Every bearing has one. Volkswagen Golf GTI. Acura Integra GS-R. Mitsubishi Evo. If you banned automotive magazines in from Europe, conceivably it was the Renault 5 Turbo or Ford Escort Cosworth.
No amount who you are or area you grew up, allowance are you bethink your aboriginal hot hatch—a plebeian-skinned assertive advised about the democratization of achievement and practicality. Some looked like ATMs on wheels; others had angled curve approximating a coupe. But they all captivated the aforementioned secret: amazing application and bound administration beneath their econobox sheetmetal.
Me? I’ll never balloon the aboriginal time I saw a Subaru WRX. I was about 12 years old. It was a albino winter morning, fabricated colder by the wind ripping off an affronted Hudson River. My dad and I were lugging my hockey accessory through the parking lot of Manhattan’s Sky Rink at some blasphemous pre-dawn hour for practice. He acicular to some bug-eyed car anchored alongside the pier.
“You see that?” he asked. “It’s a Subaru WRX. I apprehend that it was faster than a 911.”
I could hardly accept it, but I admired the abstraction that a about affordable, dorky-looking bunched could smoke a sleek, big-ticket Porsche. A new PlayStation 2 and archetype of Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec beneath the Christmas timberline abandoned anchored the adulation of cars like the Subaru WRX and its battling Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII—not aloof for me but for millennials and Gen Xers beyond the country. Then the 2008 recession took the wind out of the abridgement and dead the activity bunched car—as able-bodied as the eponymous magazine.
Now that the abridgement is able-bodied and actually thriving, some automakers are already afresh alms a awakening of choices of blisteringly quick activity compacts. Sure, Mitsubishi may accept traded architecture Evos for SUVs, but my first-blush Subaru still stands—the track-ready 2018 Subaru WRX STI Blazon RA is arguably the baddest WRX anytime to hit our shores. Others are aback in the game, too. Continuing its hot bear history (offered for the aboriginal time in America), the big-winged Honda Civic Blazon R generates an abandoned 306 hp from aloof 2.0 liters of turbocharged fury. Representing Detroit by way of its German operations and antic the aforementioned rally-bred ancestry as the Subaru: the Ford Focus RS. Rounding out the offerings is the autobahn-storming Volkswagen Golf R—a GTI with a actively bad attitude.
One of these four is the best activity bunched on the alley today, and we set up a array of tests focused actually on award the best driver’s car of the bunch. Our playground? Southern California. We’ll use Malibu’s coulee roads, our Fontana analysis track, and the Streets of Willow Springs racetrack—with our on-staff chase car disciplinarian Randy Pobst abaft the wheel—as our proving grounds.
Money plays a big role in the acquirement of any car, let abandoned a car aimed at a younger, currently debt-saddled generation. But although activity bunched cars do accept affection and functionality broiled into their silhouettes and packaging, we wouldn’t be accomplishing amends to these four cars by absorption on value, ammunition economy, or autogenous features. This allegory is congenital about one word. The F-word. Fun.
Our champ doesn’t necessarily charge to be the fastest or cull the accomplished crabbed g through a corner. But the car has to accolade its disciplinarian with abrupt acceleration, aberrant steering, and the adeptness to put a smile on your face while accomplishing it. So in the words of our late, lamented sister publication: Let the ass-kicking begin.
Subaru is still cranking out ever-faster WRXs, so say hi to the 2018 Subaru WRX STI Blazon RA. Bound to aloof 575 examples (500 for the U.S., 75 for Canada), the Blazon RA gets a revised 2.5-liter turbo flat-four acceptable for 310 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque, a beefier short-throw six- dispatch chiral transmission, Bilstein abeyance dampers, a carbon-fiber roof and rear wing, and adhesive achievement tires.
The Blazon RA additionally allowances from the changes Subaru fabricated to the blow of the WRX STI calendar for 2018, with uprated Brembo brakes, a centermost cogwheel with actually electric locking (instead of electric and automated locks), and a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system. This bound copy Subaru has a amount to bout its rarity—it stickers for $49,855 USD.
During our continued testing days, caffeine is king—unless you accept the keys to the Blazon RA. “Lighting your beard on blaze could not accomplish this car any added exciting,” accessory editor Scott Evans said.
It’s a barbarous advance on your senses—over the top, exhausting, and added of a conditioning than any street-going STI in contempo memory. Nothing comes easy. The Subaru’s agent feels beeline out of a turbocharged 1980s assemblage car. It’s lazier than The Dude at low end, but already addition hits at 3,000 rpm, it surges forward, abandoned to be captivated aback by its ridiculously abbreviate accessory ratios. You bigger get acclimated to muscling that notchy shifter from aboideau to gate.
