The 2016 Ford Focus RS Takes On 3 Rivals In High Performance Compact Showdown

The 2016 Ford Focus RS stands at the pinnacle of the American hot hatch landscape, a turbocharged high performance marvel that brings with it a history of dominance in the European market. Of course, with Subaru no longer producing a hatchback version of its venerable STI and Mazda long having put the Mazdaspeed3 out to pasture, there's really only one other boy-racer compact hatch around with the specs to tackle the RS head-on: the Volkswagen Golf R.

The Ford Focus RS makes for a formidable adversary. Its 2.3-liter, four-cylinder turbo engine produces 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, shuttled through a standard six-speed manual transmission to an all-wheel drive system that's capable of moving power front, rear, and side-to-side in order to maximize traction and handling. There's even a 'Drift' mode that pushes as much as 70 percent of engine torque to the back axles and softens the car's adjustable suspension dampening to facilitate smoky slides around a skid pad (if you're so inclined to roast the car's optional, ultra-grippy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, that is).

In a straight line the Focus RS makes an stunning first impression, what with its ability to leap to 60-mph from a standing start in just 4.6 seconds with its launch control program engaged. Slip the car into Sport or Track mode and you'll enjoy increasingly sharp steering suspension, and AWD response. The car is phenomenally quick in almost every situation, whether you are on the street or the road course, and it remains a practical daily driver, too, with ample interior room (albeit forcing you to accept a stiffer ride even in 'Normal' drive mode).

Despite a lack of direct competition (aside from the Golf R), the Ford Focus RS is still on the cross-shop list with compact sedans like the previously-mentioned Subaru, as well as a luxury surprise or two hovering just above its price point. Check out our comparison of the hatchback against these potent competitors to find out how it stacks up.

2016 Volkswagen Golf R

Killer Features: The Volkswagen Golf R is the only other high performance, all-wheel drive turbocharged hatchback you can currently buy in the United States with a manual transmission. In fact, Ford and VW are the sole remaining players in the hot hatch game, period, with the front-wheel drive Focus ST and Golf GTI rounding out the list of available options.

Better Than The Ford Focus RS?: The Golf R is more skilled at balancing day-to-day comfort with sheer speed as compared to the Focus RS. Around town it's quite a compliant car to drive, with a suspension system that's less harsh than what you get from Ford. Interior trappings are a little bit classier, too, as the RS features an abundance of plastic that makes it hard to differentiate its cabin from the more affordable version of the Focus (aside from the Recaro thrones, of course).

Worse Than The Ford Focus RS?: Although the 292 horsepower produced by the Golf R's 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is nothing to sneeze at, and the car is just as fast to 60-mph (providing you order the dual-clutch automated manual transmission), there's no doubt that spec sheet fiends will notice the 58 pony gap between the two cars. The Volkswagen's more commuter-friendly ride also makes it less focused when driven at the limit, ceding the track advantage to the RS.

2016 Subaru WRX STI

Killer Features: The all-wheel drive system offered with the Subaru WRX STI differs from the Volkswagen and Ford designs in several important ways. To start with, both the front and rear differentials can lock to more quickly distribute power and find traction, and the sedan also allows the driver to manually control how much torque is sent to the either end of the vehicle in order to fine-tune its character on a race track. It's also important to note that while the Focus RS can completely disconnect power from the back axles in normal driving to save fuel, the WRX STI delivers a constant, nominal 50/50 front-rear split.

Better Than The Ford Focus RS?: The Subaru WRX STI's 50/50 torque split makes it more predictable in bad weather, and it's also a less complex system from a maintenance perspective. The 'always on' nature means that unlike the Ford, it will never cut power to the rear wheels due to overheating on a race track (a safety feature that's built into the RS).

Worse Than The Ford Focus RS?: At 305 horsepower, the Subaru WRX STI is down on grunt compared to its Ford rival – and you can only buy it in a sedan in its current generation, leaving those who need hatchback practicality in the lurch. The Subaru also lacks the upscale infotainment system offered by the RS, and is a half-second slower to 60-mph.

2016 Audi S3

Killer Features: The 2016 Audi S3 essentially takes the Golf R's turbocharged drivetrain and wraps compact sedan sheet metal around it. It also ups the luxury quotient, giving buyers an improved interior and a quieter ride to go with its sleeker styling.

Better Than The Ford Focus RS?: The Audi S3's cabin is a serious step forward when compared to the fit, finish, and materials found in the Ford Focus RS – and it's just as fast too, thanks to the launch control system baked into its six-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission.

Worse Than The Ford Focus RS?: You have to pay an additional $6,600 to get behind the wheel of the base S3 (MSRP $42,500) versus the Ford (MSRP $35,900) – and you can't order a manual transmission, either, making it the sole auto-only entry on this list. If you want the top-tier version of the Audi sedan, the price gap between the S3 and the Focus RS widens substantially.