Ford Focus RS v VW Golf R v Audi RS3 v Mercedes-AMG A45 v Peugeot 308 GTi: Which hot hatch should I buy?

By Jez Spinks, 16 Aug 2016 Car Advice

Volkswagen Golf R

Looking for a performance car bargain, with five seats and a decent boot? Step this way.

Hot-hatches are one of the most popular forms of performance car – typically combining a powerful engine with compact, five-door practicality.

The segment features plenty of household nameplates, notably the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Here, though, we compare the faster Volkswagen Golf R and its key rivals in WhichCar’s guide to $45-80K hot-hatches.

AUDI RS3
Priced from $78,900

Australia missed out on the original RS3 but in 2015 the second-generation model became the most affordable RS variant you could buy.

Audi RS3

Its distinctive five-cylinder engine sounds fantastic with its off-beat warble and propels the compact Audi from 0-100km/h in a rapid 4.3 seconds. (Which was benchmark acceleration until the updated A45 AMG came along.)

The all-wheel-drive system can send all of the RS3’s 465Nm of torque to the rear wheels, though fast driving brings a neutral cornering balance rather than a playful rear end.

More feedback from the steering would be welcome, and some buyers might prefer less understated exterior styling that contrasts with the RS3’s overt performance.

It’s difficult to find any fault in this Audi’s interior, which offers an unrivalled cabin experience in terms of exceptional fit and finish and super-high-quality materials.

FORD FOCUS RS
Priced from $50,990

The new Mustang is going gangbusters in the sales charts, and in mid-2016 it was joined by another famous performance Ford in the form of the third-generation Focus RS.

Ford Focus RS

It’s all-wheel drive for the first time, which helps to deploy its extra firepower to the ground. A 2.3-litre turbo four-cylinder borrowed from the ’Stang gives the latest RS 257kW of power and 440Nm of torque.

Ford quotes a 0-100km/h time of 4.7 seconds, which is commendably close to the RS3 and A45 that cost nearly $30K more.

A headline feature is more about going sideways than in a straight-line: Drift Mode manipulates the car’s electronic stability control and four-wheel-drive system for the occasions when drivers want to seek fun times rather than lap times.

The front Recaro seats are higher than ideal, the urban ride is fairly uncompromising, and the cabin execution the least effective in this group.

But, as our friends at Motor magazine might say, the Focus RS overall delivers serious bang for your buck.

MERCEDES-AMG A45
Priced from $77,900

It’s a few years now since Benz’s AMG go-fast division made a change from V8 and V12 engines and dropped a turbocharged four-cylinder into the A-Class to create the slightly mad A45.

Mercedes-AMG A45

A 2016 update makes it even faster, with class-leading power and torque: 280kW and 475Nm.

The savage engine, complete with lairy exhaust noises, results in a 0-100km/h run of 4.2 seconds – making this all-wheel-drive five-door the quickest hot-hatch you can buy out of a showroom.

Just like all other current AMG models, the A45 is also handy around corners. And newly added adjustable dampers means the great handling is not such a great trade-off with ride comfort.

The rear seats are tight for space and there’s limited storage, though the purposeful interior is exemplified by body-hugging sports seats, bright-red stitching and a chunky steering wheel.

PEUGEOT 308 GTi
Priced from $44,990

French brand Peugeot hasn’t offered a hot version of its small car for 15 years. The 308 GTi is a welcome return.

Peugeot 308

Two versions are available: the 184kW 250 or, for $5000 extra, the 200kW 270. Both could be considered slightly expensive in the context of their respective rival groups, though there’s lots of gear standard and the beautifully designed cabin also adds perceived value.

The 270’s faster 0-100km/h time of 6.0 seconds looks slow on paper among its peers here, yet the 308 GTI certainly doesn’t feel slow on the road.

The relatively tiny 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder punches well above its size, even if it could sound more interesting (despite audio amplification).

And the 308 GTI’s impressively light kerb weight of 1205kg also engenders it some fairly agile handling, which combines nicely with high levels of mid-corner tyre grip.

If you like track days, the 270 is the pick due to its Torsen mechanical limited-slip front diff that helps traction out of corners.

VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R
Priced from $51,990

Still nowhere near as renowned as the cheaper GTI, though the R is also no longer the more expensive yet less involving sibling.

Volkswagen Golf R

Since the latest iteration of the R emerged in 2014 it has better justified its position as the flagship Golf with vastly improved handling and performance.

Well-judged steering that’s hefty and direct contributes to the R’s enjoyable cornering abilities, with a Haldex all-wheel-drive system and front electronic differential helping to distribute torque to the right places.

Maximum torque of 380Nm is second-lowest in this hot-hatch set, though it’s delivered across a vast chunk of the R’s rev range (1800 to 5100rpm) to provide flexible and punchy performance.

A 5.2-second 0-100km time is respectable, though is now trumped by the Focus RS by half a second.

The adaptive suspension has a Comfort mode to give the hottest Golf some welcome suppleness for normal driving, and the cabin presentation and quality still holds up well against its newer competition.