Small dimensions, big attitude

Small cars can be really, really fun. Sure, it’s not uncommon to see the compact segment associated with less than thrilling prospects, such as commuter mules and plain-old boring A-to-B transport, but if you do it right, the pairing of diminutive size and low curb weight can be the right recipe to make something thrilling, something to get your juices flowing. Whether it’s attacking cones at the autocross, slinging dirt on a rally cross course, zipping between the apexes on the road course, or charging up a deserted mountain road on the weekends, a sport compact is the right fit for a wide range of speed lovers. This is the realm of the pocket rocket, a giant slayer with a mean little attitude and a whole lot of potential. If you like mixing your performance with a compact body style, there are lots of options out there. Here’s the top five.

For this comparison, we chose the following entries – the Ford Focus RS, Honda Civic Type R, Mini Cooper Hardtop John Cooper Works, Subaru WRX STI, and Volkswagen Golf R. All are turbocharged and slot in around the $35,000 mark. While there are other options available, these are some of the most popular. As such, we looked at the styling and aero, interior comfort and convenience, engine and drivetrain, chassis and handling, and of course, the price and optional equipment. We also looked at some of the more intangible characteristics of each entry.

Are you looking to get into a new sport compact? Read on for the info you need to know.

Continue reading for a breakdown of five of the best pocket rockets.

Looks, Styling, And Aero

What looks good? What gets your attention? Do you want to be noticed, or is your style a little subtler? Both approaches are well represented here.

1) Ford Focus RS

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior
- image 664686

The Ford Focus RS is a great visual example of the typical sport compact offering. It looks somewhat similar to what you get with the regular Focus model, albeit with expanded bits and bobs to help it go fast, look good, and stay cool.

In terms of aerodynamics, Ford focused primarily on reducing lift at speed, while also keeping the various hot bits nice and chilly. The result isn’t the craziest styling you’ll see in this segment, but it’s definitely still aggressive.

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior
- image 664685
The result isn’t the craziest styling you’ll see in this segment, but it’s definitely still aggressive.

The exterior gets a five-door hatchback profile, with a trapezoidal front intake bisected by a large matte-black bar across the middle. The lights are pointed and a bit narrow, while the front fenders are flared out to accommodate the plus-sized 19-inch wheels in all four corners. The rollers are multi-spoke units finished in a black color, and look good as an offset to the exterior body panels when rocking a lighter body color shade. Customers can choose between four different exterior paint options, including Nitrous Blue metallic, Stealth Grey, Absolute Black, and Frozen White.

In back, you’ll find a large spoiler with an RS logo embossed on the endplates, plus additional curves in the diffuser. The exhaust consists of two rounded tips.

Ford also boasts that the RS offers 9 percent less drag than previous models, despite its zero lift properties.

Read our full review here.

2) Honda Civic Type R

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior
- image 708054

Without a doubt, the Civic is one of the most visually striking options on the table. Based on the already eye-catching tenth-generation Civic hatchback, the Civic Type R adds to the base model’s approach with a host of aero add-ons, giving it a futuristic, high-tech appearance. Many folks deride the Civic for being too busy, and while it’s certainly a justifiable criticism, others enjoy the wild look all the same.

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior
- image 710675
Centered, triple exhaust outlets - a first
Many folks deride the Civic for being too busy, and while it’s certainly a justifiable criticism, others enjoy the wild look all the same.

A five-door hatchback style can be found under all the various wings, vortex generators, spoilers and diffusers. The angles are all hard, with deep creases and cuts front to back. The paint is offset by thin red stripes everywhere, which add an extra layer of horizontal layers to it. There are also the requisite red H badges in the nose and tail, plus the usual Type R insignia. The fenders in front are flared out, which help to accommodate enormous 20-inch wheels that fill the space. The rollers get a twin-spoke design, plus red striping along the lower edge. LEDs are used for the lighting, and there are three exhaust tips mounted centrally in back.

At the end of the day, the Civic Type R is all about aero. The large rear wing and smooth underbody both contribute to the cars’ high-speed stability, a characteristic tested and refined at the Nurburgring.

Read our full review here.

3) Mini Cooper Hardtop JCW

2015 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop Exterior
- image 585549
The Mini JCW Hardtop is here with a redesigned body, roomier cabin and a ton more power. Check it out at TopSpeed.com.

