of disgust every so often. In the end, I’m driving this thing for me, not anyone else.

Which looks better? I prefer the Type R. Sure it’s over the top and you probably need earplugs to look at it, but that’s what I {want} in a hot hatch.

And while it’s hard to speak objectively about the aerodynamics, given the limited information available, I’d venture the Type R offers better stick-at-speed as well, thanks to its negative lift characteristics. That’ isn’t to say the Focus isn’t stable at high speed – quite the contrary. It’s just that the Civic does it better.

Interior, Comfort, And Convenience

Luxury? Bah. Comfort? Double bah. Who needs such things when you’ve got race gauges and bucket seats to keep you entertained? In this section, we’ll take a look at what the Focus RS and Civic Type R bring to the table in their respective cabin spaces. And since they aren’t stripped down track rats, we might as well take a look at the infotainment gear on deck as well.

Civic Type R

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The interior get’s the usual red treatment and sports seats
The seats incorporate impressive lateral bolsters to keep you in place when dancing through the corners.

Inside the Type R, Honda has managed to give the Civic a wide range of performance cues and enthusiast-oriented gear. First and foremost, you’ll notice the color – accentuating the black layout is a heavy dose of red, seen prominently as suede covers for the seats, grips in the steering wheel, the outline for the push button starter, trim lines in the door and dash, and the outline for the vents. The gauges are also studded with red, from the sizable tachometer, to the ancillary gauges in the sides of the cluster.

The center console is equipped with a Display Audio touchscreen measuring in at 7.0-inches in the diagonal.

The steering wheel also gets the usual red H badge front and center, while the seats incorporate impressive lateral bolsters to keep you in place when dancing through the corners. Leather was added to the steering wheel grips, as well as the shift boot, while the round shift knob and sporty pedals are both hewn from aluminum. And if you check out the center console, you’ll see a metal serial plate bearing the Type R logo to remind you and your passengers what you’ve gotten into.

On the infotainment front, the center console is equipped with a Display Audio touchscreen measuring in at 7.0-inches in the diagonal. Standard spec includes the Honda Navigation system, plus support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also SiriusXM 2.0, HD Radio, and Pandora app support to supply supplemental tunes through a 12-speaker audio system pumping with 540 watts of power.

Focus RS

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The interior of the Focus RS has the all right upgrades in all the right places. Starting things off is a flat-bottom steering wheel that’s covered in leather for extra grip and comfort, with larger sections at the 10 and 2. There’s also leather in the seats, although it only partially covers the upholstery, specifically on the large lateral bolsters. Blue RS contrast stitching was used for the seats, the steering wheel, the floor mats, and a variety of other places throughout the cabin. In the foot well are metal sport pedals.

Behind the steering wheel is a unique gauge cluster, complete with black backgrounds, blue dials, white numbering, and red needles. The tachometer is on the left, the speedometer is on the right, and up top is a digital driver’s information screen. Mounted high and centrally on the dash is a trio of gauges, including readouts for vitals like boost pressure, oil temperature, and oil pressure.

Mounted high and centrally on the dash is a trio of gauges, including readouts for vitals like boost pressure, oil temperature, and oil pressure.

In the center console you’ll find an 8.0-inch touchscreen acting as the primary control unit for the infotainment. Using the standard Ford SYNC system, the RS gets onboard navigation and mobile phone support. Options include a rearview camera, park distance control, and a Sony premium sound system with nine speakers and a subwoofer.

Finally, to top it off, there’s unique badging added to the shifter, the seat backs, the steering wheel, and the kick plates.

The Bottom Line

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Interior
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The interior get’s the usual red treatment and sports seats
2016 Ford Focus RS
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Honda Civic Type R pictured on the left, Ford Focus RS pictured on the right.

Much like the exterior designs, the interior look and layout for both of these models brings the goods. Once again, both offer exactly what you’d expect in this segment, with the right touches for added excitement and driver involvement. Once again, both catch the eye and keep your attention. And once again, the Civic just brings more.

Once again, the Civic just brings more – more color, more flash, and more polish.

There’s more color, more flash, and more polish compared to the Focus. While both cars upgrade the features that a driver will appreciate the most, such as the shifter, the steering wheel, the pedals, the gauges, and the seats, the Civic adds to it with a cleaner layout and a profound sense that you are indeed in a very special car.

That isn’t to say the cabin of the RS is a terrible place to be, but as you can see from the above comparison picture, it’s certainly easier to confuse the Ford with sitting in a rental.