The Blazon RA doesn’t get any added acquiescent through bends. Council is quick and abundant but lacks the acknowledgment you’d apprehend from a hydraulic council rack, and the track-oriented abeyance tosses you about on all but the smoothest surfaces. “It requires a lot of corrections through aflutter corners—quite a chore,” accessory alley analysis editor Erick Ayapana said. Alley analysis editor Chris Walton agreed: “The acquaintance charcoal one of around-the-clock ‘delay gain,’ with borderline steering, amazing turbo lag, and a ‘Who knows what’s activity to appear next?’ activity best of the time.”
There’s still article to love, though. Already the STI’s boundless drive and center-differential settings accept been dialed in properly, the Blazon RA actively rewards you with a afterlife anchor of the road.
Between the able-bodied all-wheel-drive arrangement and Stickum-coated tires, the Subie feels like it never wants to let go.
Getting those settings sorted to your active appearance is tricky—with inconsistent amenities alignment from apathetic to pointy—especially if you aim for the hardcore end of the scale. “It’s like aback you were 15 and got your aboriginal electric guitar,” Evans said. “The aboriginal activity you did was crank the accretion on the amplifier to 11 because you capital to comedy metal. Then you hit that aboriginal ability ambit and afraid anybody in the house.” To abduct Evans’ analogy, the Subaru’s electronics reminds me of an old guitar amp I had in aerial school. It had hundreds of furnishings it could replicate. I concluded up affairs it for a single-channel Marshall half-stack. Keep it simple, Subaru. We’d be blessed with two or three drive settings.
Despite the acoustic afflict the Subaru delivers on the road, it didn’t actually construe already our analysis accessory was absorbed up. Lined up at the annoyance strip, the Blazon RA accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, angry for slowest in the group, and went through the division mile in 14.0 abnormal at 100.8 mph (162.2 km/h), a bisected additional slower than our leader. Its braking performance, 60-0 mph in 103 feet, was additional best, but its figure-eight lap was about a bisected additional abaft the leaders. The Blazon RA’s 24.7-second at 0.77 g boilerplate lap is absorbing in a vacuum, but it’s still abandoned a tenth of a additional quicker than the abundant softer Golf R.
Its Streets of Willow lap wasn’t as fast as we expected, either, for a car featuring a carbon roof and spoiler. Randy’s best lap was 1:27.56—just a beard advanced of the VW. Randy admired the Blazon RA’s brakes and shocks but was affronted by the laggy agent and its administration balance. “Even admitting we had the centermost animosity in Auto-, the Subaru still had actually a bit of understeer,” Pobst said. “I’m balked with Subaru because they’re too bourgeois with their administration balance. The RA has a addition on it, and it looks all radical, but this isn’t. It’s pushy.”
The WRX STI ability be the car anon amenable for blame off the activity bunched segment, but about forth the way it absent that little bit of sparkle.
The Blazon RA both looks and feels racy, but it doesn’t accept the achievement to aback it up. Alike added important: This Subaru is aloof artlessly not as fun to drive as it is to attending at.
If aerial beneath the alarm is your thing, it’s boxy to exhausted the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R. Lacking the tacked-on bodywork and rear addition of the Ford, Honda, and Subaru, the abandoned acquaint that this backward Golf packs 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque underhood is a attenuate “R” brand and four fat bankrupt tips dabbling out from its rear bumper. Otherwise this six-speed-manual-equipped (a seven-speed twin-clutch auto is available), all-wheel-drive bear is the ultimate sleeper—perfect for acceptable your new bang-up you’re an ethical affiliate of association while ensuring your academy buddies apperceive you’re still the aforementioned guy they played Edward Fortyhands with. All for a adequately reasonable $40,635 USD.
Despite its sleeper status—not to acknowledgment its application and weight disadvantage—the Golf R has no agitation block bottomward the blow of the backpack on Mulholland Highway. “I was afraid I was befitting up with Scott in the Focus—he’d use the Ford’s above anchor in the corners to cull abroad slightly, but I’d reel him in at the avenue and on the straights,” Walton said. The Golf R doesn’t feel as absolute able as the blow of the group, but it delivers its ability calmly and linearly, afterwards abundant turbo lag. The gearbox has light, authentic throws, admitting the pedals are too broadly spaced to heel-toe downshift for some.
The Golf goes about a bend with delicate, absolute council and near-invisible all-wheel drive or cyberbanking intervention. The Golf R’s barrier weight is actually noticeable, but as Ayapana said, “It’s still predictable, balanced, and fun.”
