Ask Jack: Senator Ornery Hatch?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
ask jack senator ornery hatch

You know what I miss? Besides the second season of Miami Vice, the Atari 800, and a country where grown men didn’t agree to appear in simpering photography sessions commemorating their emasculating engagements to former late-night legends of the Sig Ep house at Ohio State? I miss the days when automakers didn’t field an entry into every single possible automotive segment. I miss that halcyon period where Mercedes-Benz made sedans and Porsche made sports cars and never the twain needed to meet except in the destination garages of their superbly tasteful owners. Back when everybody stuck to their individual knitting, the products were better (for their time, of course) and the brand identities made more sense. I’m reminded of something that my musical idol and harshest critic, Victor Wooten, once said: “Instead of learning other instruments … I take the time that I would spend learning those instruments … and I put that time into learning my instrument, you dig?”

As my future third-wife Este once sang, however, those days are gone. In $THE_CURRENT_YEAR, nearly every manufacturer competes in nearly every segment. Which brings me to this week’s question, submitted by an extremely verbose fellow who needs to choose a German hatchback.

Joshua writes,

I have a ’11 Hyundai Genesis Coupe (R-spec, 3.8), and it doesn’t really meet my mission profile anymore. I find myself fairly often going up to the mountains from the San Francisco Bay Area during the winter — about 250 miles each way — and occasionally requiring either four-wheel-drive or chains to appease the CalTrans authorities.

The question, then: What to replace it with? I think the answer is either a Focus RS, or a Golf R — one, because both cars are quick enough to feel like I’m not sacrificing much, but two, because they both have enough of a four-wheel-drive system to shut CalTrans up. The RS seems like the underdog: fuel economy is bad, which in itself isn’t a problem (it’s comparable to the Genesis), but the fact that the tank is smaller than a mouse’s bladder is an issue as it means that the car’s range is crap. Reports are that the two settings of the suspension are “rough” and “unbearable except on micro-polished glass,” but I have little basis for comparison to, say, the Genesis. At the end of the day, it’s a $40,000 Focus, with the same mediocre plasticky interior as a $16,775 base model. The wing is kind of objectionable — I certainly would prefer understated to overstated — but I bet the appearance problem gets a little less bad with a roof rack for skis.

And it seems like the R is everything that the RS isn’t: Where the RS is rough and boy-racer, the R is the civilized one of the pair. The R’s DCC will take you down to a silky smooth ride; the car can be optioned out with all sorts of modern amenities, including ADAS features like radar-guided cruise control and automatic emergency braking. The car has a polished appearance inside. But as overwhelmingly exciting as the RS is, I fear the R might be overly sedate. If the R’s gear-shift is anything like the GTI’s (and surely I’d get it in a 3-pedal), it’ll feel disconnected, and there’s nothing viscerally compelling about banging out a perfect shift. People describe the R as a warmed-over GTI, rather than the kind of step function between the ST and RS.

Is the RS as unreasonable as a daily driver as I make it out to be? Is the R too no-fun-squad to bring any excitement to my daily commute? Am I missing an option in here somewhere?

As they used to say on the television, the above question was edited for length. Which is sad, because Joshua had some funny things to say. But we need to focus, pun intended, on the primary question. Super-Focus or Super-Golf?

Let’s start with the Ford. I spent a very long weekend with it late last year. It’s a brilliant automobile. Not as light as it should be, and therefore not as fast as it should be, but it exudes the sort of specialness that used to be the exclusive province of top-notch sports cars.

I’m not embarrassed to admit that after writing the above paragraph, I had to pause for a few moments to remember whether or not I’ve driven the Golf R. Then I checked my email. Then I Googled my name and “Golf R” together. The newest Golf R test I can find with my name on it is five years old. So I guess I haven’t driven it. Sorry about that. Truth be told, I gave up on the Golf R a long time ago, back when it was called R32. The GTI has always been a better way to spend less money. The Golf R is like the Apple 3 (written Apple /// way back when) in that it offers a completely unnecessary super-deluxe version of an experience that does not in any way benefit from the super-deluxing. Go get a GTI, dude.

Except for one thing: the GTI does not have AWD. So we are back to Golf vs. Focus. The Golf is faster; the Focus probably handles better. The Golf is more upscale; the Focus has far more street cred. The Golf can be had cheap now; the Focus will command insane resale value later. My money would be on the Focus RS every day and twice on Sunday because I will always err on the side of outrageous charisma.

Truth be told, though, I wouldn’t personally buy either car. I’d stick with my Accord V6, which is far cheaper and can hang with the German hatches in any test of acceleration that starts above 30mph. Or I’d buy a BMW 230i, which is far more fun to drive if you spec it right and doesn’t cost any more money. Then I’d buy the requisite chains or snow tires to appease Ponch and John when necessary. Hell, the Mustang GT smokes ’em all for thirty-five grand out the door.