Engine, Drivetrain, And Speed

Here’s the meat and potatoes of what constitutes a hot hatch – the stuff that makes it go. Because while big wings and shiny pedals are all well and good, what you’re really after in this segment involves a heavy-breathing turbocharger. Here’s the section of the comparison where it really counts, there place where velocity and tire smoke comingle in a heady enthusiast’s brew.

Civic Type R

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2-liter with 306 hp and 295 lb-ft
Anyone unwilling to work a third pedal need not apply.

Like the Civic Type R that came before, the latest model is equipped with an inline four-cylinder engine with direct injection. Displacement comes in at an even 2.0 liters, but to help it feel a helluva lot bigger, there’s a stonking big turbo attached, plus Honda’s quintessential Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control system, also known as VTEC, yo.

With the turbo at full song and the variable timing kicking in, the Civic Type R produces a whopping 306 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque between 2,500 rpm and 4,500 rpm.

There’s a lightweight clutch for zestier revs, plus a lower final gear for greater acceleration.

All of that power is routed exclusively to the front wheels. Cog swaps come courtesy of a six-speed manual gearbox with a short-throw action. The manual is the only transmission on offer – sorry, but anyone unwilling to work a third pedal need not apply. That said, the transmission does offer a little assistance to the noobs out there, and will automatically blip the throttle on downshifts if you’re still figuring out the whole heel-toe tango.

Mating the transmission to the engine is a single-mass flywheel with 25-percent lower clutch inertia compared to the last Euro-spec Type R, making for zestier revs. There’s also a lower final gear for greater acceleration.

However, despite this move towards greater response with shorter gearing, the Civic Type R is certainly no slouch at the top end. Wind it all the way out, and you’ll see 168 mph.

If Honda did its homework, the old Type R’s 5.7-second 0-to-60 mph should see a reduction to around 5.4 seconds.

Finally, Honda isn’t giving us exact acceleration numbers as of yet, so we’ll update this section when all the exact numbers are released closer to market launch. But that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate.

Looking over the numbers we do have, it’s looking like the new Type R is remarkably close to the old one. Power and torque figures are identical, while top speed is almost the same as well. However, we suspect the new model is both lighter and quicker than the old one (more info on the Type R’s curb weight can be found the next section). If Honda managed cut a few hundred pounds with the latest iteration, we expect it to help in acceleration a little bit.

However, the bigger issue on hand will be engine responsiveness and the way the drivetrain gets the power to the ground, especially considering this is a FWD platform. That makes the lower gearing, lighter flywheel, and grip off the line much more important, and if Honda did its homework (which it almost always does), the old Type R’s 5.7-second 0-to-60 mph should see a reduction to around 5.4 seconds. Roughly.

And of course, we can’t forget the car’s record-smashing 7:50 time around the Nurburgring, a testament to not only its high level of output, but effective aero set-up as well.

Engine type: Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder
Peak output: 306 HP @ 6,500 RPM
Peak torque: 295 LB-FT @ 2,500-4,500 RPM
Transmission type: Six-speed manual
Drive type: FWD
0-to-60 mph time: 5.4 seconds (est.)
Top speed: 168 mph

Focus RS

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior
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Helping to produce all that output is a low-inertia twin-scroll turbocharger equipped with an enlarged compressor wheel.

Planted in the nose of the RS is another inline four-cylinder, just like the Civic However, the Blue Oval bests the Civic on displacement by 300 cc’s with 2.3 liters total. The Focus RS’s EcoBoost engine is similar to what Ford uses in the Mustang, with all-aluminum construction and turbocharged aspiration, although in the Focus, the 2.3-liter sees a generous bump from the ‘Stang’s 305 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque.

Hit full boost in the Focus, and you’ll be enjoying 350 horses and 350 pound-feet of torque between 2,000 rpm and 4,500 rpm. Redline is set at 6,800 rpm. Helping to produce all that output is a low-inertia twin-scroll turbocharger equipped with an enlarged compressor wheel. The intercooler was also uprated, while the intake uses a low-restriction design. The exhaust is less restrictive thanks to larger-bore pipes, and there’s an electronically controlled exhaust valve to let you vary the decibel levels as needed.

The RS can manage a run to 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds. Top speed is clocked at 165 mph.

The engine heads are made from a special high-temp metal alloy, and come complemented by a stronger head gasket. The cylinder walls also get cast iron liners to keep all the boost under control. There’s direct fuel injection, independent variable cam timing, and even an automatic start/stop system to keep it somewhat green. Keeping it cool is a bigger radiator.