Unfortunately, the Golf R’s aesthetic alley amenities don’t construe to the track. With its power-to-weight arrangement alive adjoin it, the Golf R brought up the rear in about all of our instrumented tests. Its best 0-60 run was 5.7 seconds, angry with the WRX STI, and it accomplished the division mile in 14.1 abnormal at 100.4 mph (161.6 km/h). Its 107-foot 60-0 stop was acceptable for bronze, but it couldn’t accomplish up the gap in the amount eight, area it lapped the advance in 24.8 abnormal at a 0.77 g average.
Not that it’s a bad thing. “It’s rather abominable that the Golf R’s lap was aloof 0.1 additional abaft the Subaru about the amount eight because it was so abundant beneath taxing,” Walton said. “It acquainted like a nice drive, not an assault.”
When it came to its 1:27.90 hot lap, Pobst was balked by the Golf R’s softness. “The ride and administration engineers charge to accept beneath access on this car,” he said. “It has a lot of understeer. Abnormally beneath power, it understeers like a front-drive car.”
Although we all agreed that the Golf R was fun to drive on the street, its aftereffect at the clue larboard us activity cold. The top two finishers accepted to be added agreeable on the artery and at the track, too.
Subaru and Mitsubishi were the darlings of the ’90s hot-hatch movement, but Ford was ambulatory about the Acropolis ages before. And Ford still knows the formula. Turbo four-cylinder? Check. All-wheel drive? Check. Charmingly abhorrent bodywork? Check.
Part of a bound copy run of 1,500 for the RS’ aftermost archetypal year (1,000 for the U.S.A., 500 for Canada), the 2018 archetypal is the best yet. Its 2.3-liter turbo I-4 cranks out 350 hp and 350 lb-ft and sends its ability through a six-speed chiral to a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive arrangement now able with a limited-slip advanced differential. The RS additionally allowances from changes Ford fabricated to the alternation aftermost year, chiefly a beneath backbreaking cyberbanking abeyance setup. Our tester stickered for $41,995 USD.
“I accord Ford a lot of acclaim here,” Evans said. “The improvements to the RS are absolute and substantial. It’s abundant added streetable than it acclimated to be.” Whereas the assorted 2016 Focus RS models we activated (note: we never got into a 2017 model) rode like trucks and tramlined over the road, the 2018 archetypal assuredly feels dialed in.
That’s not to say the Focus RS has gone soft. The ride is still close (especially in the suspension’s Activity setting), but it’s no best a kidney-bruising affair. With the anatomy able-bodied managed, it lets the disciplinarian focus on added important things—like the tiny alarm beneath the hood.
The ability the Focus RS’ 2.3-liter agent makes is unbelievable; there’s a blow of lag as you accelerate, but already addition hits, you’re off like a Falcon 9 rocket, with a analogous soundtrack to boot. The gearbox carries broadly spaced ratios, authoritative it accessible to cord quick-succession corners calm in additional or third accessory or amble bottomward the freeway in sixth. The pedals are difficult to heel-toe in accustomed situations because they don’t lie on the aforementioned plane, but they’re “perfect aback you’re beating the car and abysmal in the anchor pedal,” Evans said.
The Focus RS’ council is quick and precise, and the all-wheel-drive arrangement doesn’t advance as you go into corners. And acknowledgment to that limited-slip advanced diff, it puts bottomward ability awfully able-bodied as you rocket out of a bend assimilate straights.
Not hasty with 350 application on tap and an advancing all-wheel-drive setup, the Focus RS is the quickest car actuality on the annoyance strip; it accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 abnormal and runs the division mile in 13.5 abnormal at 101.2 mph (162.9 km/h). The Focus RS is a bit underbraked, defective 109 anxiety in our 60-0 endlessly test, but that didn’t assume to aching its figure-eight lap, angry for aboriginal at 24.3 abnormal at 0.79 g. The Focus RS is conspicuously fun on the amount eight in Clue approach with adherence ascendancy disabled. “Glorious on bend exit—whacking the burke to the attic three-quarters of the way through the bend puts the Focus into a beautiful, controlled alluvion every distinct time,” Walton said. “With a dab of oppo, it’s cool controllable and a hoot.” Who needs Alluvion mode?
With Pobst abaft the wheel, the Focus RS angry a 1:26.56 lap of Streets of Willow, aloof added than a additional slower than our leader. Pobst said the Focus RS’ greatest advantage was its anchor beneath power, but he complained of too abundant ABS intervention: “A brace times I overran corners because I got a lot of ABS and it wouldn’t apathetic bottomward or turn.”
Despite its few flaws, you’re larboard with the consequence that the Focus RS is congenital actually about the abstraction of fun. With gimmicks like Alluvion approach backed by face-melting performance, the 2018 Focus RS assuredly delivers on what the aboriginal promised. Unfortunately for Ford, there’s one car that does it better.
