After a day out with the 2017 Honda Civic Type R and the 2016 Ford Focus RS, it came down to this: "If someone handed you the keys to either, which one would you take?"
This is not "The Matrix" and these combatants are not pills. They are the most anticipated sports cars on the market and have never been sold in the U.S. at the same time. Until now. Both are affordable; both are a blast to drive; both came in blue.
Both have five doors, giant rear wings and sweet rowing six-speed manual gearboxes. Yet the Type R and Focus RS are as different as they are similar.
The 350-horsepower Focus RS is an all-wheel-drive beast with sick grip and dangerous power. The 306-horsepower Type R is a front-wheel-drive modern marvel with a brilliant suspension and lovely road manners.
Back to the question posed by my colleague and co-driver, Doug George, at the onset of our trip down the rabbit hole on a cold blustery morning at Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill. Doug is an entertainment editor and modest guy with a warm, easy smile. During our morning at the track, that smile was transformed into an ear-to-ear grin.
That's what these cars do: induce perma-grin. Here's how.
"Yeah, subtle these cars are not," George said.
Especially the Type R. Based on the excellent 10th-generation Civic, the Type R is lower and wider than the RS. Nearly all the pieces of performance flair are functional, unlike the Civic hatch. The modest hood scoop sucks cool air and pushes hot air down and out; the front splitter reduces air under the body and the side skirts reduce lift so there's plenty of downforce to keep the car planted at high speeds, including a top speed of 170 mph, according to Car and Driver.
But, according to one editor, its rear end has the face of a Stormtrooper. The large rear wing, along with a spoiler under the wing and another spoiler above (Honda calls it a vortex generator), all create downforce to keep the rear down and reduce drag. All these aero elements make it look like something out of "Fast & Furious."