Anyone who wants a sports car will undoubtedly consider the BMW M2 and the Ford Focus RS, but which is best, what is easier to live with and how different are they to drive? Ben Griffin has driven both extensively – here is the Recombu Cars verdict.
Choosing between two extremely capable cars is tough, especially when one of them is the best M car in years, while the other effectively ushered in the term ‘hyper hatchback’. We are, of course, talking about the BMW M2 and the Ford Focus RS.
You could say the comparison is a bit apples and oranges and there is some truth to that. One is a hatchback, the other a coupe. One costs from £31,250, the other from £44,070. One has four cylinders and the other has six. Catch our drift?
But then none of that matters to someone who wants a performance car that makes every journey the sort you go to sleep thinking about and both cars can do that. Yet how they do so is so fundamentally different.
It is worth noting we have driven both cars for many, many miles on a mixture of smooth tarmac roads, stop-start city drives, pothole-ridden winding B-road blasts and even on track to keep things fair. Now on with the show.
BMW M2 vs Ford Focus RS: Practicality
The practicality of a car at this price point matters because many will use them as a daily driver or a family car – or use it as justification when persuading the other half.
In the case of the BMW M2, it is a three-door coupe so already loses a point to the five-door Focus RS, but rear leg and head room is okay for those up to six feet in height unless the front passengers really put the seats back.
In the Focus RS, it is easier for passengers to get in and out and head room is better, such is its taller stance, while leg room is more generous even though the larger front seats do eat into space. Unlike the M2, you can just about squeeze three in the second row of seats.
Sadly for the Focus RS, the addition of the rear differential means an already small boot becomes even smaller. Think 260 litres with the rear seats in place, providing 30 fewer litres than a Fiesta without a spare wheel.
It does, however, enjoy a wider loading area and zero obstructions to stop you from lying things down how you want to. Meanwhile the M2 enjoys a siable 390-litre boot (more than a VW Golf, in fact), but the entrance is narrow so it is a less flexible space.
Elsewhere, both cars have extra storage areas for stuff and things and both can be parked without too much hassle. If you want a bigger boot, the M2 wins, then, but the Focus RS is more practical overall when it comes to coping with family life.
Winner: Ford Focus RS
BMW M2 vs Ford Focus RS: Looks and desirability
Ford is an interesting one from a desirability perspective. One the one hand, it gets a lot of love for various performance cars over the years and the GT40 is iconic, with the new Ford GT and various concepts before it (including the bonkers GT90) keeping it interesting.
But in the case of the Focus RS, it is still a Focus when all is said and done, which will jar with some buyers. Plus it takes a more youthful approach to its looks, with a more Fast & Furious aesthetic giving it a boy racer vibe. It is shoutier than the VW Golf R, but admittedly quieter than the Honda Civic Type R.
The M2 is rather like all the M cars and BMWs in general, down to the kidney grille and various design touches. But its stubby nature reminds us of the 1M and that is a good thing. It looks aggressive and lairy, like a British Bulldog, but with a level of grace.
Some will appreciate the Focus RS’s brash approach, but the aesthetic of a car with fewer doors already helps the M2 stand out as that little bit more special. The fact it beefs up on the 2 Series Coupe to silly levels only makes us want to look at it more.
Winner: BMW M2
BMW M2 vs Ford Focus RS: The numbers
The M2 has a 3.0-litre straight-six turbo that outputs 370hp at 6,500rpm, 30hp more than the 1M and 25bhp more than the Focus RS. 0-62mph takes 4.5 seconds if you go for the six-speed manual, which is preferable, or 4.3 seconds with the seven-speed M DCT. Torque is 465Nm, while the top speed is restricted to 155mph.
As for the Focus RS, its 2.3-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost generates 345bhp and 440Nm of torque (470Nm with the overboost kicked in) and can manage 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds. All-wheel drive helps make up for a lower power output, plus there is only the option of a six-speed manual for that more involving drive.
An even fight, then, but there is more to consider behind the scenes. For starters, the Focus RS restricts torque in 1st and 2nd gear and though widely ignored, you can feel it. It still builds speed quickly, but third provides the most exciting kick and ends up being a go-to gear if you find yourself able to reach it at optimum revs.
There is no such restriction on the M2 in any gear, but it does share an overboost function with the Focus RS, taking the total torque level to 500Nm at full tilt from 1,350rpm. In terms of weight, the Focus RS is 19kg heavier.
No surprises the more expensive car is more powerful and therefore the winner, but the gap is slimmer than you may expect.
Winner: BMW M2
BMW M2 vs Ford Focus RS: Performance and handling
The numbers help sell a car but how a car feels is more important. In the case of the M2, it makes you smile. A lot. With all power sent to the rear wheels and an agile chassis underneath, you end up with an old-school sports car vibe that avoids being sterile like the M4.
You know if the tail is about to break away and there is enough feel through the Servotronic steering system and front tyres to reign it in or weather the storm.
The manual benefits from a throttle blip that helps keep the car balanced as you approach a corner, adding to its performance credentials. Those who can heel and toe will complain it waters down the experience, everyone else will enjoy the extra noise.
