Ford Focus RS v Subaru WRX STI v Volkswagen Golf R Comparison: Road Test

Think turbocharged, four-wheel-drive cars and it's hard not to picture rally monsters flying over jumps and sliding through forests millimetres from trees. These days, though, buyers keen for a road-going, boosted, all-paw performance car are spoilt for choice. And, if you've got around $50k to spend, three of the best you can buy are the Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI, and Volkswagen Golf R. But which is the best? Well, strap in…

The cars

Blowing socks off the world-over since blasting onto the scene in January this year, the 2016 Ford Focus RS is, apparently, the car everybody wants - and, apparently, the car every other car wants to be.

It’s got the style and sound of a road-legal rally car, and it easily comes into this comparison with the highest of expectations.

By contrast, the 2016 Subaru WRX STI is essentially the same fourth-generation WRX-based STI launched locally back in 2014 (barring some MY16 price adjustments).

It may not have all the latest electronic trickery on-board, but it has character in spades. Plus, when it comes to having a rally-bred background, the STI is king.

If you think Volkswagen and the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R are lacking in the rallying stakes compared with the other two here, it’s worth noting that the German car maker has been dominating the World Rally Championship (WRC) since returning to the sport in 2013 – they’ve taken top spot for the last three years, and are so far on track to do the same again in 2016.

And, while the flagship Volkswagen Golf may not be on-par with a Polo R WRC car in terms of outright performance, it’s no slouch either.

For parity – given the Focus RS and WRX STI are both manual-only options – we’ve also gone with a manual Golf R over one with a DSG dual-clutch automatic.

The plan

With thoroughness front of mind, our plan for this comparison encompasses two parts: a road drive (part one) and a track drive (part two).

Our 250-kilometre-plus public-road drive loop consists of urban and highway miles, along with an extensive collection of some of Victoria’s best, yet most challenging, tarmac twists and turns.

The reasons for this are simple: we want to test each car over a variety of sealed surfaces and in various situations, as well as give each tester ample seat time in each car so they can make the best decision at the end of the day in terms of not only the best performer, but the one they’d choose for themselves.

As for those testers, we have our own, and much loved, James Ward; myself (a turbo-nerd from way back); and none other than Australian rally icon Chris ‘Atko’ Atkinson.

Fresh from his debut crack at America’s Red Bull Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) with his former Subaru WRC team, Chris is more than qualified to drive and share his thoughts on the three cars we have gathered here.

Price and features

Perhaps looking a touch more restrained, to the untrained eye, than when finished in its hero Nitrous Blue colour, our Magnetic Grey Ford Focus RS still ticks enough boy-racer boxes to keep rally fans happy.

Priced at $50,990 (before on-road costs), the Focus RS makes its presence felt with the help of blue ‘RS’ badges front and rear, a leaf-ingesting front end with mean-looking air intakes and a barely hidden intercooler, and a suitably stage-ready ‘RS’-embossed rear wing.

An aggressive rear diffuser houses a unique, round rear fog light and two WRC-spec-looking exhaust pipes, while bright blue Brembo brake calipers sit inside optional 10-spoke, ‘RS’-stamped 19-inch forged alloy wheels wrapped in ultra-grippy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres – the latter wheel and tyre package costing $2500.

Standard equipment includes daytime running lights, automatic wipers and bi-xenon HID headlights, cruise control with speed limiter, dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rear parking sensors, a nine-speaker stereo with DAB digital radio, and an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with SYNC 2 voice activation, Bluetooth, and satellite navigation.

Launch control, adjustable dampers, torque vectoring, and tyre pressure monitoring will please track junkies, as will the RS-branded leather and Dinamica Recaro front bucket seats, leather Recaro rear bench seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, sports pedals, and RS kick plates.

With four exterior STI badges, STI centre caps on its gunmetal 18-inch alloy wheels, a mandatory bonnet scoop, and, of course, that monster rear wing, there’s simply no mistaking the Subaru WRX STI.

Arguably the most eye-catching of the three gathered here, in these colours at least, the entry-level STI is also the most affordable at $49,790 (before on-road costs).

Rolling on Dunlop Sport Maxx RT rubber as standard, our Lightning Red ‘Rex doesn’t get the BBS wheels, electric and heated leather seats, electric sunroof, and heated mirrors of the $5900 more expensive STI Premium – or the dearer model’s blind-spot monitoring, lane-change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert technology – but it’s no ‘stripper’ either.