The Mini Cooper Hardtop John Cooper Works is also a bit of a peacock, but in a different fashion compared to the Civic Type R. While the Honda product is about technical flash and hard angles, the Mini is more prone to refined, premium British good looks, calling on the design found on the old model that was around before BMW bought the brand.

2015 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop High Resolution Exterior
- image 585532
The Mini also gets an absolutely huge amount of customization options.

That means more straight lines, but the Mini also gets an absolutely huge amount of customization options. There are 11 different colors for the exterior paint (including five non-metallic options and six metallic options), a variety of finishes for the roof and side view mirror caps (including chrome, black checkered, a Union Jack, and carbon fiber look), plus multiple wheel designs (standard sizing is 17 inches and goes up to 18-inches), stripes, chrome details, and four different trim colors. An optional aero kit is also offered, as is a moonroof.

The Mini also gets unique JCW badging, white turn signals, standard LED headlights, heated side-view mirrors, a rain sensor, and automatic lights. Further options include rear fog lights, cornering lights in the headlights, and auto-dimming/power-folding side-view mirrors.

Read our full review here.

4) Subaru WRX STI

2018 Subaru WRX STI High Resolution Exterior
- image 700139
Subaru WRX STI- $36,095

Over the course of the past few generations, the Subaru WRX has made solid strides towards improving its look, and while the WRX is still rather squarish, it definitely looks a whole lot better than when it first arrived on these shores.

The latest model gets more edges, plus C-shaped headlights and plumped-up front fenders. Ahead of the windshield is the requisite hood scoop to feed the top-mount intercooler, below which is a bisected front grille with an STI badge in one corner. The bumper corners get fog lamps, while there are standard LED headlights with an automatic on/off function. A power tilt and sliding moonroof is at the top.

2018 Subaru WRX STI High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
- image 702506
Ahead of the windshield is the requisite hood scoop to feed the top-mount intercooler.

The profile still looks like a brick, and is emphasized by the squared-off front fenders, but the wheels are a cool 18-inch multi-spoke design from BBS finished in black. The side-view mirrors are body colored and get a heating function.

In back is the usual boy racer wing, plus LED taillights. Further aero enhancements include a front underspoiler, a rear underspoiler, and a diffuser.

Read our full review here.

5) Volkswagen Golf R

2016 Volkswagen Golf R High Resolution Exterior
- image 613744

The Volkswagen Golf R is a bit more low-key compared to lots of the other options on this list, at least as far as styling is concerned. At the heart of it is the same old Volkswagen Golf, one of the most recognizable shapes in the world of compacts, complete in all its five-door glory. On top is added extras like an R-specific grille, bumpers, and side skirts, taking the classic hot hatch a step beyond the famous GTI. Still, it’s all kind of a square, although it’s not quite as brick-ish as the WRX STI. The drag coefficient is similar though, rated at 0.32.

There are chrome strip across the nose, connecting the LED daytime running lights under the main projectors. Those units up front use bi-xenon lighting elements and an adaptive lighting system with an automatic on/off feature.

2016 Volkswagen Golf R High Resolution Exterior
- image 613745
The profile incorporates large Pretoria wheels using a split-fork design and made with an alloy construction.

The profile incorporates large Pretoria wheels using a split-fork design and made with an alloy construction. Sizing comes in at 19 inches in diameter and 8 inches in width. Multiple styles are offered. The side-view mirrors get a heating function.

In back are quad exhaust pipes, two per side, with polished metal for the finish. There’s also a rear diffuser and integrated rear spoiler, plus an LED rear license plate light. Exterior color options include Lapiz Blue Metallic, Deep Black Pearl, Tornado Red, Limestone Gray Metallic, and Oryx White.

Read our full review.

Exterior Dimensions

Ford Focus RS Volkswagen Golf R Honda Civic Type R Subaru WRX STI Mini JCW
Wheelbase (Inches) 104.3 103.5 TBA 104.3 101.1
Length (Inches) 171.7 168.4 TBA 180.9 158
Width (Inches) 71.7 70.8 TBA 70.7 68
Height (Inches) 58.4 56.5 TBA 58.1 56.1
Track front/rear (Inches) 61.2/60.4 60.7/59.7 TBA 60.2/60.6 58.5/58.5

Interior, Comfort, And Convenience

Performance cues in this segment aren’t relegated to exterior wings and flashy paint – the interior space is also ripe for supporting the speed.

