Like boy bands or PBS dramas, American audiences have a taste for what’s hot across the pond — properly vetted, of course.
Next year, when the 2016 Ford Focus RS goes on sale in the spring and the 2017 Honda Civic Type R goes on sale later that year (hopefully), it will rekindle a fight started in the U.K. without nary a punch ever thrown in the U.S.
Both cars have evolved in international markets, without either showing face in the U.S. Both have survived challenges from other hot hatch makers in Europe such as Renault, Peugeot, SEAT, and Mini. And both, despite being from major players in the States, have stayed far from Americans’ consciences while Subaru and Volkswagen duked it out for nearly two decades.
The current tale of the tape tells a story that should sound familiar to hardcore hatch enthusiasts. The 2016 Ford Focus RS will manage 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque from a force-fed four lifted from the Mustang. The 2017 Honda Civic Type R will find 305 horses from a boosted four with VTEC and nearly 300 pound-feet of twist. While the Focus RS will tout more than 40 horses more than the Type R, the two’s real-world performance are within spitting distance of each other — and always have been.
When it was launched in 1997, the first-generation Civic Type R managed 182 horsepower from a VTEC four, which held its own up until the Focus RS’s debut in 2002. That first-generation Focus RS topped the first-gen Type R by 30 horsepower, yet its chunky delivery and overmatched front differential kept that power at bay anywhere but the racetrack.
Honda’s second-generation Type R boosted its output up to 212 horsepower and kept pace with the Focus RS everywhere, including the track. Despite being virtually identical on paper, the Type R’s approachability made it a more popular pick for many drivers in the U.K. (Not to mention the fact that the Focus RS had retina-searing blue seats and a multi-color steering wheel.)
Ford’s approach to its second-generation Focus wasn’t any less sane in 2009, when it rolled out a rally car with a tax disc. The second-generation Focus RS sported fully 300 horsepower in a front-wheel drive car — fully 100 more than the comparable Type R — and a host of tricks to keep its power in line.
The 2009 Ford Focus RS sported an automatic torque-biasing limited-slip differential built by British manufacturer Quaife, which specializes in rally and autocross parts, and specially designed MacPherson’s to handle the car’s incredible load demands from its front rubber. The special edition car managed 0-60 mile per hour runs in fewer than 6 seconds and chewed through its front tires with equal gusto.
The third-generation Civic Type R was mired in no-man’s-land, a Euro-spec chassis with a carryover powertrain from the last generation and a fairly tepid response compared to the Focus RS’s complete disregard for sanity. Despite being named Top Gear Magazine’s hot hatch of the year for 2007, the car fell off partially because of performance, and partially because few people could justify spending more than $36,000 at the time on a three-door hatch.
When both cars arrive on U.S. shores next year, the rivalry will continue albeit with a few key differences.
For the first time, the Focus RS will power all four wheels instead of just its front two and the Civic Type R will be boosted. Both variances should make for more interesting, more fun to drive cars, but we can’t help but noticing that we’re getting the third installment of a thrilling trilogy thus far.
Hopefully the fight will continue for generations to come.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.