Sport Compact Shootout – Focus RS vs. Subaru WRX STI vs. VW Golf R

Hello readers, Aaron Telitz here, Professional race car driver and ambassador for Morrie’s Automotive Group. My Indy Lights season recently ended so naturally I was looking for any excuse to get behind the wheel again. Morrie’s was hosting a track day at Brainerd International Raceway so I jumped at the chance to head on up and get some track time.

Morrie’s brought up three hot hatchbacks. From Volkswagen the Golf R. From Subaru the Impreza WRX STI. And from Ford the Focus RS. So I quickly felt like I was in a vintage Top Gear episode with Jeremy Clarkson and was ready to go get super sideways in three awesome cars.

I feel it’s important to mention that the weather was less than optimal. The temperature was in the mid 30’s and there was a mix of snow and drizzle in the air. Well, maybe not optimal beach weather, but for testing some hot hatchbacks, it was perfect!

The first car I took out was the Golf R. I quickly noted that there had been a few upgrades to this particular Golf that don’t come standard. It had a new exhaust system and potentially a turbo upgrade. It was FAST! I couldn’t believe how quick it was. On top of that, it had a great feel in the tricky conditions. The only downside for me was the fact that it was a bit on the understeer side in some of the corners which brought down it’s “fun” rating just a bit. You had to work a bit to get a good slide going. Exiting corners was an absolute riot. The all-wheel drive was working spectacularly in the low grip conditions making for a four-wheel drift at times coming off corners. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine never seemed to be out of its power band, delivering a solid punch of power whenever you needed it.

After some spirited laps in the Golf and I came in a swapped it out for the Subaru. Now, you might be thinking “the Subaru is made for cold, wet, and slippery conditions”. And you’d be exactly right! The amount of grip the Subaru still had in the low grip conditions was unreal. Its handling was very neutral giving me a ton of confidence to carry some big speed through the corners. When the car did finally lose grip the slide was very easy to control. This all sounds very good and well but it was missing a bit of that hot hatchback playfulness. It was all a bit too in control and slightly over gripped for my liking! I also felt it was lacking a bit of the torque and power that the Golf had. I really would have liked to try taking the Subaru down a gravel road to let it show me what it can do in its natural environment but alas I didn’t have access to that!

Last but certainly not least was the Focus RS. I haven’t mentioned seats yet because the Golf and STI had pretty standard seats. However, the Focus RS had Recaro racing seats! It was a great feel for the track but as a daily driver, it wouldn’t be optimal. The RS also had by far the stiffest ride of the three cars, another tick not in favor of a daily driver. Once out on the track, the RS quickly became my favorite of the three cars. It had great power and torque but even better handling. It put a smile on my face from the first corner when the rear went sliding out from under me and then held a perfect slide all the way through the corner. It was so much fun to throw around the track. The brakes weren’t the most powerful of the three cars, it didn’t have the most grip or the most power but it was still the most fun! And for me, when it comes to hot hatchbacks “Fun” is the only measure that matters.

You can’t go wrong with any of these cars but if I had to choose, I’d take the Ford Focus RS.

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