1) Ford Focus RS

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Interior
- image 615130

The Focus RS starts with all the usual sport compact goodies. The baseline is an everyday commuter layout, but to this Ford added a nice assortment of enthusiast gear, starting with a leather-clad flat-bottom multi-function steering wheel, plus metal sport pedals. The seats are well bolstered and get blue contrast stitching that matches the steering wheel and floor mats, while RS badging was added to the shifter, seat backs, steering wheel, and kick plates.

Behind the wheel is an RS-specific gauge cluster, with blue dials and white numbering, plus a top-center mounted driver’s information readout. On the dash is a trio of gauges for boost, oil temp, and oil pressure.

The center console gets an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment purposes, run by the Ford SYNC system with navigation and phone support. There’s also the option for a rearview camera, park distance control, and a premium Sony sound system with 10 speakers, including a subwoofer.

2) Honda Civic Type R

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Interior
- image 708056
The interior get's the usual red treatment and sports seats

The Civic Type R is a bit more spruced-up than the Ford, rocking even more goodies, performance cues, and the associated gear of going fast. The whole thing is decked-out in a red-and-black color scheme, including the suede covering the bolstered sports seats seats, while the rest of the trim, outlines, and push button starter surround are also in red. This color carries over to the gauges, which include a large center-mounted tachometer, and further complimentary H badges.

Leather is used for the steering wheel and shift boot, while aluminum was used for the sport pedals and shift knob. In the dash is a Display Audio touchscreen measuring in at 7.0-inches, plus a Honda navigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, SiriusXM 2.0, HD Radio, and Pandora app support. Making the music is a 12-speaker audio system with 540 watts of power.

3) Mini Cooper Hardtop JCW

2015 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop Interior
- image 585545

Like its exterior design, the Mini Cooper brings a very distinct look to its cabin space. There are enormous rounded dial and gauges, plus lots of premium touches scattered in myriad places. The seats are six-way adjustable buckets with carbon black leatherette as standard, but buyers can opt for more comfortable seats if desired.

A variety of materials are offered, such as genuine leather, and there are a variety of finishes as well. Standard spec includes a three-spoke steering wheel with multi-function controls, piano black center console trim, automatic climate control, a toggle switch ignition, Bluetooth, and USB connections.

On the options list you’ll find heated front seats, chrome trim, cottonwood trim, carbon fiber trim, plus extra storage compartments. There’s also an optional heads-up display, rearview camera, Active Driving Assist, and adjustable mood lighting.

4) Subaru WRX STI

2018 Subaru WRX STI High Resolution Interior
- image 700151

Inside the cabin of the WRX STI, Subaru added leather here and there, seen prominently on the steering wheel and shift boot. Elsewhere, the material mixes evenly with Alcantara. The seats use a six-way manual adjustment for the driver, while both front sitters get big bolsters. The pedals use an aluminum backing with rubber studs for grip.

Start the car, and you’ll be treated to a full needle sweep and illumination show.

The instrumentation is analog, while between the main dials is a 3.5-inch LCD color driver’s information screen, used for the digital trip computer and multi-function display. Start the car, and you’ll be treated to a full needle sweep and illumination show. There’s also automatic dual-zone climate control, and the option for keyless entry and a push-button starter.

Mounted in the center console is a 7.0-inch Starlink Multimedia system with navigation, while music is pumped out from a six-speaker stereo. You can also get an upgraded system from Harman Kardon with nine speakers and 440 watts of power, if desired.

5) Volkswagen Golf R

2016 Volkswagen Golf R High Resolution Interior
- image 613735

The Volkswagen Golf R gets a somewhat more mature look and layout, with an overall sense of premium fit and finish throughout. The upholstery is trimmed in black leather, while the bucket seats get large side bolsters and an R logo embossed into the seatbacks. Keeping your buns warm is a heating function, and there’s 12-way power adjustability for the driver’s seats.

