I recently made a film comparing the new Ford Focus RS to the Volkswagen Golf R on a closed track. These cars were all stock, except for the fact that the owner of the Golf R had put Michelin PSS on the Golf instead of the stock tires. So the Golf had a bit of a bump in grip. You can watch the review here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-euR2Bi04o&list=PLuLtF2Rwd40U_7Tiia8CFUr62nXVrfQN-&index=2
Now, almost immediately there was out-cry, as the VW camp said that it wasn't fair because the Golf didn't have the DSG, and that the Focus was on Cup-2 tires. The Focus set the faster lap time, and the reason for this apparently, was that the Focus had better tires and the Golf didn't have the DSG. Wrong.
The truth for me was a simple one. I drove these two back to back in the same conditions on the same track, and as an overall driving experience the Focus was just better. Every aspect of how you interact with the RS is delivered so you with a shot of tabasco compared to the Golf R. The steering feels quicker and more communicative, the clutch has more feel, the sound is better, the looks are better. Before I go further though, I want to say that the Golf R is also very very good. The seating position is bang on, it doesn't really feel any slower than the RS for having 50 less torques, and the ride is far more sophisticated; well damped, and stiff without being bouncy. HOWEVER. The major problem with the R becomes apparent at the limit. Something most people who driven these haven't experienced. With the ones I tested anyway, the R felt FWD while the RS felt RWD. End of story. That did it for me.
The number of times I have heard this: "Yea but if you change the sway bars or the alignment, or give it more power, etc. etc., then the Golf will be better..." Thats simply not the point is it? This was intended to be a stock vs stock comparison. Of course I could set the Golf up to oversteer more and the Focus up to understeer more, but that would defeat the purpose. I wanted to compare these cars BEFORE modding them. In fact I broke my own rules a bit by testing a Golf R that was on better rubber than stock, and the Focus was still faster and more fun. The Focus was better balanced. You could steer it with the throttle, and power through the corner hard, making it easier to drive fast. The Golf would only understeer under a heavy right foot, and you could feel the systems using the brake based torque vectoring trying desperately to trim the line and pull it towards the apex.
The Focus uses a ton of electronic trickery as well, BUT it shunts 70% of the torque to the rear and actively vectors the torque to allow you to slide the rear around as you see fit. Not only is that more fun, but for me anyway, its faster. Now this isn't to say I couldn't slide the golf around. I did. Chuck it into a corner and lift of and the rear will come around, but thats how you do it with a GTI, so whats the point.
I want to know what you think. Was this a fair comparison? Should I not have made sure the cars were both manual transmission? Should I not have made sure one didn't have a track alignment? The DSG golf might be faster and I might review one next season, but I wanted to experience the manual in both first. In the end the Focus set the better time, not only because of the rubber advantage, but because it was more receptive to on the limit driving, and demonstrated a better front end.
Something I want to say though... If I was to drive across the country (which is Canada..i.e. a long bloody way) in one of these two, it would be the Golf. Hands down. The interior is lightyears above, the seat is better, the ride is better, its quieter and easier to drive. BUT. If I owned one and frequented a track, where you can experience the car at its true limits. The Focus would be my only choice.