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2017-ford-focus-rs-vs-2017-honda-civic-type-r-comparison-test-car-and-driver-photo-695880-s-orig.jpg

Pitted against the 350-hp all-wheel-drive Focus RS, the Civic Type R makes a case for the front-wheel-drive performance car.

November 2017 By ERIC TINGWALL

From the December 2017 issue

Making power is but one variable in going fast. The upper echelon of performance–occupied by the mega-output Germans, big-muscled Corvettes and Hellcats, and, of course, Italian exotica–now depends on automatic transmissions, launch control, track-bred tires, and often all-wheel drive to generate stupefying performance.

That same phenomenon is just beginning to play out in our beloved hot-hatch segment, a first step on the factory-hot-rod ladder onto which go-fast technology slowly but surely trickles. With the spiciest hatchbacks making roughly 300 horsepower, the major players have turned to all-wheel drive to provide some relief to the front tires. In our May 2016 issue, the Ford Focus RS claimed the belt by defeating the Volkswagen Golf R and the Subaru WRX STI (okay, the Subaru isn’t a hatch, but it should be one).

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Honda, however, still sees merit in the original front-wheel-drive formula. The company’s new Civic Type R, imported to the U.S. for the first time in the nameplate’s 20-year history, suggests that lighter weight and a lower price are enough to offset the straight-line traction advantage of all-wheel drive. To see if that notion has merit, we’ve pitted the Type R against the reigning champ in a battle of turbocharged four-cylinder hatchbacks. The Honda’s 2.0-liter produces 306 horsepower to the 2.3-liter Ford’s 350.

The single-spec Type R goes for $34,775; its equipment list includes satellite radio, a proximity key, and dual-zone climate control. Navigation, audio, and some climate controls run through a standard seven-inch touchscreen, while the only transmission, a six-speed manual, keeps the turbocharged Type R tethered to the analog world. Honda’s Type R adheres to the simpler, original hot-hatch formula with just one modern assist: a rev-matching algorithm that will blip the throttle on downshifts. We prefer to turn it off for the challenge and satisfaction of heel-and-toe downshifting.

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Ford’s Focus RS will soon end its three-year production run with 1500 special-edition 2018 models that add a limited-slip front differential and a black roof among other cosmetic tweaks. Our tester is not that car. Instead, we have a $36,995 Focus RS with the $2785 RS2 package, which adds heated seats, a heated steering wheel, a power driver’s seat, and navigation. RS buyers can also spend $1990 on Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires that are best reserved for track use. Our comparo contender is shod with the standard street-friendly Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber.

We relocated to Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest–due north of the Westmoreland factory where Volkswagen sparked the hot-hatch movement 34 years ago by building the first GTIs for the United States–to pick a winner, and then struggled to do exactly that.

2017 Ford Focus RS

Second place.

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There can be no draw in a Car and Driver comparison test. To the editors who weighed in on this particular face-off, this unwritten rule now seems as arbitrary and unjust as the one that says we can’t bring pet parakeets into the office. Because after we crunched the test numbers, cast our ballots, and topped the fuel tanks for the final time, the scorecard showed a dead heat, a conclusion that fittingly captured our affinity for both cars.

Highs Big output, seamless power delivery, and all the right noises.

Lows Pogo-stick ride quality.

Verdict

A riot on a twisty road and a nuisance on the highway.

Ford’s Focus RS rides to near victory on the strength of its 350-hp inline-four. The 2.3-liter is equal parts raucousness and polish, a four-pot Ric Flair. Even though torque peaks at a relatively high 3200 rpm, the Focus lands at its 350-lb-ft plateau on a steady swell rather than the laggy bog-and-surge that’s common with high-output boosted four-cylinders. This steroidal Focus launches from its 6700-rpm fuel cutoff with graceful clutch engagement and a light chirp of the front tires, resulting in a 4.5-second zero-to-60 slingshot. On overrun, the engine sounds like Satan’s own popcorn maker. And as proof that Honda’s resurgence is not yet complete, the Ford has the more satisfying shifter with fluid movements. The heftier clutch gives better feel through the friction point, too.