Leather also wraps the multifunction steering wheel, while aluminum was used for the footrest and pedals. Leatherette was added to the doors, and carbon-look trim plus piano black trim is found elsewhere.

There’s also a performance monitor to keep tabs on your speed.

Infotainment is handled by Car-Net and App-Connect running through a central touchscreen in the dash. Premium audio pumps the tunes, aided by SiriusXM radio and complementary 3-month subscription. There’s also a performance monitor to keep tabs on your speed.

Behind the steering wheel is a tachometer on the left and a speedometer on the right, with a driver’s information display in the middle. There’s Bluetooth support, a USB port, and voice control, plus keyless entry and a push-button starter, not to mention support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Ambient lighting and LED reading lights keep it illuminated.

Helping it all stay safe is Front Assist, which monitors traffic ahead and issues warnings for potential dangers, such as stopped cars. It can also call into action the Autonomous Braking if needed. A blind spot monitor is also onboard, as is rear traffic alert, lane assist, adaptive cruise control, and a parking pilot.

Interior Dimensions

Ford Focus RS Volkswagen Golf R Honda Civic Type R Subaru WRX STI Mini JCW
Headroom front/rear (Inches) 39.1/37.9 38.4/38.1 TBA 39.8/37.1 39.9/37.5
Leg room front/rear (Inches) 41.9/33.4 41.2/35.6 TBA 43.3/35.4 41.4/32.3
Shoulder room front/rear (Inches) 55.6/52.6 55.9/53.9 TBA 55.6/54.2 51.2/49.6
Hip Room front/rear (Inches) 53.9/52.8 NA TBA 52.1/53.1 N/A
Cargo Volume seats up/down (cu ft) 23.8/44.8 22.8/52.7 TBA 12 13.1/40.7

Engine, Drivetrain, And Speed

This is where the real “sport” in sport compact starts to manifest. What makes it go, and how much go can be had?

1) Ford Focus RS

2016 Ford Focus RS
- image 702708

The Focus is equipped with a turbocharged, all-aluminum, 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder engine – the same EcoBoost powerplant Ford used on the Mustang. Output comes in at 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque between 2,000 and 4,500 rpm. Redline is set at 6,800 rpm.

Standout features include a low-inertia twin-scroll turbocharger with a larger compressor wheel. There’s also a larger intercooler, a low-restriction intake and exhaust, and an electronically controlled exhaust valve.

The heads use a high-temp metal alloy, while cast iron cylinder liners keep it from going pop. Direct fuel injection, independent variable cam timing, and an automatic start/stop system keep it green. A six-speed manual gearbox handles the cogs.

With the high-performance AWD system working hard, including twin electronically controlled clutch packs and a full torque vectoring system, the RS can go 0-to-60 mph in 4.7 seconds, while hitting a top speed of 165 mph

2) Honda Civic Type R

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior
- image 708060
More Aggressive and Sporty

Like the previous Civic Type R, this latest iteration is equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine rocking direct injection and VTEC. Mated to this is a six-speed manual transmission with an auto-blip throttle downshift feature, plus a single-mass flywheel with 25-percent lower clutch inertia, and a lower final gear.

The engine makes 306 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque between 2,500 and 4,500 rpm, all of which is dumped to the front axle. Top speed comes in at 168 mph. No word yet on the 0-to-60 mph time, but we’re guessing it’s somewhere in the vicinity of 5.4 seconds.

3) Mini Cooper Hardtop JCW

2015 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop High Resolution Exterior
- image 585538

Powering the Mini is an all-aluminum turbo 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine, which produces upwards of 228 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 236 pound-feet 1,250 rpm, all at the front wheels. Routing that output is a standard six-speed manual transmission, although a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters is optional. Drivers get multiple driving modes to choose from, including Sport mode, Green mode, and a Mid mode for a mix between the two extremes of Sport and Green. Properly motivated, the Mini can go 0-to-60 mph in 6 seconds flat, while continuing on to a top speed of 153 mph.

4) Subaru WRX STI

2018 Subaru WRX STI High Resolution Drivetrain AutoShow
- image 702529

The classic loping Subaru exhaust note is courtesy of a turbocharged 2.5-liter boxer engine, which is boosted thanks to an intercooled 14.7 psi of turbo breathing. Output comes in at 305 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, plus 290 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. Routing the output is a standard six-speed manual transmission with close ratios, which feeds a Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system.