Daytime running lights, automatic wipers and LED headlights, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, rear privacy glass, a 3.5-inch central LCD display, an eight-speaker Harman/Kardon stereo with subwoofer, and a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with voice command recognition, Bluetooth, and satellite navigation are all standard.

Red-stitched and STI-branded Alcantara and leather sports bucket seats are included, and are joined by a leather gear shifter, handbrake, and flat-bottom steering wheel, along with sports pedals and STI kick plates.

The more basic STI can’t match the borderline gimmicky Focus RS when it comes to the Ford’s adjustable suspension and much-discussed ‘Drift Mode’. However, the humble Subaru does come with active torque vectoring and a driver-controlled centre differential (DCCD), as well as a dash-top-mounted digital boost gauge that is far more helpful – and likely more accurate – than the Focus’ tacky tri-gauge cluster.

If equipment, quality, and refinement are what you’re after, though, both the Focus RS and WRX STI have to concede defeat to the sedately styled Volkswagen Golf R.

Feeling every bit its $52,740 (before on-road costs) asking price, the Golf R simply nails ‘Euro cool’, with its gloss black rear diffuser and shark fin antenna, and gloss black accented rear spoiler and Continental ContiSportContact 5P-wrapped 19-inch Cadiz alloy wheels, popping nicely against its Reflex Silver paintwork.

Subtle ‘R’ badging on the front guards, front grille and tailgate confirm the model’s understated appeal, with tinted LED tail-lights and matte chrome wing mirrors adding to its gentlemanly persona.

Standard on the Golf R, you get LED daytime running lights, automatic wipers and bi-xenon headlights with dynamic cornering lights, cruise control with speed limiter, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, an electric parking brake, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rear privacy glass, an eight-speaker stereo, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth and satellite navigation, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

There’s also ‘R’-embroidered black leather-appointed heated front sports seats, an ‘R’-branded, flat-bottom leather multi-function sports steering wheel, a leather gear shifter, brushed aluminium sports pedals, and stainless steel kick plates with illuminated blue strips.

The list continues, with adaptive chassis control system, extended electronic differential lock (XDL), tyre pressure monitoring, driver fatigue detection system, cooled glovebox, auto-dipping power mirror when reversing, and power window remote open/close function.

If that’s still not enough kit for you, you can spec in a $1200 optional driver-assistance package that adds adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and front assist with city emergency braking.

And, while you can’t raise or lower the driver’s seat at all in the Focus RS like you can in the STI and Golf R, both driver and front passenger in the Golf get manual lumbar adjustment – a big win if longer drives are the norm.

That said, all three cars come standard with keyless entry and a push-button start, a rear-view camera and hill start assist, a reach and rake adjustable steering wheel, height adjustable seat belts, switchable driving modes, and a sport or track mode for their respective stability control systems.

The Subaru is the only car here not to offer fuel-saving engine stop-start technology, however, a bigger issue for some could be the RS’s lack of front side airbags – a result, in part, of Ford Australia speccing all local cars with the fast Focus’ motorsport-inspired, hard-backed, shell bucket seats.

What does this mean? In short, it means the RS gets four airbags in total compared with the STI and Golf R’s seven each (front, front side, driver’s knee, and curtain).

Cabins and practicality

Easily leading the pack in terms of interior polish and style, the Golf R expertly blends spot-on ergonomics with leather, gloss black, and brushed aluminium highlights, to make the German contender feel vastly more expensive than its Japanese and (yeah okay, German-built but still) American rivals.

The R’s white-stitched leather sports seats are nicely bolstered, supportive, and super comfortable. The driver’s instruments are clear, the indicator and wiper stalks are beautifully damped, and the blue ring-topped gear shifter looks as premium as it feels.

Storage in the Volkswagen is the best of the bunch, too, offering the biggest door pockets, a closable centre stack cubby with AUX and USB inputs, two cup holders with a retractable cover, a good glovebox and centre console bin, plus under-seat storage tubs for driver and front passenger.

In the back, the rear bench of the Golf R is flatter than that in the STI, although its backrest is less raked and more upright, making for a more natural and comfortable seating position.

