The big build-up surrounding Hyundai’s i30 N prompted us to snag one as soon as it made landfall and line it up against 11 rivals sure to make it break a sweat. No spoilers here, but all we’ll say is that the Korean didn’t prove a disappointment.
We set a few ground rules beforehand, limiting the upper price limit to $52K to keep things vaguely sensible. That meant Honda’s giant-killing Civic Type-R just about squeaked in, as did Volkswagen’s Golf R Grid Edition. It also meant that Ford’s Focus RS – now available exclusively in Limited Edition guise – didn’t make budget, while Renault’s latest Megane RS didn’t make the boat in time.
Aside from the Hyundai, the Golf R and the Civic, we had a left-fielder, the rear-drive BMW 125i, Ford’s evergreen Focus ST, the feisty Mini Cooper JCW, Peugeot’s lauded 308 GTi 270 and the all-aggro Renault Clio RS220 Trophy.
Then there’s the big-hitting Skoda Octavia RS245, the Subaru WRX (hey, we know it’s not a hatch but you’re bound to cross-shop one in this price bracket), its sibling the WRX STi and the doyen of this particular class, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, tested here in no-nonsense GTI Original specification.
Track performance isn’t everything in this class, but it is important. So we took our timing gear and hit the gnarly Bryant Park circuit at Haunted Hills with gun professional driver Renato Loberto setting reference laps. Every car was then put through the full Wheels road test wringer. The results are bound to surprise you. They surprised us.
Things we learned? There can be a law of diminishing returns at work when you throw more and more money at a cheap car. Even the last-placed car can and will put a huge grin on your face. All-wheel drive doesn’t buy you any great advantage on a tight, twisty and very dry track. And that buried somewhere to the south of Mt Buller is a very fast and deserted dead-end road that couldn’t be more perfect for hot-hatch testing.
To experience the megatest in full, pick up the latest mag when it lands on stands this Thursday April 19. Subscribers should be getting their copies right about now with its own custom cover. And if hot hatches don’t float your boat, check the issue for the new BMW M5, the anatomy of Holden’s ZB Commodore Supercar racer, Aston’s latest Vantage, the beef on the Leaf and a three-way seven-seater shootout between Peugeot’s 5008 and Wheels’ COTY faves, the Mazda CX-9 and Skoda Kodiaq.
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Join us for the ride in this action- and adventure-packed April edition. To subscribe, go to magshop.com.au/wheels, the iPad via the iTunes Store or on Android devices via Google Play.