Two days ago, Ford announced the all-new 2016 Focus RS, which has more than 315hp from the 2.3L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, mated to an AWD system.
This effectively puts the Focus RS into the competition with other hot hatches in the market, such as the Subaru WRX STI and also the Volkswagen Golf R. The current 2015 WRX STI is in the sedan form, but we can safely bet the hatchback version is coming very soon, therefore we include it into our discussion here.
Generally speaking, Subaru WRX STI is the most hardcore vehicle for rally purpose, while it has lower refinement; the VW Golf R has the best refinement, but its AWD system is the weakest among the three candidates. Ford Focus RS sits just between its two rivals.
Talking about hot hatch, people usually focus on these factors: handling, all-wheel-drive system and the engine. I will briefly discuss these three cars based on the above factors.
Subaru WRX STI
The WRX STI has the best AWD system among the three: it has a true planetary-gear center differential (rear-biased) with electronic multi-disc clutch to act as slip control. As we have mentioned in our previous AWD system review, this is a rather advanced design, currently Lexus IS/GS and also the Porsche Cayenne are using this same design in their center differential.
We all know for AWD cars, at least 3 differentials (or something equivalent to/acts like a differential) are needed. In addition to the center differential, WRX STI also puts extremely good treatments to its front and rear differentials: it uses a helical-type limited slip front differential, and even employs a Torsen differential for the rear wheels. Therefore, the WRX STI can be considered to having the best possible AWD system in all non-SUV cars. Currently, only the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution can compare to it.
However, the US-spec WRX STI has some disadvantages to its engine: it is still using the aging EJ257 2.5L turbo 4-cylinder, which has been around since 2004 (it received some minor enhancements in 2008 though), not Subaru’s latest FA20DIT direct-injection engine. Although the EJ257 has higher output, its outdated turbo design and lacking of the latest technologies leads to a significantly slower throttle response and worse turbo lag, as you can see from our previous report and analysis.
However, Subaru has been busy working on the STI version FA20DIT engine. The current Japanese domestic market FA20DIT already has 300hp, so we are sure when the FA20DIT equipped WRX STI comes to production, its output will be well over 300hp.
Volkswagen Golf R
Although Golf R is claiming itself to be all-wheel-drive, it does not have a “real” center differential. The AWD on the Golf R is using the 5-generation Haldex system, which uses an electro-hydraulic clutch to send power to the rear wheels.
Because clutch type coupling system will generate lots of heat and wear under heavy load/long time operation, Golf R’s rear wheels will receive meaningful power ONLY when the Haldex ECU thinks it is necessary (for example the front wheels are slipping). Under normal driving conditions, more than 95% of the engine output is routed to the front wheels, which means the rear wheels are receiving less than 5% of power, effectively equal to nothing. There is no mechanical limited slip hardware in the front/rear differentials too. The limited-slip feature is implemented through the help of brakes and ABS, similar to other normal cars on the road.
Summary: the Golf R is more like a front-wheel-drive car, its AWD is just a part-time feature and cannot work for long time under heavy load. This is the reason that it is not as hardcore as the Subaru WRX STI.
But Golf R has VW’s latest EA888 engine, with 296hp and 280 lb-ft of torque across a broad range from 1,800 to 5,500 rpm; and probably it also has the best refinement among its competitors. For example, it has lots of noise insulation materials placed around the engine bay; its interior design and material quality give people an impression similar to some Audi vehicles.
2016 Focus RS
If you have paid attention to the Ford press release, you may find it to be very similar to Acura’s SH-AWD system. For example they both has mechanical torque vectoring feature for the rear wheels, and the rear wheels can receive up to 70% of engine output. The Focus RS AWD is still a front-biased system, rear wheels only get large amount of power when necessary, So it is more like the Golf R AWD system plus the rear wheel torque vectoring. Do not make joke of the torque vectoring here: it helps the Focus RS to achieve a RWD-like characteristic when cornering, you need to try it yourself to believe.
The Focus RS uses the same 2.3L EcoBoost engine found in the 2015 Mustang EcoBoost (of course, with different tunning). Mustang engine aftermarket modification is a pretty large industry in US, this will also help the Focus RS too. So consider this as a plus, if you want to mod your Focus RS.
Besides the drivetrain, the Focus RS also has some interesting tweaks that improve the handling. For example: it is utilizing the RevoKnuckle design to address the torque steering issue (a typical problem common in high output FWD platforms, caused by physical limitations).
Summary: the Focus RS has a better AWD system setup than the Golf R, still not as hardcore as the WRX STI; its engine represents the latest Ford technology. One more thing worth mentioning: the Focus RS will be built in, and imported from Germany. Yes you heard me right: the US market 2016 Ford Focus RS, is made in Germany. Therefore, its material/build quality will be different from your typical impression of other Ford vehicles sold in the US.
Which one you like most? Share your opinion in the below comments section.
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