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Volkswagen Golf GTI vs rivals

By Tom Fraser, 27 Oct 2020 Car Comparisons

volkswagen golf gti

A lot has happened in the time since the last VW Golf GTI unveil – can the new Mark 8 GTI reclaim the hot hatch throne?

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.

Read next The next-gen Golf GTI is finally here

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.

vw golf gti

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.

Read Power Up: Volkswagen details Golf GTI Clubsport

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 golf gti

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. 

vw golf gti

Much of the change in the switch to eight-generation is found in the tech, design and features category.

Read Volkswagen Mk8 Golf GTI coming to Australia

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.

vw golf gti

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.

vw golf gti

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 i30 N

Hyundai is preparing to launch its newly-facelifted i30 N around the same time we can expect a new Golf GTI in early 2021.

2021 Hyundai i30 N hatchback

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.

MORE Hyundai details new i30 N in full

Other changes for the i30 N include a retuned engine delivering 206kW/392Nm, reduced weight, revised exterior and interior design and larger brakes.

2021 Hyundai i30 N hatchback

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.

Hyundai has revealed the full extent of its 2021 i30 N improvements, with an engine retune, weight reduction, brake upgrade and interior enhancements accompanying the previously announced dual-clutch automatic option and slick exterior redesign. Due to arrive in Australia in the first half of 2021, the facelifted and updated i30 N hatch wears a new look that incorporates sharper LED lighting headlight and taillight accents, revised front and rear bumpers with aerodynamic improvements and fat exhausts bolted into unchanged metalwork. The fastback shares all of the upgrades except the tail end aesthetic changes including the hatchback’s spoiler which does produces useful downforce. It shares the new exhausts however. But more significantly, there’s genuine performance enhancements to get excited about. For a start, the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine has been gently squeezed to liberate more torque with the peak figure jumping by 39Nm to a new maximum of 392Nm. There’s also a small increase of power, creeping up by 4kW to 206kW. The output boost has chopped two tenths of a second from the i30 N’s zero to 100km/h acceleration with the milestone dash now over in 4.9 seconds. A flattening of the torque curve also improves mid-range acceleration and at the top end too. Extra traction off the line is thanks in part to the carry over limited-slip differential (LSD) but also the addition of new 19-inch forged alloy wheels that wear sticky Pirelli P Zero rubber. The more skeletal design rims remove nearly 15kg of unsprung weight from the i30 N which will directly improve handling and road-holding along with retuned steering and suspension settings, which is electronically controlled as before. Customers in other global regions will be asked for extra cash for a new Performance Pack but Australian customers will be offered the extra performance potential as standard. It includes more powerful brakes with front disc diameter increased from 345mm to 360mm, while the LSD gains electronic control. Inside, the weight reduction continues with N Light seats available optionally, offering greater support, a combination of leather and Alcantara synthetic suede upholstery, highlighting blue stitching and another 2.2kg of weight saved. Australian auto fans have been getting excited about the introduction of an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission since it was confirmed for the model last year, but the South Korean manufacturer has now offered more details about it function. As you would expect, paddle shifters are provided behind the steering wheel for manual gear shifting or with the gear selector lever which has been oriented for down-shits by pushing forward and upshifts with a pull back. The transmission also has three driving programs tailored with a couple of frivolous modes. Least surprising is the N Track mode which does everything it can to improve lap times but there are a pair of more fun-focused functions. N Power Shift mode engages when more than 90-percent acceleration is used and does not reduce torque between gear shifts. The result is maximum acceleration and sensation of extra kick when the next gear is engaged. Finally, the N Grin setting unleashes the maximum power and torque of the engine for 20 seconds for peak performance that is more about putting a smile on the driver’s face than outright lap times, says Hyundai. The N Grin mode is itself split into five further more typical modes including Eco, Normal, Sport, N and N Custom. A raft of new safety gear arrives with the updated i30 N courtesy of the Hyundai Smart Sense suite. New to the i30 N fastback are forward collision avoidance than now detects vehicles and pedestrians/cyclists, and lane-following assistance. Hatchback versions add to the new safety tech with blind-spot collision warning and assistance, and rear cross-traffic warning and avoidance assistance.

Ford Focus ST

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.

Read next: The Ford Focus ST has big shoes to fill

2020 Ford Focus ST review

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. 

Renault Megane RS

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. 

2019 Renault Megane RS280 long-term review feature

WATCH Renault's Megane RS Trophy-R sets sizzling front-driver record lap at the 'Ring

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.

Read Renault Megane RS280 long-term review

Honda Civic Type R

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.

Honda Civic Type R interior

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.