If the BMW M2 hadn’t just been released, the hottest car on the market would be the Ford Focus RS. Released around the same time as the M2, the Focus RS is an absolute monster of a hatchback. With its 2.3 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Focus RS makes 350 hp and powers all four wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. It’s the hottest hatch on the market right now. However, BMW has its own hot hatchback that’s slowly being forgotten as it gets older, but it’s still a serious contender — the BMW M135i.
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Not having ever been made available in North America, many Americans are unaware of the M135i hatch. Much like the M235i, it boasts a 3.0 liter turbocharged I6 engine that develops 322 hp and powers its rear wheels. That last bit is important because it makes the M135i the only rear-wheel drive hot hatch on the market.
So how do these two hatches stack up against each other? Whatcar decided to find out.
Despite both being hot hatches, both of these cars are very different. The Ford Focus RS has a sort of crazed, manic personality to it, with its loud exhaust that pops and burbles all the time, it’s lightening fast twitchy steering and tenacious all-wheel drive grip. It’s like an excited puppy, always wanting to play and if you don’t pay attention, it’ll eat your furniture. While that’s incredibly fun on tight, twisty back roads, it can be a bit exhausting on highways or broken pavement. Its suspension is incredibly stiff and its cabin can be pretty loud. But get it on the right road and holy hell is it fun to drive.
On the flip side, the BMW M135i is a bit more mature, more reserved. It’s not boring by any means, it’s just less manic. While it doesn’t have the monster grip of the all-wheel drive Ford, its rear-wheel drive nature allows it to be more fun and feel more natural in corners. It’s a smooth car that requires more skill that the Ford, which you can just point and shoot and its crazed all-wheel drive system will get you through without much effort. The BMW also has a nicer interior, which is filled with richer materials and its ride is much more comfortable, without compromising performance.
Whereas the engine in the Focus RS is loud and packs all of its turbocharged punch in the mid-range, the BMW M135i engine is smoother and more linear, making a more refined growl. Both are plenty fast, but the Bimmer trails the Ford from 0-60 mph, with a time of 5.8 seconds compared to the Ford’s 5.2. However, both are plenty good fun.
In terms of practicality, as these are hatchbacks after all, the Focus RS has a bit more cargo space and better rearward visibility. But the BMW M135i has better back seat space and better space up front as well. The BMW has the much nicer interior, though, with more premium materials and much more mature look. The Focus RS has really cool Recaro seats that are supremely comfortable, but they aren’t height adjustable, which can be an issue. It’s also a bit boy-racerish on the inside, with its blue stitching everywhere and boost gauges. It’s a fine cabin and looks cool, but will likely get tiring and nowhere near as classy as the Bimmer’s.
Both of these cars are outstanding cars, especially for enthusiasts that like to drive like hooligans. They’re both more than fast enough to be fun, both have great handling dynamics and both look cool. However, Whatcar had to choose between them and decided that the BMW M135i was the better car of the two. It’s almost as fast but has the better engine, has rear-wheel drive handling dynamics and a much nicer interior. While the Ford Focus RS is an incredible driving car, its harsh ride and cheap cabin put it in second place.