Honda Civic Type R v Ford Focus RS

RoyalAuto magazine

Our vehicle testers take this pair of hot hatches through their paces for a real-world comparison on and off the track.

Report by Ernest Litera. Photos by Shannon Morris.
April 2018.


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.

Aerodynamic redesign

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.

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On the inside

For drivers, the seat padding in the Focus is less forgiving and the side bolsters are higher, making it feel more like a track-day car. Unfortunately, the instrumentation and switches fail to back up that impression, being poorly graduated with toy-like colouring and randomly positioned. By contrast, the Civic provides a more comfortable seat, still with good side support but more easily accessed. Its dash presentation is smarter and tidier in layout while the gauges are clearer and aided by a digital speedo.

The Focus RS limited edition comes with the additional grip of all-wheel drive, adding weight that offsets its superior power and torque figures and larger 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo engine. The Civic Type R is front-wheel drive, powered by a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo, and despite less power and torque it’s substantially lighter, an advantage once the initial launch is done. Both are six-speed manuals only, the Honda providing three selectable performance/handling modes to the Ford’s two. On paper the power-to-weight ratio is identical at 6.11kW/kg, however the RS delivers peak torque lower in the rev range to aid its take-off.


Real-world comparison

It’s a fascinating match-up that required some real-world comparison numbers (read two occupants and a full fuel tank) on a closed motorsport circuit.

Lined up on the strip, the RS has the advantage of electronic launch control to achieve optimum take-off. The problem is, by the time you’ve gone through the four computer steps to engage it, the Type-R could complete a 400-metre run! With the Honda’s front-wheel drive electronically controlled for traction off the line, the RS grabs a car length’s advantage, or close to a second to 60km/h. This drops back to half a second between 80 and 100km/h as the Type R gains pace, and at 400 metres it’s down to just 0.3 seconds. Interestingly, the Type R is carrying a higher terminal speed as it crosses the line; that the RS is marginally quicker in this test is down to that initial take-off. Their positions are reversed in our dynamic passing tests, the Type R delivering an equally small advantage when accelerating in third gear.

Both cars are equipped with large wheel rims and tyres, which deliver more than the usual amount of road surface feedback, yet along with performance-based Brembo front brakes they deliver excellent stopping performance, with the Type R notably less squirmy in full emergency stops. Fuel economy over two weeks favoured the Type R, which averaged in the low 8.0L/100km range while the RS was consistently around 10.0L/100km.

Performance testing

Performance testing reinforced driving characteristics that we had glimpsed during everyday use. The silky Honda gearshift revelled in rapid-fire changes, whereas the Ford’s clunky shift mechanism would baulk if rushed. There’s no denying the advantages of the Focus all-wheel drive for getting power down on loose or slippery surfaces, but clearly it comes at a cost. The tighter suspension set-up in the Ford and a faster steering response also made it feel more nervous and twitching over uneven surfaces, and there was always a sense of working harder to get the best out of it. A manual handbrake lever is a reminder of its all-wheel-drive rally concept.

By contrast the ride compliance, handling composure, ease and comfort with which the Honda could be hustled over any road was impressive. The Type R is fundamentally as quick and dynamic as the RS, but it’s more civilised as well as impressive in its build and finish presentation. It’s a very engaging and easier performance car to live with as a daily ride, and comes with a superior five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.


The verdict

It would be difficult to separate these two in a track-day competition, the Focus RS likely edging out the Civic Type R where all-wheel grip is a factor. However, in terms of presence, performance delivery, refinement and everyday useability, the Honda is the standout.

HONDA CIVIC TYPE R

FORD FOCUS RS

Price

$50,990 + $4151 (est) ORC. Premium paint $575. 

$56,990 + $4636 (est) ORC. Premium paint – standard. 

Safety

ESC. ABS. 6 airbags. Autonomous emergency braking. Lane-keep, lane- departure and blind-spot systems. Adaptive cruise control. Reversing camera. Front/rear parking sensors. ISOFIX child seating.

ESC. ABS. 4 airbags. Autonomous emergency braking. Reversing camera. Rear parking sensors. Emergency assistance.

Connectivity

7” touch-screen. Phone-linked sat-nav. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Digital/AM/FM radio. 2 x USB, 1 x HDMI ports.

8” touch-screen. Sat-nav (with voice control). Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Digital/AM/FM radio. 1 x CD. 2 x USB ports.

Vehicle features

Dual-zone climate control. LED headlights. Auto-folding mirrors. 

Dual-zone climate control. Bi-xenon headlights. Auto-folding mirrors.

Driver features

Keyless entry/start. Selectable drive/dampers. LSD torque vectoring. Alloy sports pedals. Fully adjustable steering.

Keyless entry/start. Selectable drive/dampers. Torque vectoring. Alloy sports pedals. Fully adjustable steering.

Specifications

Drivetrain: 1996cc 4cyl turbo-petrol engine. Front-wheel drive (LSD). 6spd manual. 228kW@6500rpm, 400Nm@2500rpm.
Performance: 0-60km/h, 3.6sec. 0-80, 4.9. 0-100, 7.0. 50-80, 3.4. 60-100, 4.1. 0-400m, 14.7. Stopping from 80km/h, 20.7m.
Fuel: 8.2L/100km (RACV test); 8.8L/100km (govt test). 47L tank. 95-RON petrol. 
Wheels: 20” alloy, 245/30 ZR20 tyres. No spare wheel (inflator kit).
Environment:
200g/km CO2.

Drivetrain: 2300cc 4cyl turbo-petrol engine. All-wheel drive. 6spd manual. 257kW@ 6000rpm, 440Nm@1600rpm.
Performance: 0-60km/h, 2.8sec. 0-80, 4.3. 0-100, 6.5. 50-80, 3.7. 60-100, 4.2. 0-400m, 14.4. Stopping from 80km/h, 21.7m.
Fuel: 10.1L/100km (RACV test); 8.1L/100km (govt test). 52L tank. 95-RON petrol.
Wheels: 19” alloy, 235/35 R19 tyres. No spare wheel (inflator kit).
Environment: 190g/km CO2.

Service/repairs

12-month/10,000km services.
5yr/unlimited km warranty.

12-month/15,000km services.
3yr/100,000km warranty.

Category ratings

Pricing                                              ***
Features & equipment                ****
Presentation                                 ****  
Seating comfort                             ***   
Space                                           *****  
Noise                                                ***   
Performance                            ****1/2  
Ride                                                   ***      
Handling & braking                 ****1/2  
Economy                                         ****
Safety (ANCAP)                      Not tested                 

Pricing                                             **1/2
Features & equipment                     ***
Presentation                                      ***  
Seating comfort                             **1/2   
Space                                                **** 
Noise                                                   ***   
Performance                               ****1/2  
Ride                                                   **1/2      
Handling & braking                          ****
Economy                                             ***
Safety (ANCAP)                      Not tested                 

Also consider:

These comments are from RACV’s experienced team of vehicle testers. Check out the full range of RoyalAuto car reviews, news and other motoring information at royalauto.com.au.

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