When it’s all said and done, the RS can manage a run to 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds. Top speed is clocked at 165 mph.

The rest of the drivetrain is composed of a six-speed manual gearbox. Appropriately, the three-pedal ‘box is the only transmission option on the table. Putting the power down is a race-bred AWD system, with twin electronically controlled clutch packs located on either side of the rear drive unit. Torque is split between the front and rear, and side to side. The result is impressive torque vectoring capabilities (more on that in a bit).

Engine type: Turbocharged 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder
Peak output: 350 HP
Peak torque: 350 LB-FT @ 2,000-4,500 RPM
Transmission type: Six-speed manual
Drive type: AWD
0-to-60 mph time: 4.7 seconds
Top speed: 165 mph

The Bottom Line

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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More than 20lbs of boost; less than six seconds to 62 mph
2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior
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Honda Civic Type R pictured on the left, Ford Focus RS pictured on the right.

While a bit limited in the available information concerning the Civic, it seems pretty obvious that the Focus RS offers more power, more torque, more grip, and faster straight-line acceleration. And that’s a pretty big deal in a segment where buyers are looking for maximum bang for their performance dollar.

Granted, there are several things to consider in the realm of performance outside the basic specs of peak power, max torque, and 0-to-60 mph time, and we’ll explore those aspects in the following section. However, for now, you can’t deny the raw unbridled muscle offered by the RS.

Chassis And Handling

Here’s that other most-important characteristic of the hot hatch segment – the way the car tackles an apex. Whether you’re into autocross, rally cross, circuit racing, or just spirited outings on a deserted mountain pass, a car’s chassis and handling characteristics can make all the difference in a purchase. With that in mind, this section will outline the way each of these competitors manages the bends, as well as a few things that other reviewers are saying about their experience behind the wheel.

Civic Type R

Both the chassis and suspension were honed on the infamous Nurburgring race circuit, one of the most challenging and demanding strings of tarmac in the world.

Peel back all the wings and aero, and you’ll find the new Type R is equipped with a more rigid body than before. Thanks to upgrades like a new structural adhesive, as well as liberal use of ultra-high-strength steel (14 percent of the body now uses the stuff), Honda managed to increase torsional rigidity by an ample 38 percent, while bending rigidity was upped by 45 percent. While obviously useful for keeping the car stable while performing high-speed maneuvers, the increased rigidity should help boost interior comfort as well.

Essentially, a more rigid body enables the suspension components to do their job more effectively, soaking up bumps and road irregularities. And while a little extra interior comfort is a happy byproduct of this enhancement, the whole shebang was obviously tuned for one specific purpose – going very, very fast.

It’s no easy feat to translate over 300 horses through the front wheels alone – you inevitably get wicked torque steer. To mitigate this, the Civic uses a Dual-Axis front suspension set-up.

Both the chassis and suspension were honed on the infamous Nurburgring race circuit, one of the most challenging and demanding strings of tarmac in the world. As such, the Type R gets exclusive bits and pieces to keep it all tidy when slinging through the corners, including the unique springs, dampers, and bushings.

One of the biggest issues with a vehicle like the Civic Type R is the way it turns all that output into forward momentum. Basically, it’s no easy feat to translate over 300 horses through the front wheels alone – you inevitably get wicked torque steer, wherein the engine’s torque will seemingly jerk the wheel to either side when applying the throttle.

Making the most of the available traction is a helical limited-slip differential, which splits the power up front as appropriate.

Clearly, that ain’t good, especially if you’re dancing on the ragged edge in a turn. With that in mind, the Civic mitigates the effects of torque steer using something called a Dual-Axis front suspension set-up. Through the use of specially designed aluminum lower control arms and steering knuckles, the Civic manages to become more tractable at the limits of grip. And that’s very good.

Keeping the tail in line is an independent multi-link suspension set-up. The rest of the suspension spec includes a trick new Adaptive Suspension system at all four corners, plus three-chamber air dampers. These units utilize individual stroke sensors and three individual G sensors to self-adjust and give the appropriate response in whatever conditions you might find yourself in, be it cruising on a bumpy road, or attacking a glass-smooth racetrack.

Under the split-fork multi-spoke rollers, you’ll find huge brakes from everyone’s favorite stopper brand, Brembo.

