The Ram's Eye - A Driver's Blog: 2016 Ford Focus RS vs. 2015 Subaru WRX STI vs 2016 VW Golf R - A Closer Look


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

2016 Ford Focus RS vs. 2015 Subaru WRX STI vs 2016 VW Golf R - A Closer Look

This picture is a little misleading. Unfortunately, this isn't a post about a race on a frozen lake or a snow covered rally stage involving the three hottest AWD hot hatches (the WRX STI only a hatch in spirit). This is about the highly anticipated test recently posted by Car & Driver.

First things first, I wish C&D would stop testing 30-50 mph and 50-70 mph in top gear for manual performance cars. They are hugely (almost exclusively) influenced by gearing and are completely irrelevant. I could see them being relevant in a more mainstream class (say, comparing a base Focus manual to a base Cruze manual) because an average buyer may not want to shift. But there is no way the buyer of any of these cars is going to wait over 7 seconds to go from 30-50 or approximately 6 seconds to go from 50-70? Worse yet, why would anyone floor a small 4 cyl turbo in an overdrive gear and lug the engine outside of boost? Now with the rant out of the way, let’s look at numbers.

2016 +Ford Ford Focus RS 2016 +VW Golf R 2016 Subaru WRX STI
0-60 mph 4.6 s 5.1 s 4.7 s
0-100 mph 12.2 s 11.8 s 12.0 s
0-110 mph 14.4 s 15.3 s 16.0 s
1/4 mile 13.4 s @ 105 mph 13.6 s @ 105 mph 13.4 s @ 104 mph
5-60 mph (street start) 5.7 s 6.1 s 6.7 s

The acceleration numbers, at first, might make it seem like the RS is overrated or the other two are underrated. However, a closer look shows all is good in the 350 hp Focus. For one, I think the torque vectoring AWD system of the RS is probably working against it in that regard. If I remember correctly, there are three clutch packs that the other two don't have; one to proportion the power to the rear axle and one for each rear wheel. These probably result in higher drivetrain losses than the other two.

As far as the STI goes, the RS and the STI have almost the exact same weight. The RS gets to 110 mph 1.6 seconds sooner and a 5-60 mph street start is a full second faster. So, despite the two being tied in the ¼ mile, I highly doubt the two make the same amount of hp. The STI appears to have a huge launch advantage that's skewing the numbers. It beats the R to 60 mph, for example, yet the R not only catches up, but beats it to 110 mph and the R is quicker in the 5-60 mph street start.

As far as the R goes, two numbers are curious – the 0-100 mph run and 1/4 mile trap speed. The quicker 0-100 mph time in the Golf and the identical 1/4 mile trap speed are very likely due to gearing in my opinion. The top of 3rd gear in the RS is 93 mph whereas the R is 81 mph so both cars are in 4th gear but most of the 90-100 mph run happens in the RS at the bottom of 4th gear – some 800 rpm short of peak power - where in the R, it happens in the middle, right in the meat of boost and power. The 100-110 mph runs confirm that. The R takes 3.5 seconds to do this 10 mph whereas the RS takes 2.2 seconds, less than two thirds the time. I think the RS loses in 90-100 mph due to shifting but quickly makes up for it and builds an almost 1 second lead by 110 mph.

2016 Ford Focus RS 2016 VW Golf R 2016 Subaru WRX STI
Braking 70-0 mph 158 ft 156 ft 159 ft
200-ft skidpad lat. g 0.98 g 0.95 g 0.90 g
610 ft slalom 43.6 mph 43.5 mph 42.4 mph

As far as handling goes, the STI is clearly behind. It's basically a three-way tie in braking between the three but the STI falls behind in ultimate grip (skidpad) and transitional handling (slalom). Moreover, Car & Driver found it to fall far behind in ride and comfort so it seems to beat up its occupants for no gain on the track. Meanwhile the R and RS are basically tied in slalom/transition but, based on the review and as expected due to the more capable AWD system, the RS takes a clear lead in handling balance (under power) with its ability to rotate and its lead in ultimate grip (skidpad). The reviewers even went as far as saying: “Dynamically, the RS is in a different league than the others, maybe even playing a different sport. It’s far more exciting than the staid Golf and much more polished than the brutish STI.” Car & Driver unfortunately doesn’t have a test to demonstrate the advantage of the better AWD system. Motor Trend’s figure eight does to an extent but a steady state 300 ft skidpad doesn’t.

On the livability front, back seat space and trunk are a little bit bigger in the Golf so R is the most practical. However, I'm very surprised to see the R actually score slightly less than the RS in the engine NVH category. VW has long made one of the smoothest 4 cyl turbo in a compact and the more mature exterior styling would suggest a car much quieter.

Overall, the STI is more and more looking outdated, first by its own little sister - the WRX - and now by the competition. There is no reason to get it, IMO, unless you're a die-hard Subaru fan. I'm surprised, though, that they didn't find the power useful in turns. I know someone at our local track with a new STI and he says he can use the throttle to make it rotate. With that said, it's clearly outclassed by both cars in this test. The last gen STI felt much tauter than the last gen WRX and didn't overheat its brakes but, based on reviews, the current WRX is a huge step forward where the STI is a smaller step forward so it might be less worth it. Add in the fact that both have good AWD systems, albeit less so in the WRX, and the advantage to an STI almost diminishes so it really comes down to RS vs R.

The R's biggest problem, like the STI, is the excellent GTI. The last gen R felt extremely close (on road) to a last gen GTI and I suspect the new ones are equally improved relative to each other. You could never justify to me the extra cost of an R based on a test drive where the car isn't driven too hard. I would love to drive the two back-to-back on a track to see if you have to wait appreciably longer in the GTI vs the R to get back on power mid corner. With that said, if you live in the great white north and especially in a hilly region, AWD can be the difference between being stuck at the bottom (RWD) or top (FWD) of a hill in a bad storm. Ask me how I know..

I think there are only two reasons to get the R over the RS - styling and interior quality. If you look at the RS and think you'd be too embarrassed to be seen in it, get the R. If you sit in it and can't stand the thought of paying that much money for the interior, get the R. Otherwise, the RS very nearly matches the R in livability and offers the most capability and fun. It's a clear winner to me.

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