It’s a recipe employed since the dawn of the motor car: manufacturers taking a version of their humble family sedan off-line for performance enhancement. Call it a specialist development department, motorsport division or skunk works, the result is always a significantly upgraded version of the production model.
These performance-oriented hero cars are sold in limited numbers, designed to enhance brand image and aspiration for the bulk of buyers compelled to buy run-of-the-mill models. Such is the case with Honda Civic Type R and Ford Focus RS. The trick is ensuring modifications add genuine competence, in addition to that desired image, without sacrificing everyday use.
For both Civic and Focus, the fundamental five-door body structure, cabin and seating space is basically the same as in their respective volume-selling models. That said, the Type R is a four-seater where all other Civics are five, while the Focus RS is a single-colour limited edition with no options.
It’s the substantial aerodynamic outer-panel redesign that visually sets these two apart from their siblings. The aggressive body architecture that distinguishes the Focus RS, incorporating a unique rear wing and aero enhancements, looks positively tame when parked side by side with the radical aero package that adorns the Type R.
A massive, complex rear wing along with diffusers, splitters, undertrays, vortex generators and various air intakes constructed in carbon fibre give this Civic demonstrable stability control at speed but also trump the RS in the ‘look-at-me’ stakes. Despite their sporting orientation, both cars have the hatchback load versatility, but in terms of overall load space and practicality the Type R boot is massive and well ahead of the RS.
Although priced substantially above the top spec of their everyday siblings, that money brings you performance enhancement of the engine, driveline and suspension, rather than a full suite of equipment. The pursuit of improved power-to-weight ratio means things such as electric seats are replaced with deeply sculptured lightweight seats for hip-hugging side support, while both cars carry a tyre sealant/inflator kit in lieu of any sort of spare wheel. The major equipment difference is inbuilt navigation in the Ford whereas the Honda relies on a phone link.
Standard Civic and Focus hatchback models have ANCAP safety rankings, however these exclude both Focus RS and Civic Type R which are low-volume modified models and not yet rated. The RS, for example, does not have as many driver-assistance features and its Recaro race seats don’t incorporate side airbags.