It’s for good reason that the Volkswagen Golf GTI always has so many pundits praising its successes – it’s one of the few cars that can claim all three points of the good, fast, cheap triangle.
For that reason, it’s one of the best options out there for punters looking for something fast, without having to forgo practicality.
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But it’s been a while since Volkswagen has brought about an update to the Golf GTI model in Australia – a period in which its competition like the Hyundai i30 N, Honda Civic Type R and Renault Megane RS have all caught up.
That said, we are zeroing in on the launch of the 2021 Mark 8 Volkswagen Golf, and it’s expected that the Golf GTI will lob at the same time.
Despite not knowing hard pricing and specification data for the next-gen GTI just yet, we more or less know what we’re going to get.
The eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI will feature a few carry-over aspects, including the retention of a subtly-refined MQB platform and a reshowing of the EA888 engine. Quoted outputs remain an unchanged 180kW/370Nm, though VW says a revised shift-by-wire DSG transmissions will allow for quicker gear changes.
VW offers the Mk 8 GTI with a seven-speed DSG transmission and six-speed manual internationally, though we aren’t holding out hope for a manual being sold Down Under as Volkswagen Australia previously removed the self-shifter from our market.
Revisions to the dampening should see an even bigger divide between comfort and dynamics, while a new Vehicle Dynamics Manager will not only control the electronic front differential, but also the shock's behaviour and steering response for reportedly enhanced grip through corners.
Much of the change in the switch to eight-generation is found in the tech, design and features category.
Design is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, though a fresh face incorporates highlights including a honeycomb grille with in-built cluster LEDs, a new set of headlights that are bridged to one another via a full-width light bar across the fascia and revised wheel designs.
Around the back we can see a cleaned-up hatch with simple ‘GTI’ badging, reshaped taillights and a sporty rear bar that retains a tailpipe at each corner.
Inside we start to see the more substantial changes, with a new 10.25-inch version of VW’s digital instrument cluster pairing with a 10.0-inch infotainment screen to take care of infotainment.
To that point, many of the Golf’s physical buttons are gone, replaced with touch-sensitive trim or on-screen options.
That’s just a brief outlook of what we’re looking at when the Mark 8 Golf GTI arrives on Aussie soil early next year – let’s spell out how that compares to the established competition.
Hyundai is preparing to launch its newly-facelifted i30 N around the same time we can expect a new Golf GTI in early 2021.
Big news for the 2021 i30 N update is the addition of an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox option which Hyundai hopes will help steal away customers from VW.
Other changes for the i30 N include a retuned engine delivering 206kW/392Nm, reduced weight, revised exterior and interior design and larger brakes.
These changes help the i30 N record a faster 5.9-second 0-100km/h claim, bettering the VW Golf GTI which claims to do the run in 6.3 seconds.
The limited-slip differential carries over from the pre-facelift, and three drive modes are available.
On speculation, the extra inclusions could push the previous-gen i30 N’s circa-$42,000 price slightly higher, though unless the circa-$47,000 Golf GTI becomes more affordable, the Hyundai might even beat the Golf on price too.
Where the first two options are newcomers, the Ford Focus ST has already had some time to impress punters.
On numbers alone, the Focus ST does impress, too: 206kW and 420Nm from a strong-and-willing 2.3-litre turbo four-cylinder, paired to your choice of either a seven-speed torque converter auto (no cost option) or six-speed manual.
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The electronic limited-slip diff helps the dynamics in a way its predecessor needed, and it can sprint to 100km/h in a claimed 5.7 seconds.
It might not be able to boast the same technological connectedness and premium interior attributes as the incoming Golf GTI - in particular the ability to soften the shocks to make for a more comfortable ride - but if you’re more one to favour dynamics over liveability anyway then the Focus ST is a real straight-shooter.
The Ford Focus ST starts out at $45,690 before on-road costs too, which is more affordable than the outgoing Golf GTI.
The Renault Megane RS is one of the all-time great hot hatches, and while the current generation is a departure for fans of the previous-gen, it remains a savagely quick hot hatch with newfound practicality too.
You can have the Megane RS in a variety of variants with different tunes, though the standard Sport car equips a 1.8-litre turbo four-cylinder that can eke out 205kW/390Nm to the front wheels which sends the Meg RS from 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds.
It’s true that the Megane RS now comes in both manual and automatic transmissions, though the six-speed dual-clutch is an expensive $5,000 add over its $45,990 manual offering.
Renault also provides a trick four-wheel steering system, but a limited-slip diff only comes on the more expensive Cup variants.
The Honda Civic Type R is a bit of a stretch target for the incoming Mark 8 GTI in terms of dynamics.
Its 228kW/400Nm turbo four-cylinder is a level above most of the rivals here, and it can perform impressively on track – as evidenced through its 2018 MOTOR magazine Performance Car of the Year victory.
It can also propel the Type R from 0-100km/h in a scant 5.8 seconds.
A 2020 update brought about revised suspension and dampers, some design changes and updated brakes. It also gets a new data-logging application that collects information from the car’s computers to provide feedback on your driving.
But the downside of the Civic Type R is that it’s never going to be as daily-driveable as a Golf GTI. For starters, it’s manual-only, the big wing at the back is view-obstructing and its infotainment is limited.
Additionally, its $50,990 asking price is steeper than the rivals here.
If you’re out there for pure driving thrills, the Civic Type R is hard to go past, but if you like your car more jack-of-all-trades – as we expect Golf owners do – chances are you aren’t cross-shopping a Civic Type R and Golf GTI anyway.