Making the most of the grip is the Subaru Intelligent Drive system, or SI-Drive, which offers three independent driving modes that modify the ECU and throttle response. There’s also a Driver Controlled Center Differential (a.k.a. the DCCD), which uses an electronically managed multi-plate transfer clutch and planetary-gear-type center differential in conjunction with a mechanical limited-slip differential to vary torque between the front and rear axles. This also comes with multiple drive modes, which can send 41 percent of available torque to the front and 59 percent to the rear, all while monitoring things like wheel slippage, steering angle, and throttle position.

5) Volkswagen Golf R

2016 Volkswagen Golf R Drivetrain
- image 613730

Powering the VW of this group is a turbo 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder TSI engine. Standout features include intercooling, double overhead cams, variable intake and exhaust timing, a cast iron block, aluminum crossflow heads, a forged steel crankshaft, and a 9.6:1 compression ratio. Output is rated at 292 horsepower at 5,400 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque at 1,800 rpm.

Routing the output to the ground is a 4Motion AWD system, which is biased towards the front in terms of power delivery. Haldex provides the center differential, while a six-speed transmission makes the cog swaps. This six-speed can be had as either a manual or a DSG automatic, with the auto box being the quicker of the two options. Wind it out and you’ll see 0-to-60 mph in less than five seconds.

Ford Focus RS Volkswagen Golf R Honda Civic Type R Subaru WRX STI Mini JCW
Engine 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder 2.0-liter turbocharged i-VTEC four-cylinder turbocharged 2.5-liter boxer 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower 350 HP @ 6,000 RPM 292 HP @ 5,400 RPM 306 HP @ 6,500 RPM 305 HP @ 6,000 RPM 228 HP @ 6,000 RPM
Torque 350 LB-FT @ 3,200 RPM 280 LB-FT @ 1,800 RPM 295 LB-FT @ 7,000 RPM 290 LB-FT @ 4,000 RPM 236 LB-FT @ 1,250 RPM
Transmission 6-Speed Manual 6-Speed Manual 6-Speed Manual 6-speed manual 6-speed manual
Weight 3,525 Lbs 3,283 Lbs TBA 3,391 Lbs 2,895 Lbs
Fuel economy city/highway/combined 19/25/22 22/31/25 TBA 17/23/19 23/32/26
0 to 60 mph 4.6 seconds 5.2 seconds TBA 4.7 seconds 6 seconds
Top Speed 165 mph 155 mph TBA 159 mph 153 mph

Chassis And Handling

Small size and low weight make for a fantastic starting point to help a car handle well. How does each of these entries fare in the corners, and how do they do it?

1) Ford Focus RS

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior
- image 664708

If there were one defining characteristic of the Focus RS, it would have to be the infamous “Drift Mode” setting, which manages to turn the hatch into a tail-out hoon machine. Other driving modes include “Normal,” “Sport,” and “Track.” Helping the Ford accomplish its grip/slide split personality is a high-performance AWD system with Dynamic Torque Vectoring, a brake-based system that can send up to 70 percent of available torque to the rear axle, and up to 100 percent of available rear torque to either the right or left wheel.

If you choose to grip rather than smoke, you’ll be able to pull over 1 G on the skidpad courtesy of tires from Michelin.

If you choose to grip rather than smoke, you’ll be able to pull over 1 G on the skidpad courtesy of tires from Michelin. Dubbed the Pilot Super Sport compound, these tires were specifically designed for the Focus RS. Alternatively, you can also get into the optional Pilot Sport Cup 2 compound for more aggressive response, if desired.

The rest of the suspension includes a new front knuckle design with rigid, shorter-link arms, plus adaptive settings for various components. Brembo brakes are used for stops, while Advanced Electronic Stability Control keeps it all tracking straight.

2) Honda Civic Type R

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior
- image 708052

The new Civic Type R improves on the old thanks to a more rigid body, which now incorporates advanced structural adhesive and ultra-high strength steel throughout, upping torsional rigidity by 38 percent and bending rigidity by 45 percent. The suspension also uses unique springs, dampers, and bushings for a sportier ride.

