You should buy it
The VW Golf GTI and the Ford Focus ST both belong to a segment of small cars often referred to as ‘hot hatches.’ As the name implies, their compact hatchback cars (with two or four doors) aimed at enthusiast drivers. Both models are based on more pedestrian cars but have been upgrades with more powerful engines, slicker transmissions, sharper suspensions and a variety of other changes to make life more fun in your daily drive. The Focus ST is the more visually loud of the two, both inside and out so older buyers looking for more subdued fun may be more inclined to check out the VW.
More refined. VWs have long offered a higher level of refinement and sophistication than their non-luxury peers; the GTI (and the Golf it’s based on) carries on this tradition with aplomb. Its build quality, interior materials and design and road and wind noise are superior to those of the Ford Focus — and indeed all other models in the hot-hatch segment. This means you can have your fun and refined comfort in the same package.
Transmission options. Since many buyers of these hot-hatches prefer to row their own gears with a manual transmission, both models come standard with a six-speed manual transmission. But the GTI is the only one of these two cars to then offer an optional seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that can quicken acceleration times and make life easier in daily driving (particularly in traffic).
More space inside. The numbers are close but the GTI manages to edge out the Focus ST in nearly every interior dimension including headroom, legroom and cargo space (the latter is the GTI’s biggest advantage). Again, the GTI’s advantage isn’t huge but it is meaningful, so if you’re looking to wring maximum capacity out of your small car, the GTI wins here.
More efficient. While the Focus ST packs more power, the GTI makes up for this with better fuel economy. The VW (with the six-speed manual) is rated at 24/32/27 MPG city/highway/combined while the Focus ST clocks in at 22/30/25 MPG city/highway/combined.
Safety tech. The GTI is available with active safety tech like automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and blind-spot detection. While they’re all optional on the base GTI S, they’re not even offered on the Focus.
More power. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in the Ford makes 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque while the same size engine in the GTI makes 220 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque. This is a key advantage for the Ford since a majority of buyers in this segment covet as much power as they can.
It’s cheaper. A base Focus ST without any options starts at $26,045. A base GTI, meanwhile, starts at $28,490, a cool $2,445 more. To sweeten the deal, remember that the Focus has 32 more horsepower. Even better? Ford is discontinuing the Focus (and its ST variant) after 2018 so savvy shoppers should be able to find dealers willing to cut the ST’s price even further.
Better handling. While it’s a subjective call, the more powerful Focus ST is generally regarded as the more raw, engaging hatch compared to the more subdued (and less-powerful) GTI. This will matter less to some buyers who are looking for a more rounded package, but for those who prioritize thrills and fun, the Focus is the better choice.
The Focus ST has a great reputation for grin-inducing thrills at an ultra-competitive price point. But for buyers looking for something a little more subdued but at the same time an impressive mix of fun, refinement, style, safety, comfort and efficiency, the GTI is hard to beat. Plus it’s a regular on top-ten lists of enthusiast magazines and websites. So this is an easy one for us, we say Buy the GTI.
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