Backseat Golf R passengers should feel no less special than those in the front, with door pockets, two map pockets, two LED reading lights, and two rear air vents to keep them pleased, along with a fold-down centre armrest with two cup holders and a ski-port.

Rear seat headroom in all three cars is excellent, however, the Golf fractionally trails the Focus for rear leg-room, with the WRX offering the most of the three here by a decent margin.

That said, the Subaru is the tightest on toe- and foot-room, followed by the Volkswagen. With its non-height adjustable bucket seats sitting high off the floor, it is in fact the Ford that provides the most room for rear passenger’s kicks.

As with its exterior, the Subaru’s interior is ever-keen to remind you what car it is, with STI logos on the firm but nicely-shaped, multi-function steering wheel, the transmission tunnel, the front seat headrests, and the tachometer.

Overall ambience isn’t a match for the Golf R but it isn’t lightyears away either, with red-stitched felt door trims, faux-carbon accents, positive ergonomics, and a general feeling of airiness ensuring the older WRX STI still pips the newer Focus RS for cabin feel.

Storage is addressed well with reasonably-sized door pockets, a good glovebox, a clever, open but lipped centre stack cubby with AUX and USB inputs and a 12-volt outlet, two cup holders with a retractable cover, and a small centre console bin.

Jump into the STI’s supportive rear bench and there are more door pockets, two fold-out cup holders, and two map pockets. Unfortunately, rear seat passengers in both the Subaru and the Ford miss out on the Volkswagen’s inclusion of rear air vents.

If the Golf R manages to feel more upmarket than its price suggests while you’re sat still in it, and the STI about bang-on, in the Focus RS it’s easy to forget you’re in a car worth over $50,000 – and as tested, worth $750 more than the Volkswagen and $3700 more than the Subaru.

It may be going for the rally-car image on the outside, but inside, the RS is largely drab, dark, and borderline claustrophobic.

The Recaro buckets, while ideal for high-g cornering, can’t be lowered down from their fixed, highchair-like position, making the RS’s odd pedal placement even more frustrating.

A black plastic centre stack sits under a black soft-touch dash, while clicky and cheap-feeling indicator and wiper stalks sit behind a black – though at least blue-stitched – ‘RS’-stamped, multi-function steering wheel.

Buttons must be cheap for Ford to source because they are everywhere the driver looks, except for the engine start button, which is all but hidden below the black-faced instruments.

Up front, the Focus gets decent door pockets, an open centre-stack cubby with a single USB input, adjustable cup holders with a retractable cover, an acceptable glovebox, and a teeny centre console bin with AUX and USB inputs, an SD card slot, and a 12-volt outlet. It also shares a roof-mounted sunglasses holder in common with the Golf R – something not present in the STI.

The Focus RS’s Recaro rear bench is comfortable, although the backrest is raked similarly to the STI’s. And, as well as missing out on rear air vents, the Ford is also sans map pockets and rear cup holders. There are small door pockets, however, as well as two shallow storage tubs per outboard rear seat.

All three cars seat five, have 60:40 split-fold rear seats, and can accommodate two ISOFIX-compatible child seats, however, the Focus is the only one to forgo a space-saver spare tyre for a puncture repair kit.

And, when it comes to boot size and capacity, the only sedan in the test, the Subaru, at 460 litres, easily takes the win ahead of the Volkswagen at 343L and the Ford at 260L. That said, both the latter two offer four luggage hooks to the former’s none.

On the road

Before getting stuck into the driving, let’s first tick off some basics.

At 4595mm long, the Subaru WRX STI is the longest of our trio, ahead of the Ford Focus RS (4390mm) and Volkswagen Golf R (4264mm).

At 1823mm wide, the Focus RS is the widest of the three, followed by the Golf R (1799mm) and the WRX STI (1795mm). At 1575kg kerb (1543kg tare), the RS is also the heaviest here, the ‘Rex weighing in at 1529kg kerb (1489kg tare), and the R at 1416kg tare (Volkswagen Australia couldn’t supply a kerb weight figure).

Luckily for the Ford, while it may indeed be the weightiest car here, by the numbers, it’s also the most powerful and the fastest.

Powered by a turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder (running a compression ratio of 9.4:1), the Focus RS claims 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds with the help of 257kW of power at 6000rpm and 440Nm of torque between 2000-4500rpm (up to 470Nm on overboost for 15 seconds).

