SPOILT ROTTEN, you are. If the mattress is bulging with fifty large, and you’re craving a compact, V8-harassing hot hatch, you have so much choice.
From the base, manual sweetheart VW Golf GTI, right up to the warbling, 911-frightening Audi RS3 end of the spectrum, lovers of hot hatches have never had such a smorgasbord of variety. There’s literally something for everyone.
If you’re the kind of guy or gal who owns a helmet, knows a racetrack PB to at least one decimal place and once spent more than $500 on a pair of brake pads, the two cars pictured here would probably take your fancy.
In the blue corner, our long-term test car, the rally-inspired, 257kW/440Nm all-wheel drive Ford Focus RS Limited Edition, complete with sticky cup tyres and front limited slip diff. And in the inky black corner, our reigning and still-sinking-in Performance Car of the Year winner, the 228kW/400Nm, red-Honda-badged, front-drive Civic Type R.
Of all the hot hatches you can currently get, these are two of the top picks. And as the Type R missed out on our hot hatch comparison this issue, by virtue of only having a pair rather than quartet of driveshafts, we thought we should throw it up against our winner in the world’s briefest comparison test.
Comparison test: Civic Type R v Golf GTI
From the outset, these are two remarkably different cars – in looks and philosophy. For me, it’s the Focus RS that would give the sorest neck, looking back every time I’ve locked the car up.
To these eyes, Ford has done the better job with the styling, even if the front end can look a little insect-y from angles. I think the rear wing is just enough mongrel. And I love the black wheels on the brilliant, bright Nitrous Blue.
If I did get a Civic Type R, it’d be in black, which does a better job of hiding some, err, ‘challenging’ styling. Front three quarter? I love the Type R’s fat, menacing stance. Rear three quarter? The rear bar looks a little over-styled to me. And the rear wing just looks like a giant chunk of purposeless plastic.
Getting into the cars, the Civic has the superior seating position by a fair margin. Those attractive red seats strike a fantastic balance between support and comfort, and you sit low and ‘in’ the car, the dash and window-line ensconcing you, with a seating position more like a large rear-drive sedan than pokey compact hatchback.
You feel high and more ‘exposed’ in the Focus RS by comparison, with the window-line much lower. The hard-shell Recaro seats are supportive, yet thinly padded, like they’re made out of tensed muscles rather than cushions.
The Civic Type R is a much more comfortable machine. It shades the Focus RS for daily driveability and refinement, with a remarkably compliant ride that makes the Focus feel like its dampers are stuck in Sport mode.
The Civic also has a slightly nicer interior than the Focus RS, although Ford’s ‘SYNC3’ infotainment system is miles better than the Civic’s ‘HondaLink’. And all over the Focus interior are thoughtful ergonomic touches, whereas the Civic has numerous ergonomic annoyances.
That said, the Civic Type R’s controls are much nicer to use than the Focus’s. The manual gearshift is a well-oiled, precise, mechanical joy, like it was made by Remington or Smith & Wesson. It makes the Focus’s gearshift feel functional, longer in throw, and rubbery.
The Civic also has superior steering, clutch and brake feel. Up a twisty road, the Focus RS is exciting, fun and incredibly fast – particularly this one on Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres which have huge grip.
By comparison, the Civic Type R feels precise, planted and more serious – and provided you’re not on a road full of first-gear hairpins, just as fast as the Focus. The Civic’s engine sounds better, a hard-edged, almost atmo thrash at higher rpm, more natural than the Focus RS’s fruity, slightly fake engine note. Although the Focus’s WRC-esque tailpipe pops and backfires are a total laugh.
Would familiarity breed contempt at long term reviews?
If we had a racetrack for the day and could pick just one car, it would be the Focus RS. But if we were forced to drive just one for the next three years, it’d be the Civic Type R.
THIS IS CLEVER
Rear seat passengers get their own nook-and-cranny bins between the seat and rear doors
Fuel Consumption this Month: 14.1L/100km
Average Fuel Consumption: 13.8L/100km
Distance this Month: 1829km
Liked: More of a hoot than a Civic Type R
Disliked: Not as comfortable as a Civic Type R