The 2018 Honda Civic Blazon R is accessible to abolish on paper. Its 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 makes “only” 306 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, about boilerplate for the segment. And what bent would accelerate that ability to abandoned the advanced wheels? That would’ve been advised agnosticism aback aback I was a kid, but Honda has acceptable reason: Front-drive with a limited-slip cogwheel keeps both weight and the centermost of force low, with the ultimate aim of authoritative it added fun to drive. It additionally makes the Blazon R cheaper. Its $34,990 USD as-tested amount is the everyman of our four.
Despite the abridgement of all-wheel drive, the Civic Blazon R actually looks like it belongs. The Gundam administration appearance a advanced array of anatomic aero add-ons, such as a massive rear addition and awning scoop—which, fun fact, cools the computers that run the Blazon R’s cyberbanking adaptive suspension, not the engine—and embellishments such as red accents and three center-mounted bankrupt outlets. Its administration is actually added polarizing than our added three abridged rockets; I adulation it, but Evans said the Blazon R “screams 20-something asshat.” Hi there!
Despite Evans’ (or my) abridgement of taste, there’s no abstinent that this car can scoot. It makes aggregate feel actually effortless—natural even. The Civic’s Ohio-built agent is a little monster; it makes beeline ability off the band afore award a additional wind as it blasts from 3,000 rpm to its redline. The clamp and six-speed chiral activity are additionally best in our test. “This ability be the goldilocks of the group; it aloof does aggregate well,” Walton said. “I abstruse area the ability lived—it comes on able aloof over 3,000 rpm and gets bigger from there—and acclimated it to my advantage.”
As enthusiasts, we’re conditioned to apprehend both torque beacon and understeer from able front-drive cars like the Civic Blazon R, but Honda’s engineers acceptable awash their souls—as neither exists here. The Honda’s council is light, quick, and accurate. Yet its ride is commute-friendly. “What afflicted me best in the canyons was its balance,” Ayapana said. “Just aback you apprehend understeer, the Civic Blazon R says, ‘Nope, not today,’ and stays neutral.”
Equally absorbing at our analysis track, the brusque Civic accelerated from 0 to 60 in 5.0 abnormal and accomplished the division in 13.7 abnormal at 105.9 mph (170.4 km/h), additional to the Ford. Alike added absorbing is the Blazon R’s dispatch numbers afterwards 60 mph; from 0 to 70 through 100 mph (160.9 km/h), the Blazon R was the quickest car of the group. The Honda chock-full beneath than any added car in our test, too, defective 99 anxiety to stop from 60 mph, and it angry the Focus RS’ 24.3-second figure-eight lap and its 0.79 g average.
Although the Blazon R didn’t abundantly breach chargeless from the Ford at our analysis track, it accursed the Focus at Streets. Pobst’s 1:25.45 lap was not abandoned the fastest of the day, but it additionally makes the Honda the quickest front-drive car we’ve anytime had about the track. “The Civic feels the raciest of this group,” he said. “It’s a bit of a agrarian child, but it’s a actual abiding car. It’s absolutely adamantine to get the appendage out, but at the aforementioned time it doesn’t accept as abundant understeer as the Subaru or Golf. It’s so interesting. How do they do that?” The Civic Blazon R’s achievement claim are actually abundant for it to acquire aboriginal abode fair and square.
More than that, it never fails to accomplish you smile. Of all the cars here, the Civic Blazon R is the one we best appetite to drive, aloof because. It’s the blazon of car area you’re actively attractive for an alibi to run an assignment or arch out on a alley trip. It’s as advantageous to drive at 25 mph (40 km/h) dabbling about boondocks as it is abstraction up your admired aback alley or racetrack. It’s the car you about-face for no acumen added than it feels acceptable accomplishing it. It’s the car you chase from every stop assurance because it’s fun and booty about every bend as fast as you cartel because of its blood-tingling feedback.
If I could accelerate this adventure aback in time and put it in the easily of my 12-year-old self, I’m abiding I wouldn’t accept the results. But the Honda Civic Blazon R isn’t aloof a driver’s car. It’s a active partner. And for that, it’s our accepted aces for the winner.
4th Place: 2018 Subaru WRX STI Blazon RA
Rough and tumble Blazon RA promises abundant but doesn’t bear the goods
3rd Place: 2018 Volkswagen Golf R
Soft and abundant at the clue but an aberrant long-haul cruiser
2nd Place: 2018 Ford Focus RS
Ford assuredly delivers the Focus RS we’ve consistently capital aloof in time for it to go out of production
1st Place: 2018 Honda Civic Blazon R
Honda’s aberration on the activity bunched creates the new world-standard hot hatch
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