If we take Joshua’s requirements for Autobahn cred and AWD as immutable, however, I’d then like to suggest a dark horse candidate. The Mercedes-Benz CLA45 is a natural product of the above-mentioned invasive-segment strategy. It’s about twenty-five percent more expensive and it only comes with two pedals, but against those crimes it offers the virtues of solid resale value and 12-second quarter-mile times. Plus it’s an AMG Benz. Everybody should have at least one AMG Benz before they die. There is something special about them, even when they are front-wheel-drive platforms that look like funhouse-mirror takes on Ray Donovan’s daily driver.

If all else is equal, or nearly so, why not have the pleasure of saying “my AMG” instead of “my Focus” or “my Golf”? The automotive cognoscenti might be well aware that the all-encompassing strategies of the German automakers have severely eroded the separation of privileges between the People’s Car and the Fuhrer’s Whip, but your Tinder date won’t have gotten that memo yet. Go AMG, young man! And don’t look back; a Mustang GT might be gaining on you.

Join the conversation
5 of 75 comments
  • Srh Srh on May 16, 2017

    I test drove a Golf R, and I bought a Focus RS. "Sedate" is a good word for the R. I mashed the pedal and it went. Fast. And boring. I'm a middle-aged dude, but I don't find the RS to be too boy-racer. My cow-orker who doesn't know much about cars saw it and just said, "Oh I didn't know you got a Focus". No double-takes, no comments about the spoiler. I also don't find the ride that harsh. Sure, adjust the suspension and, if you have a thin layer of fat, you'll feel it jounce around on every bump. But at default it does fine on most roads. I shod mine with Blizzaks on 18-inch wheels for the winter, and it did just fine. The optional Sport Cup tires are probably not going to get you over the pass in the winter but they do fine as a track tire (though I'm told by a GT350 owner that they last not long and cost mucho much to replace). The interior isn't German luxury fancy, but I don't find it offensive or cheap. The real downside, in my opinion, of using it for the OPs purposes is the lack of clearance. I'd guess it's a few inches less than the Northwest winter car of choice, an Outback. I don't know anything about the CLA, nor why Jack brought it up in response to this question about the Golf R and Focus RS, so can't comment on how it compares to that.

    • See 2 previous
    • Plamry Plamry on May 17, 2017

      To piggy back on this comment, I have owned both (had the R for a year and currently own the RS)The Golf R was a DSG loved the interior and build quality (for the price). Can't say the Focus RS has that solid feel and the seats aren't quite as nice but I'd take the RS over the R. For me the rear seat fits my kids car seats better and it's just a more fun car in my opinion. Also I love the Nitrous Blue. Also living in snowy Wisconsin, I have found that despite the low clearance, the RS handles the weather well with snow tires.

  • Rtr Rtr on May 17, 2017

    I sold my 2013 Boxster S and bought a Golf R. Living in the Frozen North, I wanted a 4 seasons sports car. It has a 6 spd natch, and the gearbox/clutch is very nice. Fast? Of course, because 300 HP. The interior is much nicer than the RS and the ride is comfortable in comfort mode and nicely tied down in Race (yes that is one of the modes). Best of all, it is sleeper - nothing to call attention to it. I think the cops used to live in the trunk of my Boxster whereas the Golf R draws no attention. Handling is superb, finally a front driver which turns in smartly with no understeer. The only thing I dislike is the damn 19 inch wheels which force me to slalom around the all too numerous potholes on our bombed out roads. I plan to change them to more sensible rims with some sidewall on the tires. Bottom line is that I love it!

  • Brett Woods 2023 Corvette base model.
  • Paul Taka Hi, where can I find 1982 Honda prelude junkyards in 50 states
  • Poltergeist Make sure you order the optional Dungdai fire suppression system.
  • Prabirmehta I charge my EV at home 100% of the time. The EV is used for in-town driving and the gas guzzling SUV is used for out of town trips. This results in a huge cost saving and rare trips to the gas station.
  • Conundrum Three cylinder Ford Escapes, Chevy whatever it is that competes, and now the Rogue. Great, ain't it? Toyota'll be next with a de-tuned GR Corolla/Yaris powerplant. It's your life getting better and better, yes indeed. A piston costs money, you know.The Rogue and Altima used to have the zero graviy foam front seats. Comfy, but the new Rogue dumps that advance. Costs money. And that color-co-ordinated gray interior, my, ain't it luvverly? Ten years after they perfected it in the first Versa to appeal to the terminally depressed, it graduates to the Rogue.There's nothing decent to buy on the market for normal money. Not a damn thing interests me at all.