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You don’t buy an all-wheel-drive car for its ability to drift, and the Focus RS is no exception. Drift mode only makes momentary overtures at sustained tire-decimating slides. The RS’s torque-vectoring rear differential does help the 3465-pound Ford dive into corners with a playful eagerness. The Focus’s 0.99 g of lateral stick and 160-foot stopping distance can’t match the Civic’s performance, but the precision in the Ford’s controls and the reckless abandon the car invites make every squiggle of pavement just as remarkable.

You pilot the Focus from a tall and upright seating position similar to a crossover’s, and from this perch, you’re well aware that both the Focus’s roof and its center of gravity sit substantially higher than the Type R’s. The snug Recaro buckets–too snug for some–are endlessly supportive with enough adjustability for all-day comfort. Deep cutouts on the back side of those front seats make for decent rear legroom in a car with a two-inch-shorter wheelbase than the Civic’s, and the Focus delivers more rear headroom than the Honda. We’ve complained about the busyness of the audio and climate controls in prior Focus RS tests, but that’s a bluff. We’d happily spin plywood knobs if it meant fewer controls migrated to touchscreens. Compared with the Honda, the Focus offers more tactile controls for the crucial functions.

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The Focus RS only met its defeat on the five-hour drive from Pennsylvania to our Michigan home office. Forced to choose a winner, we docked the RS another point for its spirit-sapping ride. Stiffly sprung, the car pogos over expansion joints, making pecs jiggle like B-cups and heads bob like cheap baseball-game giveaways. Tapping the end of the turn-signal stalk activates a stiffer damper setting that only harshens the already rough ride. Driving a Focus RS is a never-ending party. Maybe we’re getting old, but we’re not sure we could do it every day.

2017 Honda Civic Type R

First place.

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Don’t interpret the one-point spread in this comparison test to mean that the Focus RS and the Civic Type R are similar. They’re not. These two cars arrive at hot-hatch greatness by different roads. While the Ford powers in on the merits of its engine, the Honda owes its win to its chassis. Just look at the numbers: The Civic Type R hauled itself to a stop from 70 mph in 146 feet and stuck to the skidpad at 1.03 g’s. A minimally optioned stick-shift Porsche 911–a $96,650 Porsche 911–musters 1.00 g and stops in 145 feet.

Highs Corners, steers, and rides with poise.

Lows Aftermarket styling installed from the factory.

Verdict

Yes, front-wheel drive can be fast.

Building on the competence of the 10th-generation Civic chassis and the potential teased with the Civic Si, the Type R completes the package with the full 306-hp might of Honda’s new turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four. This is a freakishly quick front-wheel-drive vehicle when thrown down a challenging road. No other automaker sells a car like it.

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In a straight line, our comparo car cracked 5.2 seconds to 60 mph and 13.9 seconds through the quarter-mile. We hit 4.9 seconds and 13.5 seconds, respectively, with the first Type R we tested. That car, though, was also almost a full second quicker in both of its top-gear passing tests, suggesting it may have been packing more ponies.

The Type R drives its 295 pound-feet of torque through a helical limited-slip differential and Continental SportContact 6 summer tires that deliver dogged traction at a price. Replacements cost $321 each and the Type R’s window sticker warns that they may wear out in less than 10,000 miles. Honda’s traction control can be a bit heavy-handed, perhaps in consideration of the tires’ capability. The system preemptively cuts power any time the car gets light over a crest. Of course, if you turn the electronic minders off, no front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive car will be as hilariously fun as a rear-driver when you abuse the right pedal.

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While still palpable, torque steer is well damped thanks to a strut-type front end that separates steering and suspension geometry, similar to Ford’s RevoKnuckle in the prior-generation (and not-for-U.S.-sale) front-wheel-drive Focus RS. The steering weights up perfectly–a touch lighter than the modern Ford’s–and the brake pedal’s action matches the immediacy of the binders. After flogging the Focus (and the Focus flogging us back), we always found welcome relief for compressed spines in the Type R’s compliant ride.

