The Rally Car with a Desk Job

Test driving a 2016 Subaru WRX STi and a Ford Focus RS2

Skylyr Cieply, Auto Reporter

I recently had the pleasure of driving a 2016 Subaru WRX STi in Crystal Black Silica and a Ford Focus RS2. Each car has its benefits making each drive a thrill.

The 2016 Subaru WRX STi in Crystal Black Silica runs from zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, has a driver-controlled center differential all wheel drive system, and a big spoiler. The center differential has three modes that offer rear wheel bias, or less slip in the differential (automatic mode).

The STi is the upgraded version of the WRX, which has been produced for close to 20 years now. The WRX originated as a rally car and Subaru has always tried to keep it close to its origins as a capable racing car. This is perhaps most noticeable in the suspension given that the driver feels every little bump.

The stiff suspension makes for flat cornering. The turbo feels a little small because of the lag, and boost isn’t hard-hitting until you hit the full load. Acceleration is still very quick and keeps you trying to find the sweet rev range where boost is always available.

It is a good thing that the STi comes with vented Brembo brakes from the factory, because the car definitely needs them. The clutch engages in a pretty optimal spot along the travel of the pedal.

A nice upgrade from the previous generation is the steering wheel. The new STi has a leather-wrapped flat bottom wheel that feels great. The steering is also well weighted and direct. There is occasionally some understeer when the amount of speed is not balanced correctly with the sharpness of the turn, but that can be avoided for the most part.

The transmission is good, but the shifter is a little strange. Even in gear, the shifter wobbles around quite a bit. The seats in the STi are bolstered appropriately and hold you firmly as you rip up the roads. The STi feels at home on the street, but it also feels like it would rather run off into the woods and churn up dirt and gravel as opposed to asphalt. It feels like a rally car – a little like it chose a desk job in the city, but would rather romp through the countryside.

The Ford Focus that I drove has the RS2 package. The Focus RS was one of the most exciting releases in the car world in 2016.  It was everything and more that American gearheads had hoped for. The 2016 has 350 horsepower from its turbocharged four cylinder, a smart all wheel drive system, and several driving modes. The Focus RS replaced the STi as the number one desirable hoon-mobile of every would-be-student of Ken Block. Even Ken Block switched from driving a Subaru to a Ford.

The RS had a drift mode. All you do is push a button and you too became a pro drifter!

However the hefty price tag prevented some from obtaining this STi competitor.  It includes many creature comforts in addition to the leather and alcantara-trimmed Recaro seats. Its zero-to-60-mph time of 4.5 seconds proves that like the STi, the Ford is powered by a turbocharged four cylinder. The similarities continue as the STi has a sophisticated all wheel drive system with rear wheel bias capabilities, four doors and four seats, Brembo brakes, and a rumbly exhaust.

On top of all that, the Ford shares a rally pedigree with the likes of the RS2000 and Sierra Cosworth. So they should be about the same, right? Nope. The Ford is far more refined. Even though the suspension is firm, it does not seem to crash around as much as the STi. The exhaust isn’t very loud on the inside of the car unless you are hard on the throttle.

I prefered the Ford for its sound. On a sudden let-off of the throttle, it made wonderful pops and burbles that are enough to feel like a World Rally Championship driver. The Focus also felt a bit faster (as it should with 60 more lb/ft and 50 more horsepower). There is also not a hint of understeer. The steering is nicely weighted, which is surprising. The Focus has electronic assistance instead of hydraulic. The transmission is a little more firm and crisp, but it is hard to imagine anyone over 180 pounds being able to fit into the very heavily bolstered seats.

The Focus RS seems to be the more practical choice with its hatchback, refined feel at everyday speeds, and convenience options. However, the STi started at $35,000 and the RS started at $36,000. A fully specced version of both will cost you $42,000. In the end, it comes down to personal preference even though the Ford appears to be a better value for money.

 

This article was made possible with the support of Chad Reid and Jonathan Langton.

 

Image courtesy of Skylyr Cieply

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