I’m sure by now that many of you will have seen the video where I tested three similar but also very different cars on a wet track in December. The cars in question were the all-wheel drive Ford Focus RS, the rear-wheel drive BMW M140i and the front wheel Honda Civic Type R, a car which has quickly cemented itself as a bit of a legend.
Now before I talk you through the day and my thoughts on each car, it’s apparent from a few YouTube comments that I need to clear some things up:
Despite what I tell my girlfriend, I am not God and therefore have no power over the British weather. Sorry. The day was cold, wet, dark and slippery. The AWD Ford Focus was the clear and obvious favourite in these conditions from the start.
Despite what I (jokingly) tell you in videos, I am NOT a racing driver, although my plan for this year is to get my racing license, enter F1, win the championship and suddenly quit (probably because I know deep down that I’ll never be able to win the championship again).
To that end, each car was driven to the best of my ability on a short track that I know very well now, so there was no bias in any of the laps. The same goes for the Civic Type R vs E36 M3 video, in which I drove my lemon so hard that the viscous coupling failed.
With that cleared up, here was a breakdown of the day and a few things I learned about the cars after many laps, a few spins and a couple of ‘oh sh*t’ moments.
As I mentioned, the Focus RS’s AWD traction and Top Trumps-winning power figure meant that this car, in these conditions would likely come out on top. The RS is a car I’ve driven quite a lot, and on the day of filming our triple test, I remembered why I like it so much. It’s the best looking of the three cars, it has a button dedicated to going sideways and it’s extremely entertaining to drive fast on track. It also proved reliable on the day, despite multiple sideways antics, hard launches and burning brakes.
Thanks to 345bhp and 347lb ft of torque from its turbocharged 2.3-litre in-line four, the RS gets to 62mph in 4.7 seconds (the fastest out of the three cars here) on paper, ahead of its 165mph top speed. Remember, these figures for a hot hatch are ludicrous. The Ford’s 1547kg weight also makes it the heaviest car here by quite a margin…
Nevertheless, the standout feature of the RS was its incredible traction. Where the Civic Type R span its front wheels like a dog on a polished floor, and where the BMW broke its rear-end free with as much gusto as a lactose intolerant person after downing a pint of milk, the RS barely suffered from the adverse/British weather conditions. For that reason, I’d recommend this car to anyone in the UK looking for a car that is fun in all weathers.
Driven hard on track, the RS is also a predictable car to throw through corners, thanks to a fairly long wheelbase and accomplished all-wheel drive system. The manual gearbox is decent too, although not quite as nice as the Civic Type R’s. Which brings me neatly onto that car…
Again, the Civic Type R is a car I’ve driven a lot. I admire it for the fact that it’s the only car in its class to produce negative lift (sold out, limited run VW Golf GTI Clubsport S aside) and I like the fact that the car’s underbelly is flat to help make it more slippery. I also love the fact that it’ll do 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and 170mph on the Autobahn. But the best bit? That’s the attention it gets - everyone, everywhere looks at the Type R, and wonders what the hell Honda was smoking when it came to designing the car. Little do these people know that the wing and all the offensive paraphernalia serves a purpose.
And that purpose is to make this front-wheel drive, 306bhp/295lb ft, 2.0-litre turbocharged and VTEC-engined car as fast as possible, not only in a straight line, but around a track. I won’t bore you with all the technical highlights, but if you want to know what makes this Honda so damn fast, read this.
In practice, the Type R is astonishingly fast, physics-defying, even. Front-end grip is mesmerising and hard turn-in can cause your brain fluid to slosh to one side (humans haven’t evolved far enough to feature dry sumps). In the wet, though, 306bhp going through the front wheels doesn’t bode well. Launches to 62mph take closer to 7.0 seconds, compared to around 5.5 seconds in the RS, and understeer rears its ugly head, especially on hairpins. What’s more, the wet conditions and the Type R’s super-stiff chassis produced moments of unexpected oversteer, which resulted in squeaky bum time on a couple of occasions.
Still, the Type R makes for a great hyper hatch for UK buyers looking to embarrass owners of cars who have spent three times the amount on their cars.
The big advantage of the BMW is its six-cylinder, in-line six, turbocharged engine that produces 338bhp and a substantial 369lb ft of torque for effortless acceleration and in-gear performance. Then, there’s the quality that you get with a car from BMW. The interior is made up of better, more expensive materials, and the fit and finish of the entire car are near-flawless.
But against the Ford and Honda, that’s where the advantages end. For starters, the seats in the M140i offer little lateral support, meaning you flop around through corners. The interior and exterior styling are bland by comparison, and the fact that the car doesn’t even feature a limited-slip differential is a let down…
It’s heavy, too, tipping the scales at 1525kg. That’s 143kg heavier than the Type R and only 22kg lighter than the AWD RS. On paper, at least, it’s good for 4.8 seconds to 62mph and 155mph, although a greasy track like we had, plus the missing LSD made this the slowest car on track on the day.
The biggest problem with the M140i was, again, the open differential and big lumps of torque that meant the rear wheels (or at least one of them at a time) lost complete traction before regaining its composure and attempting to messily drive that wheel. To say the M140i is an unpredictable handful in the wet is an understatement, and while this looks fun on track, trust me when I say that it’s just plain annoying on the roads.
As I said in the video, though, I get the allure of having a six-pot BMW. In the right conditions, they’re awesome, but in the UK, the right conditions are pretty few and far between, especially if you want to drive the balls off your car regularly. With the M140i, then, you’ll have to keep a very close eye on the weather reports.
To sum up, then, my favourite car of the three was and still remains the Focus RS. It’s fun, looks great, works in all weathers and costs from £31,250. Just be warned, though: boot space is abysmal because of the AWD system that raises the boot floor by around 30cm, and fuel economy is tragic. I actually think you’d do better with the 5.0 Mustang GT.
The £30,000 Type R comes in a close second place, losing out on the top spot due to the fact that I love going sideways. And as for the £32,200 BMW M140i, it simply can’t compete for excitement. It’s also too safe in its styling, and did I mention its open diff that spoils all the fun? Boo.