YOU WOULDN’T RACE a greyhound against a whippet, so why are we putting a 276bhp Ford Focus ST up against a 316bhp Honda Civic Type R? It’s a good question. After all, ST is Ford’s warm hatch brand. It’s the RS specials, like the previous Focus RS, that fit naturally with other greyhounds, such as the mighty Type R – our favourite of the current hot hatchback crop.
However, there’s a perfectly straightforward explanation. If the whippet cost the same as the greyhound, you’d buy the greyhound, right? It’s faster. Well, Ford has priced the Focus ST slightly higher than the entry-level Type R, so the greyhound and the whippet are in the same race.
But before you go thinking that this is a forgone conclusion, it isn’t. Hot hatches are all about nuance. Yes, performance is a big part of their DNA, but it isn’t necessarily the determinant of how much stardust has been sprinkled upon them. That comes from other traits: the way the engine delivers its performance and whether the soundtrack stirs the soul, as well as how much dynamic sparkle the handling gives off. The ability to entertain, in other words. And Fords historically ace that sort of caper, making this far from an open-andshut case. It’s all to play for.
DRIVING Performance, ride, handling, refinement
Let’s deal with the matter of their performance first. You’ve probably already gathered that the Type R is quicker, but by how much? Surprisingly, not a lot if you focus on their 0-60mph times. It was a wet day for our test, and when it comes to getting front-wheel-drive hatchbacks off the line, power mixes with water as easily as petrol. If anything, the conditions favoured the less potent ST. Both get a limited-slip differential – to help dispense their power more effectively to the road – but only the ST gets launch control, as long as you add the £250 Performance Pack.
Our test car had it, but let’s just say it proved about as useful as a short-sighted guide dog. With the system activated, the front wheels span up like a top and the tyres squealed. The oldfashioned method, of feathering the accelerator, proved far more fruitful. So did the ST’s more linear power delivery, which, like a Magnum ice cream, may be a little unadventurous but is consistent from top to bottom; you know exactly what you’ll get when you press down your right foot. It certainly contributed to delivering a decent time.
The Type R’s engine is far peakier. That makes it trickier to get off the line but also more interesting; there’s a reason to rev it out that’s missing from the ST. Think of it like a Fab ice lolly, with three distinct sections. Yes, it’s less responsive low down than the ST’s engine, but, like the strawberry bit, it’s still tasty. Still, you want to get higher up to the vanilla ice part, which comes in at around 2500rpm as the turbocharger excites and the Type R starts romping forwards, hard. Then, at 5000rpm, you get the chocolate sprinkles as Honda’s VTEC engine trickery engages, producing a final flourish of frenzied revs to the 7000rpm limiter. That’s some 500rpm higher than the ST’s.
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