Group test: Honda Civic Type R v BMW M140i v Ford Focus RS

Group test: Honda Civic Type R v BMW M140i v Ford Focus RS
Group test: Honda Civic Type R v BMW M140i v Ford Focus RS

New Type R takes on the hottest of hot hatches

With all three cars tested here boasting more than 300bhp, and two of the trio capable of nearly 170mph, hot hatches have never offered so much for your money. They’re anything but cheap, however, so it’s not all about outright performance; the perfect high-performance hatch needs balance power with everyday usability and practicality, as well as styling swagger and plenty of kit. We try the latest Honda Civic Type R against the formidable BMW M140i and Ford Focus RS.

Driving experience

Honda Civic Type R 2.0 VTEC Turbo GT

Engine: 2.0-litre petrol
Price: £32,995
Power: 316bhp
Torque: 295lb ft
0-60mph: 5.5sec
Top speed: 169mph
Gov’t fuel economy: 36.7mpg
CO2 emissions: 176g/km

The Honda’s pumped-up arches, huge rear spoiler and bonkers spoilers, splitters and vents outstrip those of even the Ford, and both make the BMW look decidedly sensible. Don’t be fooled, however; with the aid of active launch control, the lairy 1 Series is the fastest of the three, hitting a blistering 4.5-second 0-60mph time. The four-wheel drive Focus – also with launch control – posts 4.8sec, while the Civic brings up the rear with 5.5sec.

That’s still impressive, but front-wheel drive and the weakest engine here make the Honda slightly harder work. Its 2.0-litre engine lacks the midrange oomph of the other, larger engines, especially the BMW’s 3.0-litre unit. You need lots of revs to really release the magic, but at least the gearlever is well positioned and has a quick action. The Ford’s box is also slick, and while the M140i’s smooth auto gives a less dramatic feel, you can spec a manual and save £1600 into the bargain.

It’s when you really push these cars that they start to reveal their secrets. The downforce generated by the Honda’s flashy bodykit pays dividends, resulting in fantastic grip, while the clever electronic front diff helps it haul hard out of corners. Its high-speed cornering composure is thrilling.

Pushing the Ford through the same set of corners takes additional physical input, but it has more feel and better steering. The chassis and tyres are inclined to follow cambers around, meaning it’s a touch off the pace overall, yet it’s loads of fun when you get it just right. On-track, the BMW feels comparatively soft, spongy and generally less ‘on it’. While you’d expect that to mean its on-road ride is the best, in reality it is more fidgety, and crashes over imperfections.

Ford Focus RS 2.3T Ecoboost

Engine: 2.3-litre petrol
Price: £32,265
Power: 345bhp
Torque: 347lb/ft
0-60mph: 4.8sec
Top speed: 166mph
Economy: 36.7mpg
CO2 emissions: 175g/km

On urban roads, the Focus’ ride seems too firm even in the softest setting, so the lairy Type R is actually the most comfortable car to use day-to-day. Unfortunately, more raucous engine and road noise mean it’s hardly a serene experience. The 1 Series beats both its rivals for premium ambience.

Interior

The Beemer doesn’t cosset its driver especially well, though, with its low-set seating position and lack of lumber support. Meanwhile, the Ford has a much higher setting but its £1145 sports Recaro bucket seats impress. The Honda offers the best of both worlds, with a low seat, high gearlever and well positioned controls. It’s only a shame its infotainment system is such a let down. The Focus RS’s eight-inch set-up is better, despite its confusing menus, and it comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. Best of the lot is the M140i’s superb iDrive system ,which can be further (and we think unnecessarily) enhanced with the £775 Professional system. Hatchback practicality is a bonus of these performance machines, so a quick words about carrying capacity: the Ford boasts 260 litres, the BMW 360 and the Honda 420.

Running costs

BMW M140i 3dr auto

Engine: 3.0-litre petrol
Price: £34,450
Power: 335bhp
Torque: 369lb/ft
0-60mph: 4.5sec
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: 39.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 163g/km

Surprisingly, after haggling, the more premium 1 Series works out the cheapest of the trio to buy. The other two won’t come with any showroom discounts just yet, although they do have lower depreciation rates. Higher servicing costs go towards making the Civic Type R the most expensive private buy, and its PCP deal is more costly, too. The Ford is the cheapest, but you’ll want to add a few extras to both this and the BMW to bring it up to Honda levels.

Ultimately, we’re looking past the Type R’s least powerful engine, garish styling and poor infotainment set-up to relish its engineering prowess, astonishing pace plus everyday comfort and practicality. It’s the king of the hatchbacks. Choosing between its rivals is tough, but the Focus RS nudges it, with the M140i a close third.

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