The 2016 Ford Focus RS, the 2016 Volkswagen Golf R, or the 2015 Subaru WRX STI? When you have just $40K (plus some loose change) to spare, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have the cash to go fast while on twisty terrain. Any of these 3 cars can do the job well enough, and they all have enduring reputations for providing a hot performance for a cheap price.
But which should you choose? While this decision does depend a lot on individual preferences, these cars all come with their own sets of pros and cons:
2016 Ford Focus RS
Its price starts at $36,605 before options. That’s more than double the price of a base Focus S Sedan. Sit in the driver chair, and somehow it feels sort of like the same. You get the same plastic interior and another dashboard where the designers were adamant that they can make every button fit.
Seriously, shouldn’t it feel better than this? Admittedly, the standard equipment comes with Recaro sports seats, keyless entry, and a touchscreen interface. The air intakes are bigger, the body kit is a bit more massive, and the rear wing seems more pronounced. But is that it?
It’s only when you get the Focus RS really going that you understand the difference. Remember, its 2-liter engine supposedly deliver up to 350 HP and 350 lb-ft of torque to all the 4 wheels. With its 6-speed manual transmission, you can go from zero to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds, and complete a quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds. The top speed is also 165 mph.
What’s more, driving it is more exciting than driving the Golf. Yet it’s not too exciting, so it offers a polish you won’t find in the unrefined WRX STI. This is a great drive, while it offers civility and comfort. The fuel economy is decent, cruising is quiet and easy, and driving it can be a pleasure.
2016 Volkswagen Golf R
This is the slowest of the 3 cars here, but that doesn’t actually mean that it’s slow. It’s still remarkably fast, considering that it only took 5.1 seconds to reach 60 mph and the quarter-mile was done in 13.6 seconds. And that’s an engine that offers 58 fewer horses than the Focus RS.
That engine is quite responsive on the road, and when you’re trying to overtake you won’t always need to downshift to get the acceleration you need. Part of this nimbleness is that it’s very light, so it can go, turn, and stop very quickly indeed.
But what will attract you to the Golf R is that this agility and quickness is matched with a very comfortable riding experience. While it offers a firm ride in race mode, it offers a smooth ride over rough roads when you’re in comfort mode. It’s a very cool car to drive, and it doesn’t take much of an effort to tame.
What’s more, it looks great and inside it’s even better. Among the 3 cars, the Golf R offers the cabin materials with the most appealing look and the most luxurious feel. It feels like the classiest of them all. It’s too bad that the Dieselgate scandal has tarnished the Volkswagen’s good name, as cars like this should be held up as proof that not everything connected with the brand is screwed up.
2015 Subaru WRX STI
What’s there left to say about this iconic rally car? Its reputation speaks for itself. It is what it is—a brutish car that performs. While its HP numbers don’t quite match the Ford Focus RS numbers, it is only one-tenth of a second slower at 4.7 seconds to reach 60 mph. It’s even faster to get to 100 mph, and it ties the Focus RS in the quarter-mile.
But when you directly compare the WRX STI to the other two, it doesn’t quite match up. The Subaru is a punishing ride, and poor road surfaces that the Golf can eat up will leave you battered and bruised inside the STI. Even its handling doesn’t seem as good as the others. There’s a hint of understeering even at lower speeds.
Essentially, while you can get from point A to point B in the Subaru very quickly, you’re not going to find it a comfortable ride. To add to your discomfort, the look of the Subaru exterior feels a bit too juvenile for some folks—especially the ones who can afford to buy such a vehicle. Inside it seems even worse. Its interior seems especially tacky and low-class compared to the other two, as the materials feel cheap and the display screens seem haphazard. It’s hard to believe that its price virtually matches the costs of the Golf R and the Focus RS.
So which do you get? Again, it depends on who you are:
- Subaru WRX STI: Get this if you feel that comfort and interiors are for wimps, and that a punishing ride is a badge of honor.
- Volkswagen Golf R: This is for you if you want a fast car that oozes with class.
- Ford Focus RS: This is a great combo of speed, agility, and civility.
So which one is for you? Only you can answer that question in the end!
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