2013 Ford Focus ST vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI
2013 Ford Focus ST vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Justin Mastine-Frost

Of the handful of comparison tests I have been involved in over the years, this is the one I have been dying to delve into. As much as I can rant and rave about the prowess of rear- and all-wheel-drive sports cars, I’ve always had a soft spot for the hot-hatch segment, and now more than ever the fight for the title of class leader is a tough one to call. We all know the venerable Volkswagen GTI has been at or near the top of the heap for ages, but with Ford’s new Focus ST hitting the North American market we couldn’t help but wonder if the GTI’s days are numbered. Okay, they are, and we expect a new model Mk 7 GTI (and diesel powered GTD!) within the next year or two.

The Focus ST comes packing 52 more horsepower from the same 2.0L displacement, and after early reviews seemed to be gaining a lot of positive press from enthusiasts and industry professionals alike. With that in mind it made the most sense to pull together the young pup from Ford and VW’s old dog rather than rounding up the entire segment, from the big burly Mazdaspeed3 to the cheerful but not cheap Mini Cooper S and risk muddying the waters. As interesting as it would have been to toss these pocket rockets around a racetrack, skid pad, and other closed-course challenges, we decided to, well, focus on proper street use where these cars will be earning their stripes as both canyon carvers and daily drivers.

2013 Ford Focus ST vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI
2013 Ford Focus ST vs 2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Click image to enlarge

The key to an excellent hot hatch is to master the art of compromise without diluting the experience too much. These cars have to be as quick and nimble as their more sporting brethren and yet capable of doing double duty hauling around passengers and cargo. They also need to look the part, using a combination of splitters, skirts and spoilers to show off that hot hatch charm the segment is known for.

To top it off, they also can’t break the bank, as a premium price tag opens the doors to competition from lower priced to mid-range sports sedans and wagons. As with every other segment of late, there’s also the matter of technology and creature comforts. Navigation, high-end audio and other electronics wouldn’t even make the check sheet in years gone by, but with every automaker pushing their latest and greatest gadgets into every vehicle, this is once again a consideration. With those goals in mind it’s time to get into the good stuff and see which of these hatchbacks really is the best of the best.

2013 Ford Focus ST
2013 Ford Focus ST. Click image to enlarge

Styling and Interior

In the style category we may as well be comparing apples and oranges when looking at the ST and GTI. Where the ST is outrageously loud and in your face with its bold Tangerine Scream paint job and aggressively styled front fascia, the GTI is just plain conservative. When photographing the two cars side by side, the ST just exudes character from every angle, providing plenty of points of interest and quirky angles as you work your way around the car. The icing on the cake for the ST is definitely its bizarrely shaped centre-mounted exhaust tip, which blends seamlessly in to the car’s rear diffuser.

2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI
2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Click image to enlarge

The GTI, on the other hand, made matters difficult by providing a very limited amount of detail that really stood out. While its front end has a bit more of a mean streak than your standard VW Golf, it certainly doesn’t scream: “Look at me!!!” Volkswagen has always kept the GTI from looking like something out of The Fast and The Furious, and this sixth generation is no exception.  That’s not to say that I don’t like how the GTI looks on the outside, but its aesthetic will definitely appeal to a different crowd than those drawn in by the ST’s boy-racer charm.

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