The Type R’s flaws are plain to see for anyone over the age of 19. The designers appear to have drawn inspiration from fly swatters, anime hairstyles, and suspicious growths. And the interior team must have used their year’s allotment of red Sharpies coloring the seats and the lower half of the steering wheel, because they all but stopped at the B-pillar, dressing the rear only with perfunctory red stitching and belts. On the upside, think of all the money you’ll save when you can’t find a more garish fiberglass body kit for your Honda.

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This being a Honda, even this hottest Civic could reasonably pull double duty as a family car. The Type R delivers the legroom of a mid-size car and, because it’s 2.1 inches wider than the Focus RS, the rear seats feel significantly more airy. That sensation is helped by Honda’s inexplicable decision to remove the middle seatbelt from all Type Rs and place shallow cupholders where the fifth passenger’s butt normally goes. Despite the sloping hatch eating into cargo space, the Civic offers more cargo capacity than the Focus, with a lower load floor and more space behind the rear seats. And the ride is grandma-friendly.

Pragmatism and performance endure as the hallmarks of the hot hatch. While the trend toward all-wheel drive builds on both virtues with all-weather usability and performance-enhancing grip, Honda’s Civic Type R proves that the original formula still holds as much potential as it did in 1983. The front-wheel-drive performance car isn’t dead yet.

Final Scoring, Performance Data, and Complete Specs

Pitted against the 350-hp all-wheel-drive Focus RS, the Civic Type R makes a case for the front-wheel-drive performance car.

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Specs and the numbers: https://www.caranddriver.com/comparisons/2017-ford-focus-rs-vs-2017-honda-civic-type-r-comparison-test-final-scoring-performance-data-and-complete-specs-page-4

https://www.caranddriver.com/comparisons/2017-ford-focus-rs-vs-2017-honda-civic-type-r-comparison-test

Checkout the scoring!
 

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The ride of the RS is needlessly harsh....to me, the ride quality and the unadjustable (and bad) angle of the seat bottom in the drivers seat are the only two items that mar an otherwise terrific car. That said - having never driven a type R I can’t comment first hand but FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE disqualifies this car from being taken seriously in this rarified air. The phrase “....palpable torque steer....” is the only take-away that matters and the car & driver i used to love (and used to subscribe to) would have made that a significant critique (if not a deal killer) for the type R.....and while styling is subjective.....the type Rs exterior styling is as close to objectively horrible as you can get. Usually I see appearance to be a nice-to-have when the car is built like a proper drivers’s Car should be, but the type Rs design is so bad that I didn’t even bother driving it cause I couldn’t possibly consider owning it.
 

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This is another review that was written based on forum chatter and not actually based on driving the cars. The whole "pogo stick" thing originated here.... They knew going in what they were going to write. I can never take a Car & Driver review seriously......
 

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The real story of why some of the Civic Type R tests were so favorable!

"In a straight line, our comparo car cracked 5.2 seconds to 60 mph and 13.9 seconds through the quarter-mile. We hit 4.9 seconds and 13.5 seconds, respectively, with the first Type R we tested. That car, though, was also almost a full second quicker in both of its top-gear passing tests, suggesting it may have been packing more ponies. "

So Honda unleashes some higher horsepower cars to make the CTR come out more favorable to the competition.
 

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The ride of the RS is needlessly harsh....to me, the ride quality and the unadjustable (and bad) angle of the seat bottom in the drivers seat are the only two items that mar an otherwise terrific car. That said - having never driven a type R I can’t comment first hand but FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE disqualifies this car from being taken seriously in this rarified air. The phrase “....palpable torque steer....” is the only take-away that matters and the car & driver i used to love (and used to subscribe to) would have made that a significant critique (if not a deal killer) for the type R.....and while styling is subjective.....the type Rs exterior styling is as close to objectively horrible as you can get. Usually I see appearance to be a nice-to-have when the car is built like a proper drivers’s Car should be, but the type Rs design is so bad that I didn’t even bother driving it cause I couldn’t possibly consider owning it.
I agree and wish we had a "comfort" mode when appropriate have had two back surgeries and possible third(heaven forbid). I also drive Z4 M Coupe and since getting the RS have critically compared the two cars over same roads. Honestly cannot throw stones at the RS since is not worse than the Z4. The Golf R I had however was superior to both but I got bored with it being too much of an appliance. If I was still doing daily commute would probably still have it.
 