Ford claims the RS runs a maximum turbo boost pressure of up to 23psi (1.59bar), can hit a top speed of 266km/h, and is able to use 8.1 litres of premium unleaded fuel per 100km on the combined cycle.

The second-most powerful car here is also the second fastest.

Powered by the same turbocharged 2.5-litre ‘boxer’ four-cylinder (running a compression ratio of 8.2:1) as the previous third-generation WRX-based STI, the 2016 WRX STI again has outputs of 221kW of power at 6000rpm and 407Nm of torque at 4000rpm.

Claiming 0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds and 10.4L/100km, Subaru Australia told CarAdvice that maximum turbo boost pressure for the STI is “not specified in the workshop manual”, although, the car’s own digital boost gauge showed a peak of 18psi (1.25bar).

Albeit the slowest and least powerful of our three, the Golf R is comfortably the most economical.

Powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder (running a compression ratio of 9.3:1), the Golf R claims to sip a mere 7.3L/100km.

With 206kW of power between 5100-6500rpm and 380Nm of torque between 1800-5100rpm, Volkswagen suggests the R can hustle from 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds and onwards to a top speed of 250km/h. Volkswagen Australia also told CarAdvice a maximum turbo boost pressure figure was “not a figure that is available”.

With the weight of the performance-car world on its shoulders, let’s start first with the Ford Focus RS.

With the previous-generation Focus RS’s ‘RevoKnuckle’ front-suspension design binned in the switch from front- to all-wheel drive, and a significantly retuned version of the EcoBoost Mustang’s engine replacing the old RS’s turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine, we can’t wait to hear what Atko thinks after his first drive of the new RS.

“Can’t say I love it,” he says.

“I’m not fussed. It doesn’t have the feedback that I want, you can’t feel the grip unless you really lean on the car, there’s no engagement, and the seating position is way too high. The engagement is what’s missing for me, especially when you hop out of the Subaru and into this. Also, I expected it to be quicker as well.

“It’s light on turn in, and I don’t mind light, but there’s no information. You can feel the geometry working in the mid-corner once you get the car loaded but you don’t know what’s happening with the tyres underneath you.

“I felt uncomfortable driving it, in terms of - I could go faster but I didn’t feel like I wanted to. In contrast, the Subaru I can drive flat out all day because I clearly know where the limit is."

After his first stint, James seems a little more impressed.

“The grip out of the Ford is amazing. I never even got the tyres to the point of squealing or sliding, they just gripped. I didn’t feel I was anywhere close to the limit of grip in that car.

“It’s fast, it’s fun, and it sounds cool.”

Around town the Focus RS is by far the firmest of our trio – and that’s despite its adjustable dampers having a ‘Normal’ and ‘Sport’ setting and the WRX STI being ‘stuck’ with a fixed setup. For context, with the its dampers in ‘Normal’ mode, the RS is still firmer than the Golf R when its adaptive chassis control system in its most extreme ‘Race’ mode.

Combine this with ultra-responsive steering, and time in the Focus RS is busy, fidgety, and all-in-all fatiguing – even on urban roads and at modest speeds. Turn onto a freeway or highway for an extended period, or come across tram tracks, speed humps, or cobbled roads, and – definitely compared with the hugely comfortable and compliant Golf, but even in comparison with the taut-yet-controlled STI – the RS could very well have you questioning your purchase.

The Ford also lays claim to the worst turning circle – 11.8 metres kerb-to-kerb versus 11.0m for the STI and 10.9m for the Golf R.

At the other end of the scale, the Golf R is easily the most flexible of the three cars here. It has the most elastic engine, the slickest and smoothest gearbox, and the easiest clutch to use and get used to. It’s also deceptively fast too.

“I can just hop in the Golf and drive it anywhere and you feel comfortable,” Atko says.

“It does everything really well: easy to drive, nice on the highway, really good chassis and grip and steering feedback. So on that side of things, I’m really impressed by it.

“It’s lacking a little bit of the outright performance in terms of lateral grip and engine performance – could definitely do with more power – but because it’s dynamically quite good, you can actually carry a lot of speed in it, and you’re not afraid to do that because you get really good feeling from the car.”

Admittedly “not a Golf guy”, James feels the Golf R is “a bit boring” compared with the Focus and WRX.

