Shootout: Ford Focus RS vs. BMW M2

We took two dream cars to Gingerman Raceway in Michigan and drove the s#!t out of them so you don't have to.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
4 min read

Among the biggest rivalries in the automotive world, you find all-wheel-drive versus rear-wheel-drive, stick versus automatic, and Euro-handling versus good ol' American horsepower. Today's Shootout tries to settle all three problems once and for all, as the Focus RS and the M2 go head-to-head and duke it out for supremacy.

Watch this: Shootout: BMW M2 vs. Ford Focus RS

Good manners dictate that the guest goes first, so here's what we like about the BMW M2. First off, at $51,700 the M2 is an excellent way to get started in BMW's M-series performance vehicles, which go well over the $100,000 mark.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Under the hood of the M2, a snorting three-liter, straight six-cylinder turbocharged engine puts 365 horsepower to the rear wheels, while a curb weight of 3,525 pounds gives the M2 an excellent power-to-weight ratio. The 343 pound-feet of torque and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission get the little coupe from zero to 62 mph in 4.5 seconds.

When we put the M2 on the track at Gingerman Raceway in Michigan, it proved a tossable little toy with remarkable grip and excellent handling. The suspension keeps everything flat through all the turns, and my colleague Alex Goy and I found ourselves coming off the apexes at speeds that were, frankly, frightening. The car comes with an M Dynamic mode that dials down the nannies and lets you have a bit of fun, so be sure to keep your eyes up and your reflexes poised.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

There is plenty of power for straight-line fun as well, and a launch control system gets you there that much quicker. However, we also found that the brakes faded a bit after a few sessions on the track.

Inside, the cabin shows off fine craftsmanship, and while roomy enough for passengers, getting in and out of the rear can be a bit tricky for larger folks. The iDrive infotainment system is not the most intuitive on the market, but it's available with Apple CarPlay, so you may find yourself just bypassing the system altogether.

The M2 cuts an alluring presence on the road, especially in its Long Beach Blue Metallic paint. Staggered performance tires wrapped over 19-inch wheels help give the M2 a wide look from the rear, and the whole thing just screams "I am the physical embodiment of performance. Drive me if you dare."

Ford Focus RS

The Ford Focus RS, however, lacks the M2's aggressive styling, such that you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish the hatch from its decidedly more sedate base model. Still, those in the in-crowd recognize this hot hatch with the kind of awe and excitement usually reserved for celebrities or pop stars.

The reason? The Focus RS is one badass little dude. The 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine works overtime to produce 350 horsepower and an equal amount of torque, going to all four wheels through a six-speed manual transmission. No automatic is available.

2016 Ford Focus RS
Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Normal, Sport, Track or Drift modes give you the best driving experience possible. The option of softening up the suspension for daily driving puts it ahead of the BMW in commuting comfort. In addition to the Focus RS being easier on your back, it's also easier on your wallet, starting at a cool $36,995.

The all-wheel drive system helps scoot the RS to 62 mph in 4.7 seconds. Launch control requires the push of a few buttons, but it got the Focus off the line quicker than the BMW, although that M2 eventually caught up to win our drag race.

On Gingerman Raceway the Focus RS is so easy to drive, it's almost not fair. All-wheel drive and sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires offer oodles of grip, and when I entered a corner too fast, the torque-vectoring rear differential took over to rotate the car easily around the apex. Still, it's a hatch and a bit on the tall side, making body roll an issue.

2016 Ford Focus RS
Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The Focus RS really earns its stripes with Drift mode. Sure, you have to enter a corner with a ridiculous amount of speed, but once you commit and add a little countersteer, the hatch holds a drift for as long as the pavement lasts.

Inside, the materials are not nearly as fancy-pants as the M2, but with a price difference of nearly $15,000 that's to be expected. The Sync 3 infotainment system gets an 8-inch touchscreen with pinch and zoom capabilities. The menus are easy to access and the whole system looks clean and crisp. The navigation system allows one-box entry, so it's super fast to input your destination.

The winner

Choosing between the Ford Focus RS and BMW M2 was a difficult task. In fact, we argued for days about which car should reign supreme.

We loved the Focus for its all-wheel drive system and satisfying six-speed manual. It's affordable fun that's practical for daily driving and allows for five passengers and cargo. Still, the rear-wheel drive BMW offers a bit more of a pure driving experience, wrapped up in a sophisticated package.

In the end, we decided the extra coin was worth it and chose the BMW M2 as our winner. This is the second win for the M2, having bested the 4C as well. Might the M2 be one of our favorite sports cars ever? Perhaps we should put it up against an M3 and let the two duke it out for supremacy.