One of the biggest issues for the Type R’s performance is its the FWD layout. It can be difficult to make 300 horsepower useful when its put through the front axle alone, but thankfully, Honda has lots of experience in this area. To mitigate torque steer, the Civic gets a Dual-Axis front suspension set-up, which incorporates specially designed aluminum lower control arms and steering knuckles. Meanwhile, the rear suspension uses an independent multi-link set-up. There are adaptive components as well, with three-chamber air dampers that adjust their settings according to stroke sensors and G sensors.

The steering is a dual-pinion, electronically boosted set-up with a variable ratio. Extra traction is made by a Helical limited-slip differential, complemented by ContiSportContact 6 tires that were developed specifically for the Type R. Large Brembo brakes with 13.8-inch rotors and four-pot calipers are in front, while the rear gets 12-inch rotors. There are multiple driving modes included as well, such as “Sport,” “Comfort,” and “+R.” “Sport” is the default setting.

3) Mini Cooper Hardtop JCW

2015 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop High Resolution Exterior
- image 585531

The Mini is also limited in its power delivery, sending output exclusively to the front wheels. However, lower output means it doesn’t have to be quite as tricky as the Honda to keep it going the direction you want it to. Up front, you’ll find a MacPherson strut set-up, while the rear gets a multi-link set-up.

Standard spec includes a sport tune to help the Mini feel like a “go-kart,” which means stiffer components than the regular Mini, but you can opt into less aggressive components if you prefer something more comfortable. There’s also the option for dynamic damper control to complement multiple driving modes. Finally, the Mini gets an electronic performance control and electronic differential lock to top it off.

4) Subaru WRX STI

2018 Subaru WRX STI High Resolution Exterior
- image 700155

Up front, the Subaru uses an inverted strut type suspension and aluminum-alloy lower L-arm with pillow ball joint mount, plus an anti-roll bar, while in back there’s a double wishbone set-up and lateral link pillow ball joint bushing, also with an anti-roll bar. The individual components were tuned specifically for the STI as compared to the regular WRX model. The steering is a rack-and-pinion with a quick-ratio electric power assist. Stopping it all is a four-channel Brembo brake system, with four-pots in front and two-pots in the rear, plus 12.8-inch front discs and 12.4-inch rear discs. Brake Assist is installed if you panic-stop grenade the middle pedal. The wheels are 18 by 8.5 inches and made from aluminum alloy, while the tires are measured at 245/40R18. The whole thing weighs in at 3,391 pounds.

5) Volkswagen Golf R

2016 Volkswagen Golf R High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 613752

The Golf R gets four-wheel independent suspension with a MacPherson strut-type front set-up using lower control arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, and an anti-roll bar, while the rear uses a multilink, also with coil springs, telescopic dampers, and an anti-roll bar. An electronic Dynamic Chassis Control system offers a bit of in-cabin tunability with four individual driving modes, adjusting the adaptive dampers via sensors for wheel slippage, vehicle speed, and front and rear accelerometers. There’s also standard Electronic Stability Control.

The steering is a rack-and-pinion set-up with electromechanical boost and variable levels of assist. There are power-assisted brakes with 13.4-inch font discs and 12.2-inch rear discs. The wheels measure in at 19 by 8 inches and are made from a metal alloy. Wrapping the rollers are 235/35R19 summer performance tires. Finally, the Golf R weighs in at 3,283 pounds.

The Intangibles

Beyond the numbers, what kind of history and character do each of these cars bring with them?

1) Ford Focus RS

2016 Ford Focus RS - Driving Impressions High Resolution Exterior
- image 664749

The Focus RS follows a long line of high-performance RS models, including such notable examples as the Escort RS 1600 from 1970, the Sierra RS Cosworth from 1985, and the Escort RS Cosworth from 1992. As such, this top-of-the-line Focus brings with it a rally-bred attitude, and all the associated toughness and brutal speed associated with it. What’s more, the sheer firepower it’s rocking under the hood justifies its position as a bona fide compact hatchback muscle car.