“But I’m impressed and I’m surprised. It does a really good job.

“For mine, you don’t feel it’s doing everything for you, but you also don’t feel you’re putting yourself or the car at risk. It’s not a hard car to drive fast, it’s easy. It’s also got a lot of torque in third gear – it’s happy for days there.

“It does slide a bit when pushing on, but I blame the tyres, and it certainly doesn’t push like the Subaru does – that pushes more than anything – but that’s its weak point at this point for me. But you don’t feel like you’re driving a front-biased car and it’s certainly capable.”

Giving his own explanation as to why the Golf R’s Haldex 5-based 4Motion four-wheel-drive system – which only engages the car’s rear axle ‘whenever necessary’ – hadn’t seemed to be holding the R back compared with its two all-wheel-drive rivals, Atko says it comes down to traction.

“I think you don’t feel it being penalised by its four-wheel-drive system so much because it’s got such good dampers and body control that the wheels are always on the ground,” Chris says.

“It’s a soft car but it’s stable and has good rebound control, which gives you good traction, which is exactly what you want.”

With its single-spec suspension on board and simple three-mode Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) system offering a choice of Intelligent, Sport, and Sport Sharp driving modes, the Subaru WRX STI wins fans throughout the day.

It might feel the most ‘old school’ of the three here, but it’s also the most honest in its driving experience. It’s the most communicative, it still hustles, and it’s still fun.

“The Subaru, performance-wise and suspension-wise, is halfway between a track car and a rally car – that’s where it’s always been,” Chris says.

“The suspension isn’t the stiffest out there, which you can live with, but it still handles well. It moves around a bit but that’s part of the fun – you like that the chassis’s moving around.

“I know when I can change direction over a crest, I know exactly what the chassis’s going to do because you can feel what’s going to happen. Where in the Focus RS, you have – for sure, with the dampers in their softer setting it’s a bit better – but you have no idea exactly how it’s going to react off a bump.”

James too can’t hide his fondness for the uncomplicated, but not unsophisticated, Subaru.

“I still love the STI because of its character. From behind, on the road, it looks unreal.

“You’d buy the Focus RS because it’s cool, you’d buy the Golf R because it’s easy, and you’d buy the STI because it’s fun.”

At its best and most impressive with adequate revs on board, catch the STI’s EJ25 engine below 3000rpm when out in the hills, and you’ll find yourself waiting for thrust to return. Hovering between 1000-2000rpm is fine when pootling around town, but the smaller capacity engines in the Focus RS and Golf R both pick up much better from lower in the rev range.

The Subaru offers keen drivers the most feedback of any of the cars here, though. And, while the downside is that you’re more likely to be aware of every bump, dip, and pothole – and occasionally feel some steering rack rattle or vibration as noted on test – the WRX STI is the best here for learning your own and your car’s limits.

On Chris’s advice, we switch the STI’s driver-controlled centre differential from ‘Auto’ to fully open, and the change is instant. Instead of the car wanting to understeer mid-corner, the STI becomes notably sharper and more agile, while still pulling hard out of corners.

Although the Focus RS wins best brakes for the day, the STI’s consistently firm brake pedal inspires loads of confidence – something you want and appreciate, as, when you get it wrong, the Subaru also feels the heaviest car here, even though it’s not.

Road Test wrap-up

It’s important to remember that part one of this comparison was all about finding out which of these three cars is best at leaving you grinning ear-to-ear after a jaunt into the mountains, while still being able to nail the everyday – not about which is the ultimate weekend warrior track car.

So, with our road drive completed, what are the findings?

Well, unsurprisingly, the Volkswagen Golf R proved the most fuel efficient of the three – 10.5L/100km versus 13.3L/100km for the Ford Focus RS and 14.0L/100km for the Subaru WRX STI.

It’s also worth noting the Volkswagen comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, three years roadside assist, and requires scheduled services every 15,000km or 12 months – trumping the Ford’s three-year/100,000km warranty, one-year roadside assist, and scheduled services every 15,000km or 12 months, and the Subaru’s three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, one-year roadside assist, and scheduled services every 12,500km or six months.

But we wanted to find out two things: which car performed the best, and which car would our testers choose for themselves.

