TRACK AND FEEL

RALLY CHAMP MOLLY TAY­LOR RATES THE HOT HATCHES

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

Molly Tay­lor is one of the lucky few who can drive per­for­mance cars to their limit. The 2016 Aus­tralian Rally Cham­pion has been mo­tor rac­ing since her teens, hon­ing her craft in a pad­dock be­fore get­ting her road li­cence. To­day at Syd­ney Mo­tor­sport Park, Tay­lor has paarked her al­le­giances to rally spon­sor Subaru to put through their paces the re­cently re­vised Ford Fo­cus RS LE, hyped up Honda Civic Type R and just re­leased VW Golf R Grid Edi­tion.

Here’s how the hot hatches com­pare on the road and track.

FORD FO­CUS RS LE

Pro­duc­tion of the Fo­cus RS will end soon so Ford has re­leased 500 lim­ited edi­tion ex­am­ples.

There’s no more power from the 2.3-litre turbo but it has the most grunt among this trio.

Boost­ing the all-wheel drive hard­ware are a me­chan­i­cal lim­ited-slip front dif­fer­en­tial, stick­ier tyres and forged-al­loy wheels. Rac­ing seats and black painted roof, side mir­rors and rear spoiler are part of the pack­age that adds a hefty $6000 to the price, to $62,000 drive-away, mak­ing it the most ex­pen­sive here.

It’s the car Tay­lor is most keen to drive but first im­pres­sions aren’t good. “The rac­ing seat is re­ally com­fort­able but it’s mounted too high,” she says.

With a crackle and pop from the ex­haust she’s off, re­turn­ing just a few hot laps later with brake trou­ble. “The pedal went long. It feels like the brake fluid got too hot,” she says.

Still, she likes the car. “It sounds like a race car and you can feel the ex­tra torque of the en­gine down low in the rev range,” she says.

“It feels heav­ier than the oth­ers but it has good grip and claws out of cor­ners.”

The stiff sus­pen­sion that gives the Fo­cus poise on a track makes it a touch too taut on the road. Pas­sen­gers prone to mo­tion sick­ness would be well ad­vised not to read a book. In other re­gards, it de­lights the senses.

As the heav­i­est car here the Fo­cus feels like a brash, Amer­i­can take on the hot hatch theme. Funny that. The ex­tra ki­los also make it the thirsti­est, even by per­for­mance car stan­dards, and the Fo­cus is the least likely to get near its rat­ing la­bel claim. In the 0-100km/h dash us­ing GPS tim­ing gear, the Fo­cus is the fastest here at 5.3 sec­onds, shy of its 4.7-se­cond claim.

The Fo­cus briefly nudges 102km/h in se­cond gear be­fore the rev lim­iter brings the speed back to 97km/h. The other two need to grab third to hit 100.

HONDA CIVIC TYPE R

Honda has fi­nally re­turned to the hot hatch mar­ket with a car wor­thy of the cov­eted Type R badge, with a car that looks like a Star Wars fighter.

It has been bold with the price, too. The $56,700 drive-away sticker puts it squarely in all-wheel drive com­pany even though the Honda pow­ers only the front wheels.

On pa­per, it would be easy to un­der­es­ti­mate. On track, it takes just one lap to earn Tay­lor’s re­spect.

“It feels like a go-kart,” she says. “It def­i­nitely sur­prised me. Even though it’s not all-wheel

drive you feel more con­fi­dent be­cause the sus­pen­sion, steer­ing and brakes are so pre­cise.

“You can re­ally take it to the limit and get the most out of it. The brakes are phe­nom­e­nal. This is a real sur­prise pack­age.”

Dis­likes? “Com­pared to the oth­ers it sounds al­most silent even though it has three ex­hausts. The sound doesn’t have much char­ac­ter, es­pe­cially when you con­sider how bold Honda has been with the ap­pear­ance.”

On the road, de­spite the 20-inch wheels be­ing shod with licorice-thin low-pro­file tyres, it’s re­mark­ably com­fort­able over bumps, even in sport mode.

Tay­lor keeps the highly strung en­gine at high revs on track but on the road there’s a slight de­lay get­ting to its power band. Any owner, though, can cre­ate the im­pres­sion of driv­ing like a pro­fes­sional as the Honda has revmatch­ing tech on down-changes.

In our 0-100km/h runs, the Type R can’t get near Honda’s claim of 5.7 sec­onds, in­stead stop­ping the clock at 6.2 sec­onds. It runs out of se­cond gear at 97km/h on the GPS and 102km/h on the speedome­ter. Per­haps Honda’s claimed time is based on the speedo.

What it lacks in ac­cel­er­a­tion, how­ever, it makes up for in brak­ing, with the short­est stop­ping dis­tances among this trio (33 me­tres ver­sus 36 from 100km/h for the other pair).

It’s the car Tay­lor would pick to set the fastest lap time.

VW GOLF R GRID

As ri­vals in­creased prices, hot hatch vet­eran Volk­swa­gen has sharp­ened the pen­cil. The $52,700 drive-away Grid Edi­tion is $6000 less than the pre­vi­ous start­ing price of a Golf R, and the cheap­est yet.

The main items miss­ing from the reg­u­lar Golf R are the dig­i­tal widescreen dash dis­play and leather up­hol­stery — but you still get faux suede trim and sports seats.

The cen­tral touch­screen mea­sures eight inches (rather than 9.2) but comes with the ben­e­fit of vol­ume di­als.

To make this match fair we’ve got the sixspeed man­ual — rather than the seven-speed twin clutch auto, which stops the clocks at 100km/h in a le­git 4.9 sec­onds. Slower than ex­pected, it clocks 5.9 sec­onds, well shy of the 5.2-se­cond claim.

Its 2.0-litre turbo has had a power bump but the Golf R has the least amount of grunt in this com­pany and re­lies on all-wheel drive and an even spread of power to get the job done. Once on the move, though, it feels as perky as the com­peti­tors.

“I re­ally like the Golf R,” Tay­lor says. “It has very smooth power de­liv­ery but the sus­pen­sion is a lot softer and it doesn’t hold the lines as well be­cause the tyres don’t have enough grip.”

It’s a bit like ask­ing Usain Bolt to do the 100m in a pair of thongs.

“Go­ing into a turn you need to wait for the tyres to grip, which slows the car, and then you’re no longer in the sweet spot of the en­gine. Bet­ter tyres would make a big dif­fer­ence over­all.”

On the road, the Golf R soaks up bumps bet­ter than the Ford and as well as the Honda.

It all turns a bit pear-shaped, though, as soon as we ar­rive at some cor­ners. On a smooth, wind­ing moun­tain pass the tyres start to squeal, even when not be­ing pushed par­tic­u­larly hard.

In this com­pany it’s best de­scribed as a fast lux­ury car than a truly hot hatch.

Pic­tures: Mark Bean

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