The steering uses a dual-pinion set-up with an electronically boosted power assist system. The steering was specifically retuned on the Type-R for high-end adaptive response, and it gets a variable ratio that tightens up the faster you go.

Making the most of the available traction is a helical limited-slip differential, which splits the power up front as appropriate. The wheels are plus-sized aluminum alloys mounted with performance-spec rubber from Continental. The compound is called ContiSportContact 6, a unique performance tire that Honda boasts was developed specifically for use on the Civic Type R.

Under the split-fork multi-spoke rollers, you’ll find huge brakes from everyone’s favorite stopper brand, Brembo. Up front, the Civic gets enormous 350 mm (13.8-inch) cross-drilled rotors, which get pinched by four-pot calipers made from aluminum and painted in red. In back are solid rotors measuring in at 305 mm (12 inches) with a solid construction design.

Per usual, the Civic is equipped with multiple driving modes to accommodate whatever conditions and driver’s predilections there might be. These are all pretty self-explanatory, and range between the default “Sport” mode, “Comfort” mode, and “+R” mode. Selecting between these from the cabin adjusts a variety of settings, including those for the steering response, throttle response, transmission auto-blip settings, Vehicle Stability Assist, and of course, the Adaptive Dampers.

Finally, the new Type R promises to be very lightweight, even compared to the previous Type R. Upgrades like a new aluminum hood, which alone cuts 35 pounds, help the new model achieve this end.

The new Type R promises to be very lightweight, even compared to the previous Type R.

For the moment, Honda has yet to divulge anything terribly specific on the new Type R’s curb weight. However, we do know it’ll be lighter than the old Type R (also known as the FK2), and that thing weighed in at 3,047 pounds. We also know that it should be lighter than the current tenth-generation Civic hatchback, and that tips the scales between 3,003 and 2,815 pounds.

So assuming the Type R is at least as light as the lowest-weight standard model Civic, plus a little extra off the top, we’re gonna speculate that the new Civic Type R weighs roughly 2,750 pounds. Maybe. More on why that’s important in a little bit.

As far as the experience behind the wheel goes, we have yet to see a report from any journalist about how the new Type R feels on the track. However, we can look to previous model years for a few clues as to what it should feel like, such as this brief recap from CarThrottle.

“In practice, the Type R is astonishingly fast, physics-defying, even. Front-end grip is mesmerizing and hard turn-in can cause your brain fluid to slosh to one side (humans haven’t evolved far enough to feature dry sumps). In the wet, though, 306 bhp going through the front wheels doesn’t bode well.”

Ford Focus RS

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When it comes to the way the RS gets around corners, there’s one enormous headline that you simply can’t ignore – Drift Mode. In addition to the other standard driving modes onboard the RS (“Normal” mode, “Sport” mode, “Track” mode), Drift Mode stands out as industry first. Switch it on, and even your grandma will be able to perform long, smokey sideways powerslides in the same style as all those gymkhana videos you obsess over. Oh yeah, baby.

Making such miracles possible is an advanced AWD system and Dynamic Torque Vectoring system. The Torque Vectoring uses the brakes to adjust how much twist is put to the pavement at each corner, and when you combine it with an AWD system capable of sending 70 percent of the available torque to the rear, and 100 percent of rear torque to either the left or right wheel, the result is this –

2016 Ford Focus RS - Driving Impressions High Resolution Exterior
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The system should go a long way towards killing the terminal understeer that’s so common amongst high-powered AWD performance applications.

That said, if you prefer to drive within the limits of grip, rather than over them, Ford says the RS call pull more than 1 lateral G on the skidpad. Helping it achieve this number out on the track is a host of sensors, which monitor various things like pitch, body roll, throttle input, and steering angle to help all four tires grip with tenacity when needed. The system should also go a long way towards killing the terminal understeer that’s so common amongst high-powered AWD performance applications.

Of course, the sport-tuned suspension also goes a long way in achieving that goal as well. Developed with input from the Hoon Master General and energy drink mascot Ken Block, the RS also incorporates adaptive components, similar to the Civic. The steering is kept sharp thanks to a new front suspension knuckle design that’s now more rigid, also incorporating shorter-link arms for better response.

The RS was developed with input from the Hoon Master General and energy drink mascot, Ken Block.

Speaking of steering, the RS uses an electrically assisted power set-up. Grip (or smoke, as the case may warrant) is courtesy of Michelin, which worked directly with the Blue Oval to develop a unique iteration of the Pilot Super Sport compound for the Focus’ mammoth wheels. As an option, you can swap out the standard rubber for an even more aggressive Pilot Sport Cup 2 compound. Tire sizing comes in at 235/35R19.