2) Honda Civic Type R

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
- image 710678
400-pounds lighter than a Ford Focus RS

After decades of waiting, Honda performance fans residing in the U.S. will finally get a crack at one of the most coveted JDM performance machines of all time – the Civic Type R. While the Integra Type R may have preceded it, that model was technically an Acura, which makes the Civic the first Honda Type R ever sold over here. Honda frames it as the “most powerful, quickest, fastest and most agile Civic ever,” which means this thing is a real dream machine for legions of fans. And since it’s a Honda, it should be pretty much bulletproof reliable as well.

3) Mini Cooper Hardtop JCW

2015 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop High Resolution Exterior
- image 585529

The Mini is a nice mix of customization, premium feel and iconic style. Get it with the right options, and it’ll most definitely turn heads on the street. Without a doubt, this is one of the showiest models on this list. If you like accessories and really making a car your own, this is where to turn. Pair all that good stuff with decent performance and an upscale interior, and you have a sweet little package indeed.

4) Subaru WRX STI

2018 Subaru WRX STI High Resolution Exterior
- image 700154

These days, the WRX STI pretty much sets the standard when it comes to modern high-end compact performance. This turbo AWD rally machine has been in the states since the early 2000’s, and although it hasn’t changed a whole lot since it first arrived, it’s still an absolute monster in any conditions, on or off the road. This is definitely a real world speed maker, and like its rally predecessors, it’s tough too, able to take a beating and keep on ticking.

5) Volkswagen Golf R

2016 Volkswagen Golf R High Resolution Exterior
- image 613724

The Golf is an absolute classic in this segment, especially when you consider it all started with the FWD GTI model that was first released in the ‘70s. These days, you need more than the GTI can offer to hang with the big boys, so VW has given us the R as the tip of the Golf spear, framed as the raciest, the fastest, and most performance-oriented Golf of them all. Compared to the competition, the Golf R is a bit understated and a bit more grown up, but it’s still plenty quick. Get it with the DSG gearbox, and you’ll be cruising comfortably, while still having the option for a stint on the track or autocross to burn some rubber – when appropriate, of course.

Pricing And Options

Starting Price
Ford Focus RS $36,120
Honda Civic Type R $35,000 (est.)
Mini Cooper Hardtop JCW $30,900
Subaru WRX STI $35,195
Volkswagen Golf R $39,375

So then, what’s the damage? And how much is it for a little extra on top?

1) Ford Focus RS

2016 Ford Focus RS Exterior
- image 622226

The Ford Focus RS is available now with an MSRP of $36,120. Options include the Winter & Tire Wheel package ($1,995), the RS2 Package for a more comfortable cabin ($2,785), and a power moonroof ($895).

2) Honda Civic Type R

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior
- image 708057
The usual red badges and LED lights are in place

The Civic Type R will go on sale sometime in “late spring,” and will cost somewhere in the vicinity of $35,000. There will be only one trim level offered (the Touring). So far, Honda has yet to give us details on options, but we’re expecting an interior package for more tech and comfort, as well as more aggressive tires for greater performance.

3) Mini Cooper Hardtop JCW

2015 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop Interior
- image 585540

The Mini Cooper Hardtop JCW is available now and comes with an MSRP of $30,900. Options include the Cold Weather Package, which tosses in heated front seats. There’s also auto-dimming and powerfold mirrors ($750), the Technology Package with rear-view camera, park distance control, navigation system, real-time traffic info, and Mini Connected XL system ($2,000), and the Premium Package with a dual-plane panoramic sunroof, a Harman Kardon stereo, Comfort Access system, and extra storage ($1,800).

4) Subaru WRX STI

2018 Subaru WRX STI High Resolution Exterior
- image 700134

The Subaru WRX STI is available now, starting at $35,195. You can also opt for the more premium STI Limited, which gets an MSRP of $39,995. Options include carbon fiber trim, upgraded audio, splash guards, keyless access, improved infotainment, and a performance exhaust system.

5) Volkswagen Golf R

2016 Volkswagen Golf R Exterior
- image 613757

The mightiest Golf on the market starts at $39,375. Options include the DSG transmission, a replacement for the standard manual six-speed, which offers crisp shifting and improved acceleration figures for a $1,100 premium.

Conclusion

Give it to me quick and dirty – where does each model stand?

1) Ford Focus RS

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

In the chest of compact speed tools, the Focus RS is the big, heavy hammer. This thing is anything but delicate, and will destroy a track with unbridled levels of grip and power. This is definitely the one to go with if you adore Ken Block and his Gymkhana series on YouTube, bringing the attitude of a carpet bomber and the specs for ultimate bragging rights.