There is no drift mode like the Focus RS because its rear-wheel nature means it is always on and the M2 actively encourages you to go sideways – something the Focus RS never did. The fact electrical trickery manages to avoid intervening too much is a bonus.
It is still to initiate a slide in the Focus RS, but it feels most at home when being used as a precision tool because of the sheer speed the rear kicks back into the realms of grip. The all-wheel drive system provides substantial levels of grip that really only start to come undone as you reach the limit.
Electronic trickery only goes so far (hence all the Focus RS drift crash videos) before physics quickly reminds you it is actually a beefy hatchback on road-legal tyres. Its very cleverness works wonders, but it is also its undoing because that artificial edge can be hard to bond with and even harder to predict what it will do on the edge.
The M2, meanwhile, can happily dance through corners with even greater competence and pace, but it constantly tries to persuade you that going sideways around a roundabout is the correct way to take a corner. There is an underlying cheekiness to how it drives, always egging you on to push your luck. It almost seems disappointed if you fail to oblige.
Another negative of the Focus RS is the seating position, specifically the fact you sit rather high up, reducing the sense of occasion, because it reduces the feeling of speed and makes the car and driver less connected. In the M2, there is a greater sense of drama.
Engine noise is another important aspect and both suffer from a touch of artificial improvement. It is noticeable, but the M2 is still a raspy affair with an underlying grunt to massage the ears. The Focus RS pops, bangs and whooshes nicely.
It is amazing just how different the two cars are and neither will disappoint. But in the case of the Focus RS, it takes more effort to come alive – and that is great where it has the breathing space to do so, but a hindrance when it doesn’t.
With the M2, it can be fun whether you are driving like an idiot or cruising at 20mph. There is still a slightly muted edge to it, as with most modern-day M cars, but it is more exciting car and more capable. Therefore it wins the point.
Winner: BMW M2
BMW M2 vs Ford Focus RS: Daily driver
Believe it or not, the more powerful M2 is the easier car to live with. It has a firm ride, but copes surprisingly well with most road surfaces and pot holes never upset it too much, even mid-corner. Regardless of the driving mode you select, the M2 is almost always comfortable.
The gearbox is crisp and easy to move between gears and the engine settles down to the sort of grumble that avoids droning on when on a motorway. The seats offer support but without being a pain to get into or too uncomfortable on a prolonged drive.
The Focus RS, meanwhile, is harsh. We never expected it to be entirely forgiving, but the sheer firmness of its springs (which are around a third firmer than the less sporty Focus ST) makes the ride tiresome and unpleasant all-too easily. There are harsh rides and then there is the Focus RS.
That may seem fuddy duddy of us to say, but then we loved the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider. It is about misery versus reward and sometimes the Focus RS struggles to give enough of the latter to make the former acceptable.
Another issue is the turning circle, which is laughably terrible. The small roundabout near our house was fine for an SUV the size of a house, but it was the Focus RS that needed some reversing action.
Drive carefully and the M2 can manage reasonable fuel economy, but way below that of the claimed 35.8mpg. CO2 emissions come in at 185g/km.
The Focus RS emits 175g/km of CO2 and promises 36.7mpg, but we saw as little as 20mpg on some drives – a little less than the M2.
Suffice to say, both cars are thirsty if used as intended, which anyone who owns them will do. It’s just that the M2 is a million times more livable.
Winner: BMW M2
BMW M2 vs Ford Focus RS: Interior
A lot of car interiors are shoddy these days and BMW in particular could do with a revamp because the inside of the M2 looks a bit uninspired – especially side by side with a Mercedes. A few cheap plastics remind you it is the cheapest M car in the range.
Otherwise the cabin is sensibly laid out and the seats do a good job of making long journeys bearable, while the various switches feel well built. It could be more exciting, with coloured stitching one of a few unique touches, but then we have seen worse.
Ford is busy updating the interior of its cars, presumably because it knows they are a bit plasticy and overly complicated, but Focus RS unfortunately missed the boat. Even with a few RS-specific bonuses such as blue stitching, funky rally-style gauges and tweaked instrument graphics, it looks cheap.
To make matters worse, the seats are annoying to get into and the Sync 2 infotainment system on earlier models is slow and difficult to use and is totally eclipsed by Sync 3 (now in the new Kuga and forthcoming Fiesta).
Winner: BMW M2
BMW M2 vs Ford Focus RS: Which is best?
It is a bit of a whitewash for the Focus RS, but the very fact we are comparing it with the £14,000 more expensive M2 is testament to the value for money it offers. Ford has done bloody well to create a somewhat practical hatchback rocket many of us could actually save up for.
Make no mistake, the Focus RS stands tall as a car with immense capability and one that the average owner will find intoxicating. But a mixture of too much hype and a few too many rough edges keep it from being the classic we hoped for. The ‘Second Coming’, it really isn’t, and we feel bad for saying that.
In some ways the M2 actually fits the religious analogy better because we were worried M cars were losing the plot a bit and the M2 is the car that puts them back on the map. Who cares it is slower than every other M car on sale? It is the most exciting and rewarding to drive by a country mile.
Whether, of course, the M2 can justify its bigger price tag is the big question and one that depends on your budget. It is the better car overall so If you can afford it, go for it. Only those that have driven both may see the Focus RS as a step down, but the feeling will be short-lived.