Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A grey 2017 Ford Mustang GT350R is shown from the front at an angle.

Should You Get a 2018 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R or a 2016 Ford Focus RS?

If you’re in the market for a used sports or performance vehicle and have landed on Ford as your choice automaker, two vehicles will have risen to the surface of your search for their fastest models: the 2018 Mustang Shelby GT350R and the 2016 Ford Focus RS. Both of these can rocket their way from zero to sixty in less than five seconds and are favorites among those who spend time on real racetracks (or at least like to treat public roads like racetracks, and garner up a lot of speeding tickets in the process). But speed isn’t everything in a performance vehicle; ultimately, these two vehicles are very different beasts—even if they both roar (which they do very nicely) and move with the agility of a lioness.

While you’re deciding which used car dealership to check out, ask yourself what you’re looking for in a sports vehicle. It’s rare to find someone who loves the Shelby and the Focus equally, as those who love one tend to believe the other is “too much,” but they each appeal to a specific driver—and if you can snag a used model, you can get a good price on some of Ford’s racetrack rockstars.

The 2018 Ford Mustang Shelby

First Class Appointments

The Shelby is almost primarily made for the racetrack, and Ford doesn’t put on airs to say otherwise. It doesn’t even have a backseat. It also doesn’t have an audio system or backup camera. Ford’s intention with this model was to cut down the weight as much as possible, leaving only those elements necessary for drivers to have a heart-stopping experience on the track.

If you are looking for something that could easily be in a Fast and Furious movie and is, in no way, going to be your everyday vehicle, you should check out the Shelby. Every element of it—from the transmission and engine to the cabin—was designed for performance enthusiasts.

A blue 2017 Ford Mustang GT350R is shown from the front at an angle after leaving a used car dealership.

Under the Hood

One of the coolest things about the Shelby is its proprietary engine, which Ford nicknamed “Voodoo” because it seems to work magic. The 5.2L V8 kicks out 7,500 RPM, boasts 526 hp, and enjoys 429 lb-ft of torque. It is an absolutely show-stopping engine, and when you rev it, you’ll hear a sound that you swear shakes the earth and satisfies the little speed demon in your heart.

A manual six-speed transmission gives you a nice, intimate experience when shifting gears. Plus, the MagneRide Damping system self-monitors every thousandth of a second, making minute adjustments when necessary so your springs will always be at the ideal rigidity you need for the speed you’re traveling at and the road you’re on. Add to that the Brembo brakes, and you can go from top speeds to a total stop in a time that will practically make your head spin.

A Lowkey Race Look

The interior of the 2018 Shelby GT350R is a true masterpiece. Its round, racer-inspired shift knob will make you feel like you’re in the Grand Prix, and it moves across gears in a smooth, satisfying way that makes you feel like a pilot in command of a starship. A flat-bottom steering wheel creates a professional racecar driver feel.

Look to the passenger-side instrument panel to find a chassis number unique to your model—or look up to find an instrument panel displaying a gluttony of metrics, so you can know exactly how much you’re dominating the track. If you are a performance elitist and want something made just for the track, inside and out, you’ll probably want the 2018 Shelby GT350R.

The 2016 Ford Focus RS

Affordable Acceleration

Now let’s talk about the 2016 Ford Focus RS, and let’s talk about it nicely because some people—like Shelby-leaning drivers—do not. Look, everyone knows the Ford Focus doesn’t have the sophisticated looks of the Shelby. In fact, you might associate it with a youthful driver—someone who just got their license—or maybe even a middle-aged commuter. But you know what? This thing kicks, roars, and rips down roads like you wouldn’t believe. And with its low price tag, it’s almost irresponsible not to check out the 2016 Focus RS.

Under the Hood

The 2016 Ford Focus enjoys a 2.3L turbocharged inline-four engine, kicking out 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. It really zips—off the line and around corners—and can go from zero to sixty in about 4.6 seconds.

The 2016 Focus also gets a torque-vectoring system that can send 70% of its power to a single rear wheel when necessary. The Focus’s grippiness will really impress you—and when you turn corners, you’ll love the way it hugs them, even at top speed. Plus, you have that fun ‘drift’ mode to do a little Tokyo Drift-style show on the flattop.

A blue 2016 Ford Focus RS is shown from the front at an angle.

Fun and Functional

Let’s get the not-so-great stuff out of the way right away. The inside of the Ford Focus is, well, kind of unfocused. There’s an odd mish-mosh of upholstery—none of it very elevated. You have several colors going on that are bolder than they need to be. It’s not going to appear in any James Bond movie any time soon—but…

The 2016 Ford Focus RS does have a backseat and is ready for non-race-track roads. It also has a touchscreen infotainment interface, built-in navigation, an audio system for pumping tunes, and dual-zone climate control, so it is clearly made for more environments than the Shelby (which was made for only one).

If you want a vehicle that you can use to appeal to your naughty side but can also use for, say, school or grocery runs or beach trips on other days, that’s going to be the Ford Focus RS.

It Comes Down to Style, Cost, and Versatility

Now that you’ve gotten to know these two vehicles better, you can probably see why those who love one loathe the other. It’s almost hard to believe that the same manufacturer made both vehicles. But Ford has always been pretty good about making a lineup that appeals to a broad range of drivers, and they even do this within their performance lineup.

Not everyone is willing to throw down a small fortune on a performance vehicle. In fact, some people need their “fun” car to also be their everyday car because they don’t have the budget for multiple models. The 2016 Ford Focus RS is a great option for these drivers. It absolutely keeps up with the best of them on the track while still having things you need for real life, like a navigation system and rear seats, as well as a price tag that won’t make the blood drain from your face.

If you want a serious, performance-dedicated, and sophisticated option, the 2018 Mustang Shelby GT350R has your name written all over it. It will turn heads at the track—and only at the track, because that’s where it will have to live—and it will take your breath away with its stark but stunning interior. It’s a luxury purchase, sure, but sometimes you have to treat yourself. Plus, the Shelby gets that Voodoo engine, which is something of a relic now; it only ever powered the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R. You’ve never experienced anything like it, and you may never will again since Ford stopped making it.