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First and foremost, it's C&D. They haven't done unbiased journalism in years. They are bought and paid for like the current FCC.

I take issue with them skipping the forged wheels and cup 2 tires. If you're gonna compare them, compare them at their best.

The ride quality... my God I'm sick of hearing that. This car rides perfectly fine. It's slightly bouncy in rare conditions, but the vast majority of the time it inspires confidence and tells me exactly what the car is doing underneath me.
 

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First and foremost, it's C&D. They haven't done unbiased journalism in years. They are bought and paid for like the current FCC.

I take issue with them skipping the forged wheels and cup 2 tires. If you're gonna compare them, compare them at their best.

The ride quality... my God I'm sick of hearing that. This car rides perfectly fine. It's slightly bouncy in rare conditions, but the vast majority of the time it inspires confidence and tells me exactly what the car is doing underneath me.
I’m glad you find the ride acceptable, I live with it and the overall goodness of the car makes it a trade-off I live with. It is, however, the harshest riding car I’ve ever owned and not necessarily the best handling one by any appreciable amount. It’s poor engineering as a slightly more compliant ride would have yielded 95% the road holding but have been infinitely more liveable. You’re hearing it so often because it’s true.
 

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Actually - I’ll go one more step....the harshness of the ride doesn’t increase the feedback to the driver but distracts from it. And when near the limits on imperfect roads, more compliant suspension would likely maintain maximum contact patch between the tires and the road so handling under those real world conditions would likely be better if the damping were dialed back slightly.
 

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I’m glad you find the ride acceptable, I live with it and the overall goodness of the car makes it a trade-off I live with. It is, however, the harshest riding car I’ve ever owned and not necessarily the best handling one by any appreciable amount. It’s poor engineering as a slightly more compliant ride would have yielded 95% the road holding but have been infinitely more liveable. You’re hearing it so often because it’s true.
Do you see what you did there? You disagreed with my opinion, told me it's just my opinion, and then went on to say your opinion is more valid somehow. What the...?

I have ridden in, owned, and driven many cars with sport suspension. The RS is not as bad as you claim. Not even close. Try driving a Mini Cooper S if you don't believe me.
 

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Not my intention - once again, wish I could say (like you do) that I don’t mind the ride quality of the RS, but I do. Finding a worse example or ride quality does not make the RS’s good.
 

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And oddly enough - you’re saying that the ride quality isn’t even as close to what I’m saying it is - though the vast majority of the automotive press mentions this as a fault of the car. Who is telling who that their opinion doesn’t matter?
 

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The RS is stiff and in some circumstances annoying but I love it because of that. It's not for the faint of heart and it reminds me that it's not a normal Focus. It's a compromise I really like. But I totally understand not everyone enjoys that, and thankfully it sounds like there are aftermarket solutions for those folks. I won't be changing it :)
 

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The RS is stiff and in some circumstances annoying but I love it because of that. It's not for the faint of heart and it reminds me that it's not a normal Focus. It's a compromise I really like. But I totally understand not everyone enjoys that, and thankfully it sounds like there are aftermarket solutions for those folks. I won't be changing it
It’s true that it’s a niche car and I’ve always been one that’s been happy to put up with a harsh ride for performance....extent it the key word and I think the rs goes too far. Of course this is subjective but I also can’t remember consuming any single review of the vehicle that didn’t mention this as a negative. Past cars include two miatas a 335 with m sport package and an M3 so I’m not comparing the rs with Buicks. Just a critique, there are no perfect cars in my experience!
 

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Before I test drove this car, I was prepared for a go cart like ride based on the reviews. The ride is definitely stiff but I wouldn't call it harsh. All of these reviews that compare hot hatches follow the same formula:

Focus RS: Very quick, dials the fun up to 11 but has a cheap interior and harsh ride
Civic Type-R: Chassis is great, gear shift is fantastic, someone beat it with an ugly stick
Golf R: Great interior, comfortable ride, very quick (only if you get the DSG), meh styling
Audi RS3/MB A45 - Fantastic interior and tons of high-end options, great ride, pretty quick but not terribly fun on track or on canyon roads. Holy hell expensive.