Once again, Brembo is called upon to make it all stop, while an Advanced Electronic Stability Control system keeps it somewhat safe.

But what is it like to actually drive this thing? Car And Driver offers some insight in comparing it to the FWD Ford Focus ST.

“Upping the pace on Lommel’s longer corners demonstrates that, at the point when the front end of a Focus ST would start to run wide, the RS’s clever rear end starts to help out and bring the car back onto your chosen line. The rear wheels are driven slightly faster than the fronts under hard cornering, creating some of the same sense of edginess you get in a powerful rear-drive car.”

The reviewer from Car And Driver goes on to add that if you push beyond the limits of grip, the RS will stay neutral in Normal mode, start to step the rear out in Sport mode, and allow controllable power oversteer in Track mode.

The Bottom Line

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior
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Honda Civic Type R pictured on the left, Ford Focus RS pictured on the right.

I’ll be the first to admit it – Drift Mode is awesome. What a cool feature! I love the simple philosophy behind it, which basically goes something like this: “Hey! Driving sideways is fun! Push this button and try it out!”

So there’s that. But here’s the truth – while ridiculous slides are fun and a surefire smile-generator, they’re not exactly the quickest way to drive. Put more bluntly, Drift Mode is slow.

Here’s the truth – while ridiculous slides are fun and a surefire smile-generator, they’re not exactly the quickest way to drive.

So while the Focus does offer AWD grip and/or non-grip shenanigans, it seems like a pretty blunt instrument compared to the razor-sharp Type R. The FWD Honda doesn’t use all-wheel trickery to help it go, but rather, it relies on decades of tuning experience to make it simply bite the front end and go.

What’s more, the Type R is lighter, another quality inherent to the efficient packaging of a FWD layout. For the moment, we can’t tell you exactly how much lighter the Honda is compared to the Ford, but we can guess – if the new Type R weighs in around 2,750 pounds, it’ll be over 700 pounds lighter than the 3,459-pound Focus RS.

The Type R is lighter, another quality inherent to the efficient packaging of a FWD layout.

That’s a huge amount of weight for this segment, and should help to make the Civic much more interesting at the limits of grip, with more tossable characteristics, and potentially faster lap times as well.

So really, the handling could be broken down like this – the RS offers tons of AWD grip, with a more approachable drivetrain and set-up that’ll work wonders even in less-than-ideal conditions, and with less-than-ideal drivers.

If the Focus RS is a hammer, the Civic Type R is a scalpel.

But if the Focus RS is a hammer, the Civic Type R is a scalpel. It’s more involved than the Ford, requiring a sharper driver to wring out every tenth, with less weight to hold it down in the corners. On a real racetrack, the Honda is surely a giant killer.

So which do you prefer? Grip, or sharpness?

The Intangibles

While listing all the numbers and picking through the facts can be a worthwhile exercise, at the end of the day, these machines are so much more than that. In this section, we’ll take a look at the things you won’t learn by looking at a spec sheet.

Civic Type R

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior
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The debut of the new Honda Civic Type R is a momentous thing for fans of the H badge, and indeed, fans of fast cars in general, as well. This model marks the first Type R’d Honda to ever make it to the U.S. (the Integra Type R doesn’t count because it was technically an Acura). What’s more, this tuned-up tenth-gen model is framed as the “most powerful, quickest, fastest and most agile Civic ever.”

Those are bold terms, but Honda isn’t known for making boasts it can’t back up. Finally, the baddest Civic of them all is here, and it’s bringing with it all those associations you’d expect – exceptional prowess in the bends, absurd amounts of power at the front wheels, boisterous exterior styling, and endless JDM attitude. Pair all that goodness with Honda’s reputation for making simply bulletproof and utterly reliable cars, and the Civic Type R is the dream machine for countless fans.

Focus RS

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior
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Not to be outdone, the Focus RS has plenty to brag about as well. Framed as the most powerful production Focus ever produced, the new RS is essentially the third generation in a long line of RS’d models, stretching all the way back to 1970 with the Escort RS1600, while also including the Sierra RS Cosworth from 1985, and the Escort RS Cosworth from 1992. Like its predecessors, the modern RS Focus hails from the brutal world of professional rally racing, a place where toughness and tenacity are requisites for success. But the new Focus RS goes beyond the trials and tribulations of rally, exploring the upper limits of the segment with simply incredible power potential and unending emphasis on going faster. If ever there was a muscle car in the world of sport compact AWD hatchbacks, this is it.

