Unlike the typical high-octane publicity stunts that sell cars to the uninformed, this comparison actually evaluates how capable a road-oriented machine fares against a purpose-built racing car, especially when the conditions should favor the real rally machine. It should be said that the Ford Focus RS is a serious little fighter, and not gimmicky in the slightest. In some respects, it seems to hold an advantage over the stripped Subaru rally beast—namely outright power and its stability. That said, the Subaru is made for this sort of challenge and the cynic will assume foul play, but when some controls—Yokohama tires and driver talent—are introduced, it’s really cool to see how the two stack up.
I suppose power-to-weight plays a slightly less significant role in such slippery conditions. Chassis balance and predictability goes much further than anything on these snow-drenched mountains. With the stunning New Hampshire scenery providing the backdrop, one forgets about relative speeds, levels of grip, or power-to-weight; the thrill of driving those roads, even in a Volvo, would be pleasure enough. It is a slice of automotive heaven that only a monster could dislike.
But we’re serious people, and we care about how these two get on. For context, the Subaru is a period-correct, Prodrive-built, 2.0-liter car with a dogbox transmission, ProFlex suspension, and an active center diff. The RS, in contrast, only has downsized brakes, Bilstein shocks, 15-inch wheels, deleted ABS, and a skid plate. That’s it.
The mere fact that it can hang with the dedicated rally car speaks volumes to the work Ford has done, though perhaps the conditions suit the production car slightly. It’s the Subaru which leaves the line with more vigor and spreads a small gap up the hill, but once the course flattens, the gap is almost negated. Since the Ford rotates nicely, though not as willingly as the lighter Subaru, it can keep in contention through a combination of smooth driving, shallow angles of attack, and unrestricted gobs of low-end torque.
To be fair, the speeds and flat course play into the Ford’s hand. The purpose-built rally car is likely the more resilient of the two; happy to take a battering over jumps and crests a production car couldn’t hope to match. Additionally, its weight and trick suspension will make it the reassuring, agile, well-sorted weapon once speeds rise. Of course, it’ll have the fans’ vote with that unmistakable EJ20 burble and all the soul-affirming turbo chatter. Though the traction brought on by weight helps at slower speeds, it’s tougher to manage a heavier car as the passing trees begin to fade into a blur.
This intriguing comparison begs the question: what will the Focus become with a full rally makeover? Considering its competence in near-stock configuration, you have to wonder what a stripped, properly damped, extra-predictable evolution of this little blue RS will be like.