The mega hatch market seems to get more insane with each year and in 2016, we’ll see perhaps the most unhinged of them all: the new Ford Focus RS.
We weren’t sure if we’d be graced with a third generation of the American firm’s family hatch, but late 2014 brought the news we all hoped for. Giving us rally car looks and an incredibly potent 345bhp powerplant, the Focus RS will be well-placed to take on the best mega hatches out there, especially with its sophisticated all-wheel-drive system and old-school driving philosophy.
However, the current crop of mega hatches stand in its way and make up a German quartet that for the most part, wouldn’t usually be compared to the more modestly adorned Focus range. Let’s see what the plucky RS will have to beat to be crowned king of the mega hatches.
Volkswagen Golf R
Already a well-established figure in this high-end market, the Golf R is perhaps the closest rival to the upcoming Focus RS thanks to its mountain of power and Haldex-built 4Motion four-wheel-drive system ensuring its 296bhp is well under control. This is without the mention that the regular Golf and Focus models are also usually fighting each other for custom.
This is Volkswagen’s most powerful hatchback ever, using that extra power, torque and all-wheel-drive to justify its £4,000 increase over the already super GTi. While most of the time, those 296 horses are going through the front wheels, the Haldex system is able - much like the RS’s - to send virtually all of the power to the back if it feels the traction is slipping up front.
The manual Golf R will do the 0-62mph sprint in just 5.1sec, while the DSG alternative knocks 0.2sec off of that figure. Helping achieve this is the Golf R’s ability to really dig from the off when the pedal is down to the metal, with all four wheels giving optimum grip; it’s a similar story in the bends where the Haldex system gives you traction exactly where you need it and it could be that this is a key parallel the Focus RS will be tested against.
While the Audi RS3 shares the same big power/all-wheel-drive philosophy with the Focus RS, the two hatches are rarely compared against each other due to the up-market nature of the former. However, with the RS3 following a similar recipe to the Focus RS, it’s hard not to say the two won’t be going head-to-head come next spring in a few magazine shootouts.
An immediate advantage for the German is its extra 17bhp over the Focus’ 345bhp, and it’s this speed that dominates the RS3 experience. Many describe the RS3’s power as truly savage and have noted its capability to cover ground inexplicably fast for a hatchback; a 0-62mph run coming in at 4.3sec through the RS3’s slick DSG transmission is almost supercar-quick.
Audi may struggle to convince those after true feel in the steering, however, with the RS3 lacking slightly in the steering feel department, albeit not quite as much as its S3 sibling. Despite this, the RS3’s turbocharged 2.0-litre five-cylinder rocket, exciting soundtrack and superb quattro four-wheel-drive system offering great traction should still be enough to worry the Focus.
Serving up something just a little different to the rest of the field is BMW’s not-quite-M-car, the M135i. Offering rear-wheel-drive and a six-cylinder beast under the bonnet, the M135i is very much an alternative proposition to the likes of the Focus RS.
When it entered the market, the M135i was deemed an immediate bargain of the century and still commands great value for money, although the Focus RS will come in at about £2,000 cheaper and with more power. Its turbocharged, 3.0-litre straight-six has 322bhp on tap, coming in somewhere between the Golf R and the Focus on power terms, but with a rear-biased set-up, the M135i is a different animal.
Like the Golf R, the M135i offers both manual and automatic transmission choices, but unlike the VW, the vast majority will likely go for the latter when speccing their BMW. There’s a good reason for that, with the auto ‘box offering slick shifts and enables the car to become easy to live with about town, meaning the M135i can become a manageable Jekyll and Hyde if seen fit.
Mercedes A45 AMG
Price is a factor that’s not had too much of a mention so far in this run down of Focus RS rivals. Including the Ford, all but the Audi so far come in around the £30,000 mark, but both the RS3 and this new Mercedes A45 AMG come in at cut under £40,000; not that either would stay below this after a few added options.
For these two mega hatches, this is most certainly going to be an issue when being put against the £29,000 Focus that does’t have much less power and will likely offer more driver involvement. What the A45 AMG and its compatriot do have going for them is a visceral experience in a straight line and that up-market investment.
Switching back to the raw power/all-wheel-drive combo, the A45 AMG really eats the miles in a similar way to the RS3, while also offering a super-slick auto transmission and even more grunt at 376bhp from its 2.0-litre four-pot. The previous A45’s harsh ride has been ironed out, but still lacks in the fun factor when it comes to pushing the car to the limit, especially when compared to cheaper, less-powered rivals - even the Golf R has been deemed a better proposition.