Atko’s pick

“Sure, the Focus RS has got good grip and good lateral grip, but it doesn’t give you that feedback and the feeling you want. Everything’s reactive and almost over-reactive, which is what you don’t want on a bumpy narrow road – on a track that’s fine because you can deal with it.

“Once you increase the level, that overreaction and nervousness the car has, goes away, because you’ve loaded the tyre, you’ve loaded the suspension, you’ve loaded all of the joints. But it’s more of a race car, it’s an edgier car on more of a knife-edge and it will be for sure fast on the track.

“The biggest thing annoying me with the RS is the seating position. It doesn’t feel like you’re in the car, like you’re driving the car. You hop in the Golf R, and it fits like a glove. And it’s the same in the STI – you know where the pedals are, everything works.

“So, on a bumpy, narrow road, I don’t need the fastest car, I want a car that gives me good feedback, and good feeling, and good change of direction, and you know where the limit is, and that’s when I can drive fast. And for me, the Subaru did that the best on that type of road, but was probably just a little bit 'not edgy' enough for that outright grip – but you can change that easily with tyres and suspension. It’s just a little bit compromised in the suspension settings.

“My pick for best performer for the day, though, is the Volkswagen Golf R. And my pick for myself? I’d take the Golf R, probably because I’m getting old and I don’t need a car that pops and bangs. I want to be able to just hop in a car, fit in comfortably, and drive it fast when I want. I don’t need a race car for driving everyday.”

James’s pick

“Okay, so the best car on the road, really, is the Golf R. It does around town really well. It does out there in the hills, surprisingly well. It didn’t get embarrassed, it didn’t feel slow, it didn’t fall apart, and it does urban so much better than the other two.

“But if we’re looking at a level of enjoyment and engagement, the Golf just doesn’t have it for me. It’s fun – it’s not, not fun – but I think the Ford has a certain excitement factor about it, and the Subaru has a certain raw, ‘old school’ Subaru factor about it.

“For me, best performer of the day? Volkswagen Golf R. But the one I’d choose for myself? The Subaru, because I can fit in it. That’s an immediate deal-breaker in the Ford. I like the Ford, a lot, but if you can’t get comfortable… And the Golf’s excellent but too boring for me.”

Road Test verdict

Expectation can be a funny thing. Believe all the hype about the 2016 Ford Focus RS and it should be the best and most exciting thing you could ever drive. Believe the hype, though, and you’d be wrong.

For me, in reality, the Focus RS falls short of expectation. It’s fidgety, annoying, tiring, and underwhelming in Normal mode and not punchy, aggressive, or anti-social enough in ‘Race Track’ mode – a Mini Cooper S in Sport mode provides more exhaust-pipe popcorn noise than the Focus RS.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from mild, but it ain’t quite wild either. And, if you’re going to drop $50k-plus on a silly car that you can’t adjust the seat height in, it’s got to make you smile every minute of every day. And sadly, that’s just not something the Focus RS can do.

That said, it’s also not something the Golf R can do either. Make no mistake, the Mk7-based R is an impeccably polished piece of kit well deserving of taking out 'part one' of this comparison, and it far surpassed any expectation any of us had, going into this comparison. Far surpassed. But where its refinement and maturity lets it down, is that it can too soon, too quickly, approach boredom. Always excellent but not always exciting - that pretty much sums up the Volkswagen Golf R.

And that, my friends, leaves the Subaru WRX STI. If you want a car that can make you smile every minute of every day, it’s the STI. It’s the most honest, simple, and genuine of the three cars here, and it’s also the most affordable. It might not have the outright comfort or flexibility of the Golf R, but it’s not far off, and it’s miles ahead of the Focus RS. It’s got the biggest boot, the most rear space, it’s faster than the Golf R, and almost as brisk as the Focus RS – something a set of tyres could well change.

The Subaru WRX STI may not be the newest kid on the block, but look back through the pages of history and it’s a model well familiar with labels such as 'best affordable, turbocharged, four-wheel-drive car money can buy'. The STI understands the hype attached to the Focus RS only too well, because it’s been there before.

Will the Focus RS claw back some ground once we hit the track? To find out, read and watch part two: the Track Test.

Click on the Photos tab for more Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI and Volkswagen Golf R images by Tom Fraser.

READ ON: Focus RS v Golf R v WRX STI - Part Two: Track Test

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