Our pick - the Golf R because it does everything just OK and will be more comfortable on our 2 hour highway commute to work

What all these reviews lack is context. What is the goal of the intended purchaser? Do you want something that is a blast to drive? Buy the Focus. Are you a Honda fanboy who likes fake vents? Buy the Civic. Are you a luxury badge snob and/or want the highest luxury in your hot hatch? Buy the Audi or Merc. You want the Goldilocks of hot hatches, buy the Golf. Personally, I wanted the one that would put the biggest smile on my face every time I drive it.
 

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Before I test drove this car, I was prepared for a go cart like ride based on the reviews. The ride is definitely stiff but I wouldn't call it harsh. All of these reviews that compare hot hatches follow the same formula:

Focus RS: Very quick, dials the fun up to 11 but has a cheap interior and harsh ride
Civic Type-R: Chassis is great, gear shift is fantastic, someone beat it with an ugly stick
Golf R: Great interior, comfortable ride, very quick (only if you get the DSG), meh styling
Audi RS3/MB A45 - Fantastic interior and tons of high-end options, great ride, pretty quick but not terribly fun on track or on canyon roads. Holy hell expensive.

Our pick - the Golf R because it does everything just OK and will be more comfortable on our 2 hour highway commute to work

What all these reviews lack is context. What is the goal of the intended purchaser? Do you want something that is a blast to drive? Buy the Focus. Are you a Honda fanboy who likes fake vents? Buy the Civic. Are you a luxury badge snob and/or want the highest luxury in your hot hatch? Buy the Audi or Merc. You want the Goldilocks of hot hatches, buy the Golf. Personally, I wanted the one that would put the biggest smile on my face every time I drive it.
LOL the Golf R is still very quick with the manual transmission ( I think the official 0-60 time is 5.2 seconds) and the RS interior is not that cheap!
 

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I don't trust this review.

Why?

Cause there are mags out there that really don't test drive the cars and instead use the (you scratch my back Ill scratch your back) approach to reviewing cars.

We all know sales are what magazines and online reviewers are about and the sales pitch with this one is sky high..
 
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@SemiPro - actually I’ve seen intelligent reviews and formulaic crap and many of them choose the RS as the winner for multiple variations on the same theme (most likely to put a smile on your face). Without fail, they all mention the RS as riding too harshly.
 

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Before I test drove this car, I was prepared for a go cart like ride based on the reviews. The ride is definitely stiff but I wouldn't call it harsh. All of these reviews that compare hot hatches follow the same formula:

Focus RS: Very quick, dials the fun up to 11 but has a cheap interior and harsh ride
Civic Type-R: Chassis is great, gear shift is fantastic, someone beat it with an ugly stick
Golf R: Great interior, comfortable ride, very quick (only if you get the DSG), meh styling
Audi RS3/MB A45 - Fantastic interior and tons of high-end options, great ride, pretty quick but not terribly fun on track or on canyon roads. Holy hell expensive.

Our pick - the Golf R because it does everything just OK and will be more comfortable on our 2 hour highway commute to work

What all these reviews lack is context. What is the goal of the intended purchaser? Do you want something that is a blast to drive? Buy the Focus. Are you a Honda fanboy who likes fake vents? Buy the Civic. Are you a luxury badge snob and/or want the highest luxury in your hot hatch? Buy the Audi or Merc. You want the Goldilocks of hot hatches, buy the Golf. Personally, I wanted the one that would put the biggest smile on my face every time I drive it.
Well said.
 

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Pretty fair review - Not sure why people get so butt hurt when someone has an opinion that may deviate from their own.

The focus does have a harsh ride. It's not impossible to live with, but not the car's strongest card. My old Evo X was supposed to have a harsh ride, but handled big bumps a lot better.
And race 'suspension' mode is bloody awful. Maybe it would work on the moon, but not on this planet.

The seating position also still annoys me 6 months in.



The RS still rocks though. Super super car.


And as much as I like AWD, you can still have a lot of fun with FWD if you know what you are doing.......
 
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