2) Honda Civic Type R

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior
- image 710676
First Civic Type R to be sold in the U.S.

Talk about a head turner. The Civic Type R looks otherworldly, and it’s got the performance to back the boy racer aesthetic appeal. While it might be FWD only, rest assured the Civic gets super sharp handling, plus a ton of aero that actually works at speed. This is the JDM lover’s choice, with all the goodies to give it the special feel of a factory-tuned icon.

3) Mini Cooper Hardtop JCW

2015 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop High Resolution Exterior
- image 585542

The Mini is all about having fun, keeping much of the performance of its rivals, without so much of the seriousness. This thing will just make you smile, no matter what. And while it’s not necessarily the fastest, it’ll still play if you toss it around a bit. It can also get a little expensive if you dig into all the extras, but it still offers the upscale feel to justify the extra outlay, especially in this segment.

4) Subaru WRX STI

2018 Subaru WRX STI High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
- image 702498

For the past decade, the STI has established itself as the new standard for turbocharged AWD goodness. In fact, this was one of the first models of the new age to pair race-bred four-cylinder power and rally-beating grip, a formula repeated quite often these days. If you want lots of go, you can’t really go wrong with the Scooby.

5) Volkswagen Golf R

2016 Volkswagen Golf R High Resolution Exterior
- image 613742

How can you not like the Golf? While the R isn’t the fastest option here, it’s certainly one of the best in terms of quality and premium feel. This is the car for those looking for something a little nicer than the traditional boy racer special, but still craving the speed. The upscale interior and handsome exterior are a nice pairing, with performance cues that don’t go overboard with flashiness. It’s a standout that still manages to fly under the radar – comparatively speaking, of course.

TopSpeed’s Rankings

You’ve seen the numbers and impressions, now read on to see where they finish.

First PlaceFord Focus RS

2016 Ford Focus RS High Resolution Exterior
- image 664711

The Focus RS isn’t perfect. It’s a bit cheap on the inside, a bit unrefined on the road, and it requires a heavy-handed approach when it comes to driving quickly. However, it’s also got insane amounts of power and grip, offering unparalleled levels of real-world speed if used correctly. This is undoubtedly the top dog in the realm of sport compacts right now. Ford has created the measuring stick by which all over entries are judged, and for that reason, we’ve given it the top-spot ranking.

Second PlaceSubaru WRX STI

2018 Subaru WRX STI High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
- image 702594

While it’s definitely old school at this point, the Subaru WRX STI was one of the first out the gates when it came to showing us ‘Mericans the beauty of small dimensions, turbo power, and AWD grip. And while entries like the Focus RS are nudging ahead in the race for ultimate sport compact supremacy, the natural talents of this rally-bred superstar are still very much present and correct.

Third PlaceVolkswagen Golf R

2016 Volswagen Golf R - Driven High Resolution Exterior
- image 692471

Sure, it’s a bit subdued in the styling department and a little behind in the power and speed, but the daily appeal of the Golf R is undeniable. A car in this segment will almost definitely see a good amount of use out on the highway or surface streets, places where cruising is mandatory, and in scenarios like that, the Golf R shines. But at the same time, it’s got the speed to thrill, blessing this entry with a healthy balance you can’t really find in the other four cars here.

Fourth PlaceHonda Civic Type R

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
- image 710680

On a smooth, dry racetrack, the Civic Type R is mesmerizing, bending the laws of physics with incomparable engineering and aero goodness, pushing the limits of what can be done with a FWD platform. Its speed is undeniable, and it’s got the interior and exterior styling to make a statement. But throw it a curveball with a little moisture and less-than-ideal conditions, and its weaknesses start to show.

Fifth PlaceMini Cooper Hardtop JCW

2015 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop Exterior
- image 613341

Nothing announces its arrival quite like a Mini. When it comes to icons, this is one of the most recognizable, especially for those individuals seeking to express themselves via four-wheeled accessories and customized parts. But while the Mini shines in the aesthetics department, it falters in the power department. This isn’t what you want if speed is important, and unfortunately, around these parts, speed matters.

What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: