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The U.S. vs. Europe is a car showdown as old as time. So, it only makes sense that we pit these two powerhouse hot hatchback models against each other(and ignore that the Focus RS was built-in Germany). These two all-wheel drive dream machines are held in high regard among car enthusiasts. Better still, is that used examples of each can be found for around $30,000. So, in the battle of Ford Focus RS vs. Volkswagen Golf R, which one is the better buy?

Horsepower, Handling, and Hyperactive Spirit

Blue 2018 Volkswagen Golf R on racetrack apexing through corner
2018 Volkswagen Golf R | Volkswagen

For comparison’s sake, we’ll consider 2018 model year examples. That way, we’re looking at Focus RS models that don’t have the infamous head gasket failure.

When it comes to raw numbers, the Focus RS is the winner here. Its 2.3-liter Ecoboost engine puts out an astonishing 350 horsepower. Backing that number up is a matching 350 pound-feet of torque. It’ll sprint from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 4.7 seconds.

Ford Focus RS in the snow
2017 Ford Focus RS | Ford

On the other hand, the Golf R has a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four that puts out 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Sure, that’s a good bit less than the RS, but it still holds its own. It can sprint from zero to 60 in 4.8 seconds, nearly matching that RS’s number.

Car and Driver gave high praise to both the Focus RS and Golf R when it comes to handling. That makes sense, considering track performance was high on the list during the development of both of these cars. So, the decision is a wash, right?


Focus RS Interior is a letdown, but the Golf R’s Interior is World Class

Inside, the Focus RS looks, well, like a Focus. Though there is the addition of some RS-specific gauges and components, when you boil it all down, it’s still a Focus interior. For the price point, the level of cheap plastics and rattly components is underwhelming.

On the flip side, Car and Driver gave remarkably high praise to the Golf R interior. The interior materials in the Golf R are miles ahead of the Focus RS. With fine leather and brushed aluminum lining the cabin, the Golf R interior feels remarkably upscale. You’d think you’re sitting in an Audi, not a Volkswagen.

Gray Ford Focus RS Autocross
Ford Focus RS | Ford

Finally, one of the biggest complaints among Focus RS reviewers is the ride quality. I’ve discussed how complaining about a stiff ride on a performance car is a bit nitpicky. However, in this particular instance, it feels like fair play, considering the Golf R’s ride quality is leaps and bounds smoother than that of the RS.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a spirited hot hatchback you can drive every day and take to the track on weekends, the Golf R is the clear choice here. However, if you’re looking for a track-dedicated or weekend-only toy that doesn’t need to be part of your daily commute, the Focus RS offers a more intense and driver-connected feeling.


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