Pricing And Options

The new Honda Civic Type R will go on sale sometime in “late spring,” and will sell for around $35,000. Only one trim level (the Touring) will be offered.

The Ford Focus RS is available for purchase right now, and gets an MSRP of $36,120. Like the Civic, only one trim level is offered. Options include the Winter Tire & Wheel Package ($1,995), the interior comfort-oriented RS2 Package ($2,785), a power moonroof ($895), and more.

Conclusion

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior
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2016 Ford Focus RS
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At the end of the day, both of these machines are absolutely epic. Both are covered head to toe in performance, and can not only talk the talk, but walk the walk – well. I seriously can’t see anyone that’s looking for an enthusiast-oriented hatchback walking away unhappy with either the Focus RS or the Civic Type R.

However, we did set out to find out how Honda could justify the Type R in the face of the Focus RS. After all, on paper, the Focus seems like the winner – it offers more power, more grip, and Drift Mode. So where’s the key to all this? How can Honda ask for the same amount of money for the FWD Civic? Why Type R when you can AWD Drift Mode? The answer, it would seem, can be found on the track.

Why Type R when you can AWD Drift Mode? The answer, it would seem, can be found on the track.

While there are numerous similarities, including the asking price, the body style, the turbocharged power, and the high-performance attitude, these cars are actually quite different. If it’s sheer outright grunt that you’re looking for, where bragging rights in the 0-to-60 mph sprint, quarter mile times, and dyno chart runs reign supreme, then Ford is your answer. The Focus is brutally fast, and should lay down exceptional lap times no matter the conditions. If you want the maximum bang for your performance dollar, here it is.

However, if it’s agility, dexterity, and driver involvement that you’re after, the Civic is the one to get. In the dry, with a decent talent in the hot seat, the lightweight Type R should give the RS a serious run for its money, especially on faster tracks where aero is a factor. This thing is a corner eater, ready to take on the world’s circuits with blistering lap times, whether it’s your local cone-lined parking lot, or the infamous Nurburgring.

If you want the maximum bang for your performance dollar, the RS is it. But at the same time, the Type R is looking like an unbelievable corner eater, whether it’s your local cone-lined parking lot, or the infamous Nurburgring.

The Type R has other things going for it as well, such as a more exciting exterior, and a much sleeker interior. At a local show and shine event, it’s the H badge that’s gonna be turning heads.

Of course, all this changes as soon as it starts to rain, or you venture into the world of racing in the dirt, at which time the RS hits back with full force.

In the end, these two cars cater to two different groups of fans. Sure, there’s plenty of overlap, but to the enthusiast who’s been waiting years to see either the RS or Type R on these shore, the answer of which to buy is already crystal clear.

Other Options And Cars Worth Waiting For

So then – what if neither of these machines tickles your fancy? If that’s the case, then perhaps one of the following alternatives will speak to you.

Volkswagen Golf R

2016 Volswagen Golf R - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2016 Volswagen Golf R - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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While it may look a bit more grownup compared to the Focus RS and Civic Type R, but the Golf R is certainly no snooze to drive. Up front is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine making 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, all of which hits the ground through a standard 4Motion AWD system fed by either a six-speed manual, or a quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic. There’s also Dynamic Chassis Control and a variety of different driving modes to help it handle.

Read the full review here.

Subaru WRX STI

2018 Subaru WRX STI High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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2018 Subaru WRX STI High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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When it comes to turbocharged sport compact performance, it would be a mistake to leave the WRX out of the conversation. Rocking a boosted 2.5-liter boxer flat-four engine and full-time Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, the fastest-of-them-all Scooby provides the sort of experience expected from a top-of-the-line pocket rocket. Unfortunately, Subaru axed the WRX hatchback a while ago, which means we’re stuck with the sedan for now.

Read the full review here.

Hyundai i30 N

2018 Hyundai i30 N Exterior Exclusive Renderings Computer Renderings and Photoshop
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While we have yet to see this thing without tons of camo plastered all over it, the Hyundai i30 N is already looking like it’s gonna be a lot of fun. Previewed in a wintery, snow-filled short video featuring professional rally talent Thierry Neuville, the i30 N is expected to come equipped with a turbo 2.0-liter engine, pointy wing-laden exterior, and stiff sport suspension. Hopefully we’ll get more info on it soon.

Read the full review here.

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