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Ford Focus RS vs Focus ST – hot hatches compared

January 28, 2016 by

The launch of a new fast Ford is always something special and the new Focus RS has been one of the most highly anticipated. It offers massive performance in a practical package. However, many buyers might be better off with the Focus ST – it’s very fast in its own right, noticeably cheaper and even comes in an estate variant.

We’re comparing both models here to help you get a better of idea of which is the right one for you. Don’t forget to check out our Ford Focus RS deals page and Ford Focus ST deals page to see how much carwow could help you save.

Ford Focus RS vs Focus ST styling

Hot hatchbacks aren’t known for being the most shy and retiring of designs, and the two Fords are no exception. Both cars are aggressively styled and not easily mistaken for the standard Focus hatchback – larger alloy wheels and lairy bodykits are all part of the package.

The RS is undoubtedly the more eye-catching of the two cars, with a more outlandish front bumper complete with larger front air intakes and unique fog-lights. At the back the RS gets a huge boot-mounted spoiler and a deep rear diffuser, harking back to fast Fords of the past.

The ST is no wallflower, however, and still has a gaping front grille and sleek headlights that make its performance obvious. There’s also a spoiler at the back, but rather than the dual drain-like exhausts of the RS, there’s a centrally mounted pipe. Pick one of the more lurid Focus ST paint schemes such as Tangerine Scream or Deep Impact Blue and the ST will stand out nearly as much as its more powerful brother.

Ford Focus RS vs Focus ST interior

Despite their exciting exteriors, neither model sets the imagination alight inside. They share their basic design with the standard Focus which, unfortunately, means they’re not the most user-friendly environments. The infotainment system is outdated and the screen is small compared to rivals. Some of the plastics used also feel cheap compared to the Volkswagen Golf R.

Both cars feature excellent Recaro sports seats, but the RS distinguishes itself by offering more supportive versions as a £1,145 option. The RS is generally well equipped, with heated seats and climate control featuring as standard. In the ST, you can choose between three different trim levels – ST-3 is the most popular among buyers, but can amp up the price by quite a bit.

Unlike previous versions of the RS, the current car is only available as a five-door hatchback – that’s handy for those who need rear seat access but is a shame for buyers who prefer three-door body styles.

Frustratingly, the RS’s four-wheel-drive system restricts boot space to an alarmingly low 260-litres – that’s less than a Ford Fiesta! The ST ups this to 316-litres, but if you need more space then the estate version offers a much-improved 476-litres. Compared to rivals, this is both Focuses weakest link.

Ford Focus RS vs Focus ST engines

This is where the two Fords differ the most. The RS has a 2.3-litre four-cylinder petrol EcoBoost engine – an upgraded version of the one found in the entry-level Ford Mustang. In the the RS, it produces 345hp, comfortably more than rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf R.

Combined with the four-wheel-drive system and a six-speed manual gearbox, the RS can cover the 0-62mph sprint in just 4.7 seconds – 1.8 seconds faster than the ST and not far behind some supercars. It’s not the most aurally pleasing engine though, especially when compared to the five-cylinder engine in its predecessor.

The ST is actually available in two flavours, both petrol and diesel – the petrol version is more exciting, but the diesel would suit high mileage drivers better. The former is a 2.0-litre turbocharged unit producing 247hp – enough to get from 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds. The diesel ST is a little more sombre, offering 182hp and a 0-60mph time of 8.1 seconds. Its emissions and fuel economy are significantly improved compared to the petrol, so it could be a good option for thrill-seeking company car drivers.

Ford Focus RS vs Focus ST driving

Although the standard version of the current Focus has been slightly chastised for not being as fun as previous models, that criticism doesn’t apply to either the RS or the ST. Both cars are seriously good fun on a range of roads and, although their suspension can be firm in some settings, they’re more than compliant enough for most situations.

The RS’ four-wheel-drive system makes a world of difference in terms of grip and offers four modes that can change the way it drives – Normal, Sport, Track and Drift. The first two give the RS impressive feedback, but it’s Track where the raw abilities of the Ford are apparent, giving it lightning-quick lap-times and responses. Drift mode is even more extreme and lets the car perform controlled powerslides – that is, until you run out of talent.

The ST still offers plenty of thrills for drivers. The more conventional front-wheel drive layout helps the Focus to inspire confidence and makes it less likely to oversteer like the RS. The torque-vectoring system isn’t quite as polished as it could be, however, and can cause brakes to overheat after a few laps on a track day. If you’re thinking if heading to a track, you’d be better off in the RS.

Ford Focus RS vs Focus ST value for money

Fast Fords traditionally offer excellent value for money along with great performance, and both the RS and ST do well on that front as well. The RS costs just £29,995 – more than £800 cheaper than the slower Volkswagen Golf R, and a massive £10,000 less than similarly performing rivals including the Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A45.

Both petrol and diesel versions of the ST are priced the same, with only the trim making aby real difference. Basic ST-1 cars cost just £22,745, ST-2s are £24,495 and the well equipped ST-3 costs £26,545. Those prices are also lower than direct rivals – some of which are a bit faster, however.

Ford Focus RS vs Focus ST verdict

Both fast Focuses are deeply impressive, so the one you choose depends on your budget and how hardcore you’d like your new hatchback to be. Cheaper versions of the ST are fantastic value and offer a near unmatched blend of performance and fun for the price – petrol versions are probably the easiest to recommend, but there’s a case for the diesel ST if you regularly undertake long journeys.

The new Focus RS is an incredible machine, however, offering near-supercar levels of performance for the same price as a well-specced family crossover. It’s not the most practical hot hatchback out there, nor arguably the most attractive, but its breadth of ability is simply staggering. If you’re looking at the top-of-the-range Focus ST, we’d strongly suggest you look at an RS first.

Save money on your new fast Ford

If you’re sold on either of these cars, check out our Ford Focus RS deals page and Ford Focus ST deals page to see how much carwow could help you save. For more options, head over to our car chooser to narrow down your search.