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It’s rare that a higher-specification variant of a popular mainstream car would be the best-seller in the range, but that tells you much about the enduring status and appeal of the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

With one in four Golfs driving out of VW showrooms wearing the revered three-letter badge, the GTI is almost ubiquitous on Australian streets. We wouldn’t expect that impressive sales statistic to change much even if the new Golf GTI isn’t quite as accessible as before.

The combination of the axing of the three-door – which accounted for just five per cent of GTI sales – and a price increase for the five-door means entry has risen $2500 to $41,490. That pushes the GTI further away from one of its close rivals, and closer to another.

Volkswagen Golf GTI 1

The Ford Focus ST is priced from $38,290 while our reigning hot-hatch champ, the Renault Sport Megane 265, costs from $42,640.

Volkswagen has aimed to retain the GTI’s value, however. Features that were previously optional – and still are in most OS markets – are now inclusive: 18-inch alloy wheels (rather than 17s), sat nav, and adaptive dampers.

In the equipment count, that allows the GTI to match the stock wheels of both the Focus ST and the RS265 that we have here in base (Cup) form.

Volkswagen Golf GTI 9

Other standard gear shared by the trio include dual-zone climate control, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, steering wheels that adjust for height and reach, daytime running lights (LED except GTI), auto headlights, electric heated side mirrors, and rear parking sensors (also front for GTI).

Bluetooth connectivity is common, too, though only the Ford offers voice-activated commands.

The Renault singularly features front Brembo brakes but otherwise starts to lose pace on features. Ford and Volkswagen share satellite navigation, rear-view camera and auto-dimming rear vision mirror as additions.

Ford Focus ST 1

The Golf GTI is alone in including a changeable suspension, as well as offering a dual-clutch auto gearbox (though that’s not necessarily an equipment advantage, depending on your driving perspective).

The Focus ST exclusively offers bi-xenon headlights, a system that can automatically use your mobile to call emergency services in the event of a crash, and sports seats by renowned brand Recaro.

It also features the most speakers (nine) with its Sony audio, with the GTI’s own-brand audio serving up eight and the RS265 setting out four speakers and four tweeters.

Ford Focus ST 8

For the Renault Sport Megane – our preference for the car’s name because it’s built by the company’s dedicated RS performance division in France – you need to buy the $51,640 Trophy+ to essentially match the kit of the ST.

The RS265, however, has one particular item that helps make the Renault go better around corners than either the ST or GTI: a mechanical limited-slip differential.

Both the ST and GTI employ an electronic interpretation of an LSD, via their stability control systems, but neither can match the cornering traction of the mega-Megane.

Renault Sport Megane 1

Bury the throttle mid-corner to propel yourself onto a straight, and the GTI and Focus ST – as terrifically as they handle – both scrabble a bit to get their power to the ground through the front wheels.

In the RS, as we’ve experienced in previous tests, it’s difficult to detect the barest of wheel slippage, and certainly not a whiff of understeer, as the Renault follows an arc with ridiculous speed and a remarkable lack of fuss.

The three-door, lower-roofed body of the Renault also leans the least through corners, with the Focus ST exhibiting the most body roll – though not to the detriment of balance, it should be added.

Renault Sport Megane 10

Ford’s fastest Focus (for now; we continue to pray for another RS) embraces quick directional changes, allied with direct steering (though with a paradoxically atrocious turning circle).

Back to back with the Golf GTI and Megane RS, the Focus ST feels more like a miniature muscle car than a fleet-footed five-door.

Part of that is a 1415kg kerb weight that is 41kg heftier than the Renault and nearly 100 kilos higher than the now-even-lighter VW (1324kg). You also have to manhandle the Ford more.

Hot hatch comparison group shot 2

The Focus ST torque steers far more noticeably than its rivals, with the steering wheel momentarily freezing with some lock applied as the driver tells the engine via the throttle pedal to force more power through the same wheels trying to turn out of the corner.

The driver’s hands are further kept busy by pronounced tramlining on patchy country roads, as the wheels try to follow grooves in the bitumen rather than where you’re actually trying to point them.

It never feels unnerving, however, and the torque steer is tame compared with some other hot-hatches we could mention – such as the Mazda 3 MPS. There’s also a satisfyingly meaty feel to all the ST’s key controls: pedals, wheel and gearlever.

Volkswagen Golf GTI 3

Volkswagen’s GTI is less dramatic – and that will have more or less appeal depending on the buyer. Its steering seems incorruptible and its suspension unflappable.

The Golf GTI is the only member of our titillating triumvirate to feature adjustable suspension.

Changing the firmness of the dampers is done by pressing a Driving Select Mode button on the console (slightly annoyingly hidden by the gearlever) then choosing a setting that also adjusts other vehicle settings such as steering weighting, gearbox response and throttle sharpness.

Volkswagen Golf GTI 6

Sport, of course, is the most aggressive, though the suspension becomes a touch too fidgety on typical Aussie roads and the steering weighting just becomes heavy without bringing any extra surface-to-hand communication. Normal, though, still benefits from the GTI’s ‘progressive steering’ that brings a more direct rack with fewer turns lock to lock than regular Golfs – 2.1 v 2.75. Comfort’s extra suppleness is perfect for drive around town or down freeway stretches, but Normal is a fine balance between absorbency and control.

Regardless of mode, the GTI hasn’t lost the impressive compliance of the regular Golfs and is better at filtering out low-speed bumps than the firmer-riding ST and RS.

Handily, VW also pinches an ‘Individual’ mode from Audi that allows the driver to mix up settings: so you can, for example, have the suspension in Comfort, the steering in Normal and the drivetrain in Sport.

Volkswagen Golf GTI 8

Crucially in a hot-hatch context, the engine has more firepower to better enable the GTI to mix it more effectively with its capable competitors. (And you can have more next year with a Performance Pack that brings 169kW and a proper limited-slip diff.)

A major upgrade to the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder brings a 7kW increase in power, though more notable is a 25 per cent jump in torque – from 280 to 350Nm.

That still leaves it 10Nm shy of the ST (with overboost) and RS, though the Golf GTI produces its maximum torque from just 1500rpm – 500rpm earlier than the Focus and 1500rpm ahead of the Renault.

Ford Focus ST 5

The result is a GTI engine that continues the brilliant flexibility of the Mark 5 and 6 2.0Ls but now has the mid-range acceleration to be less humbled by the Focus ST and Megane RS. The turbo boost is more noticeable, though, than with the previous GTI engine that felt remarkably linear.

You can feel that in-gear improvement physically without noting VW’s official figures that say the new GTI cuts the 80 to 120km/h acceleration from 7.5 to 5 seconds.

The 0-100km/h sprint is cut from 6.9 to 6.5 seconds to match the Focus ST, though the rapid Renault remains the Usain Bolt of the pack with a six-second dead.

Renault Sport Megane 7

The Renault Sport Megane’s engine sounds the best when reaching for the respective redlines, with that thrilling pace accompanied by a turbo-whooshing crescendo above 6000rpm.

You need to press the Sport button, however, to liberate the RS’s full armoury of kilowatts (and raise the ESC threshold), which are otherwise pegged at the old 184kW before the Gendarmerie requested a faster crim-catching model. (So European; difficult to imagine Australian police being so open-minded.)

You don’t need too many revs on board before you notice an angrier, throatier tune from the GTI, which contrasts with the light and zingy note of the previous version.

Ford Focus ST 25

The Focus ST is our pick for vocals, though, with a bassy growl that resonates through the cabin thanks to the Sound Symposer that pipes noise from engine bay to cabin via the firewall.

The Focus ST’s 2.0-litre also feels the most muscular down low, though the Ford and Renault cabins are also filled with more tyre noise than the refined GTI.

The GTI is the only hot-hatch here that gives you the option of letting the car perform gearchanges. And with three out of four GTI buyers opting for the dual-clutch auto, we wanted the most relevant transmission even though the VW is available with a standard six-speed manual to match those in the Focus and Megane.

Renault Sport Megane 4

We still prefer the sweet-shifting GTI manual, which also saves you $2500 and is as satisfying to work as the stick-shifts in the RS and ST, but there’s also no denying the ultra-quick shifts of the DSG. And, importantly, its operation has also been smoothed around town.

And in daily use, the Renault Sport Megane isn’t quite as user-friendly with that sloping roofline and small back window that create poor rear vision.

Rear passengers don’t get their own doors with the French hatch, of course, and they’ll then find less head and legroom than in its German-built rivals.

Renault Sport Megane 15

Renault Sport Megane 25

Being French, there are some ergonomic issues, naturally – strange positioning of some buttons, and others (such as audio buttons) that could be more logical and less fiddly. The Renault’s narrow, monochromatic display is also too small by today’s standards.

However, the driving position is pretty much perfection (as it is in the GTI and ST), and there’s a discernible quality to the way the Megane’s cabin is put together.

Red stitching on the seats, gearshift lever and steering wheel, plus a carbonfibre dash inlay with red stripe add the sporty touch.

Volkswagen Golf GTI 23

Volkswagen Golf GTI 28

That colour of stitching is a signature of the Golf GTI’s interior, as is the tartan-style pattern of the standard cloth seats (though our test car had leather) that dates back to the original, Mark 1 GTI, while a more modern GTI cabin cue is the flat-bottomed steering wheel.

GTI Mark 7’s interior feels instantly familiar to the cabins of the previous two models, though interior quality – both tangibly and perceptively – has been lifted yet again.

With its beautifully designed and tactile steering wheel buttons, smart mix of chrome and gloss black plastic, and a large colour touchscreen (in not perfect resolution), the Golf GTI’s cabin has a slickness and sophistication its rivals can’t match – especially the Focus.

Ford Focus ST 19

Ford Focus ST 22

There’s more of a plasticky, built-to-a-budget look and feel to the ST in comparison. There’s plenty of digital information available to the driver via the instrument cluster trip computer display and high-level infotainment display, though colours are limited and the latter is tiny compared with the VW’s screen.

The array of buttons on the main centre stack section is also daunting visually, while the buttons are small and fiddly.

A trio of gauges – including one for turbo boost – adds a sporty element to the chunky dash over normal Focuses, and the standard Recaros are the best seats in this group.

Volkswagen Golf GTI 7

The Best Back Seat Award goes to the GTI, though, with all testers finding the VW’s bench offered the most comfort and support.

The Golf also offered the most headroom, while bringing a fraction more legroom than the Focus.

Boot space is also a win for the GTI (above), with 380 litres versus 344L for the Megane (below) that, surprisingly given the body style, has an extra 28L over the Focus’s (below, bottom) cargo section. (All three fit space-saver spares under their boot floors.)

Renault Sport Megane 6

Ford Focus ST 4

Running costs vary for these hot-hatches.

The Golf GTI uses the least fuel at 6.6L/100km (6.2L/100km for the manual) but requires the most expensive petrol (98 octane), where the RS and ST work with 95.

The Focus can even run on 91 unleaded if owners are happy to trade off some performance.

Volkswagen Golf GTI 2

Warranties are nothing special, all at three years (unlimited except for Ford at 100,000km) despite Renault offering five years for its regular model range.

All three offer capped price servicing programs, though Volkswagen and Ford go to six years where the Renault’s lasts only for three.

Over 15,000km annual intervals for six years, the Focus ST will cost almost half as much to service as the GTI – $1980 v $3768. Renault Sport annual service mileage is shorter than other Renaults (10,000km), but costs the same $299 per service. Over six years (or up to 60,000km), the RS265 will cost approximately $2737.

Ford Focus ST 2

In the key resale stakes, the VW Golf GTI is unbeatable. According to market forecasters Glass Guide, the GTI will retain 60 per cent of its value after three years. The Megane RS265 is respectable with 54 per cent, but the Focus ST’s value is predicted to be halved exactly.

That somewhat offsets some of the Ford’s price advantage, though the Focus ST remains a worthy prospect through its generous equipment and muscular looks and performance. In the world of fast Fords, though, the newer and smaller Fiesta ST – featured in its own comparison test elsewhere in this issue – feels an even more complete and focused hot-hatch.

Almost one in two Meganes sold in Australia are RS variants, which makes the RS265 more exclusive (and is perhaps indicative of the underwhelming regular Megane) while it also looks the most stylish hatch.

Renault Sport Megane 2

The RS Megane remains the most hardcore hot-hatch here in terms of outright pace and cornering thrills, but after conquering the previous GTI we’ve moved into a transition period where the Renault is starting to age and the Volkswagen has stepped up.

The Golf GTI has beefed up – it grips harder and goes faster – yet it’s also become even more refined and classy.

And it’s this mix of effortless liveability and terrific driveability that make the Volkswagen Golf GTI the best all-round hot-hatch you can buy.

Volkswagen Golf GTI 10

This comparison review first appeared in the October/November issue of the CarAdvice iPad magazine app. Head to the Apple App Store to download the entire issue.

Photography by Easton Chang.

Ford Focus ST
 
Price: $38,290
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol
Power: 184kW at 5500rpm
Torque: 360Nm at 2000-4500rpm (with overboost)
Transmission: 6-speed manual
0-100km/h: 6.5 seconds
Fuel consumption: 7.4L/100km claimed
CO2 emissions: 172g/km

Renault Sport Megane 265
 
Price: $42,640
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol
Power: 195kW at 5500rpm
Torque: 360Nm at 3000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
0-100km/h: 6.0 seconds
Fuel consumption: 8.2L/100km claimed
CO2 emissions: 137g/km

Volkswagen Golf GTI
 
Price: $41,490 ($43,990 DSG)
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol
Power: 162kW at 4500-6200rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 1500-4400rpm
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
0-100km/h: 6.5 seconds
Fuel consumption: 6.2L/100km claimed (6.6L/100km DSG)
CO2 emissions: 144g/km (153g/km DSG)

 



  • Dave

    I think the last photo supposed to be the Renault’s… Right?

    • Dave

      I mean Megane… Sorry!!

      • Golf

        No, it’s Golf :)

  • barry

    Reviews like this allways come down to personal taste.All 3 hot hatches are quiet worthy.Only one will still turn heads in a decades time the Megane.
    Brz+86 is the new cool hip thing to have in town.Hot fwd hatches might be yesterdays car,we will see.

    • deshan.93

      rwd cars didn’t take much away from fwd gti’s in the past, so i dont see it changing anytime soon.
      86′s are good, maybe even more fun to drive, but gti’s are more refined, practical, etc.

      • barry

        Over $12,000 more expensive than the 86.It has to be a lot better car,86 wasn’t here in the past .Only a new model.

        • Subby

          Entry level 86 interior is crap. Looks like a car interior from the 80s

          • barry

            As I said above the Euro Hot Hatches are all worthy vechles.But there is blue sky built in to there Australian prices.86 might have European quality interior but its priced to sell.

  • Sumpguard

    Megane would be my choice.

    • Anuj

      I would like one with an auto box……….flappy paddles preferably…..just my preff.

  • Zaccy16

    3 great cars, renault for the track, focus for value but the golf is the ultimate all rounder as i mentioned previously, it is amazingly how it mixes excellent steering, ride and handling with comfort, practicality, fuel efficiency, power, quality etc… i would pick the GTI but i would be happy with any of the 3, focus is a mice car but i would save the money and by the excellent fiesta ST

    • http://www.caradvice.com.au Jez Spinks

      Spot on, Zaccy16. Hope it’s clear from the comparison that we love all three of these hatches – reflected in the close scores. And if we were to stage a Hot Hatch of the Year … well I think the Fiesta ST would have a very strong chance of victory. Spectacularly good.

  • Robin_Graves

    Veedud’s cheque must have cleared.

    • Tone

      That never gets old!

      • http://www.caradvice.com.au Jez Spinks

        We chuckled, too (as we did with Robin’s ‘the cheque hasn’t cleared’ comment in the Fiesta ST comparo where the Polo GTI didn’t win). You might be interested to know, however, that Renault far outspends VW when it comes to advertising with CA. Cheers

  • deshan.93

    “The Focus ST exclusively offers … and sports seats by renowned brand Recaro.”

    Correct me if im wrong, but I’m pretty sure the standard GTI seats in every golf GTI from even previous generations are made b recaro, even if they don’t wear the recaro stitching.

    Up until the mk4 gti, they wore the recaro badges, but mk5 onwards, the R had optional motorsport recaro seats, so i assume they removed it to make it seem more desirable, but the stock gti bucket seats are made by recaro to my knowledge.

    • amlohac

      Fairly certain the Megane actually has Recaro seats as well, two versions!

    • http://www.caradvice.com.au Jez Spinks

      Recaros were in Mk5 GTI and Mk6 Golf R, deshan.93, but not last or latest GTI. The base Megane RS comes with cloth RS seats with Recaros either optional or standard on other models further up the range.

  • Daniel

    I know that a lot of people get sensitive about how much praise Volkswagen gets on this site, but I really do have to agree that the Golf should win. Not because it’s a VW, but because the archetypical hot-hatch is meant to be super fun but also super usable. The Golf remains a very usable car, with it’s automatic transmission and front seats that don’t cramp the rear passengers, and basically manages to hold onto most of it’s original Golf-iness whilst being a bit of a beast when you want it to be. The thing is that most hot hatches are pretty good; it just comes down to what you’re looking for. A Golf would suit me well, but others want something sportier still; more of a sports car in hatch form than a hatch that happens to be very sporty. The GTI strikes the balance better than any of the others to me. But that doesn’t mean you have to want the most balanced one, you might want something a little more mean and that’s just fine. All I’m saying is that for an ideal “hot hatch”, I think the GTI has been the best of both worlds for a while now.

    • Sydlocal

      Not every review praises the Mk7 GTi. Tiff Needell reviewed the Mk7 GTi earlier this week on Fifth Gear and he didn’t like it very much. He wasn’t a fan of the electronics and not completely being able to switch them off. According to him the fun of models like the Mk5 was gone. Of course this was more track biased and the car would be more than good enough for the average driver on the street!

    • Rocket

      Agree with most of what you say about the Golf. A Hatch is supposed to be more practical than a coupe like the 86 which means there will be some compromise either way depending on your priorities for everyday driving. However with the all the DSG issues arising in recent times I would opt for the manual which is more engaging to drive and save $2500 in the process. The Megane seems more coupe than hatch to me buy maybe the best compromise between a GTI and an 86. The Focus ST has the best running costs and is not short of goodies either and is a worthy contender

  • Heat_777

    The Golf Gti comes with a 6 speed DSG rather than a 7 speed box

  • 86 Lover

    The 80-120 time should be around mid to low 3′s for all of of these (an 86 would not even come close). The quoted figure is an error.

  • Busang Motsepeng

    Megane

  • RS265PT

    Megane RS265 is still the King, by the way it’s a personal opinion but the new Golf just looks rubbish up in person.
    Megane RS265 is and still is my choice followed by the Focus ST, Golf GTI wouldn’t make it in my garage it’s just too bland, ugly and tamed.

  • willis2117

    Even though I’m probably Australia’s biggest RS265 Megane fan (drove one at the Nurburgring and was obsessed with them well before that), I can safely say that in this test, for a day to day hot hatch, the GTi is definitely the winner.

    And as most people on here are agreeing, it’s a personal preference thing. I can’t sit here and say that the Megane is better because it just isn’t. It is in some parts, just like the Focus and GTi are the winners in some ways. Three fantastic cars.

    Day to Day – GTi
    Budget – Focus
    Driving Purity – Megane (even I admit it’s a pretty dull cabin, but that’s not the point.)

    You’d be a very happy chappy with any of these three.

    • Golfschwein

      I’m with you. A salute to all three, as far as I’m concerned. And I would just happen to wind up with the Golf :)

  • mark

    All good cars but why do reviewers persist on lugging the Megane into this class in particular against the Gti.

    I’d assume the natural competitor for the Megane rs265 is the Scirocco R.

    • Phil

      It’s the benchmark for hot hatch performance. It’s only natural that you’d compare everything else to it.

    • Chaitanya Kumar Samardhi

      It is because of the price. Scirocco is about 10k more expensive.

  • Tone

    Why even bother with all those words? Surely a VW-vs-anything else comparo on GolfAdvice can be summed up in three words: Buy the VW.

    • Glenn59

      Justify your comments with a supporting argument, don’t just make statements without any evidence! Whatever you think of the GTI the vast majority of reviewers rate it as the best all rounder. You can argue that an all rounder is not the best choice but if you want an all rounder the GTI is it!

    • Phil

      What’s the matter? Can’t handle the truth?

      • Glenn59

        Another inane comment without evidence! Tone is alleging that Caradvice is biased because they gave the GTI a glowing review. The problem with that is that most reviewers give the GTI a glowing review. VW cannot be paying them all off.

        • Phil

          Somebody needs a sense of humour. This is the internet, not a courtroom. You can have convictions without evidence here.

    • CraigS

      Obviously you didn’t read the small hatch comparo where the Polo GTI came last.

  • Zoran Spasojevic

    The money you save on servicing costs on the ST for 3 years easily accounts for the resale of the car. ST a no brainer out of this 3 imo.

  • Karl Sass

    I’d go the ST personally.

  • checkyourfacts

    just wanting to throw in that according to VW’s website the capped price service costs over 6 years for a Golf GTI is no where near $3768 quoted in this write up….I would think the first place to check your facts would be the manufacturers website CarAdvice??
    Having driven all three, I can confidently say a deserving win to the Golf!

    • Phil

      I noticed this as well – $1000 over in the case of a manual GTI, with brake fluid included. Still more expensive than the Focus, but you can add another $270 for brake fluid changes on the Ford, so the difference isn’t as huge as made out. Still room for VW to trim their service costs though.

  • Kd

    Caradvice, why would you take pictures of people sitting in the back seat but not lift the headrests? Surely your pictures should represent how people would actually sit, rather than being forced forward because you didn’t lift the headrest like any normal person sitting in the rear seat would?
    Also, why show a pic of the Golf’s boot with the false floor in the highest position thus making it appear to have the smallest boot after your article makes mention that it does have the largest?

  • Cam

    Why is the Mazda 3 MPS always left off these tests?

    • Kd

      Because it is crap.

    • Tom

      Because it was bested by the previous generations of all these cars in pretty much any comparison you care to name, so there is little point putting it up against the improved versions of all 3.

    • Tom

      It’s a bit long in the tooth now. Although still an extremely fast car. In fact the Mazda 3 MPS would smoke every single hot hatch on the market in a straight line. In gear acceleration (which is true indication of a car’s speed in day to day driving) of the Mazda is faster than a lot of V8 and 6 cylinder turbo cars, it is that bloody quick. Anyone who is delusional otherwise has not come up against one in anger on the freeway.

      Still out of these 3 cars reviewed above I would pick the Megane RS. It is the ultimate hot hatch. Why pick a compromise in a hot hatch that wasn’t the best handler? You would better off buying a luxury model type of car than a hot hatch. Anyway the biggest shame is VW Australia will not be offering the Performance Pack in manual only DSG. What a waste as I’m certain a PP buyer would most probably want a manual anyway.

  • basdeer

    i have a mk5 gti and i would recommend it to anyone. renault and ford ? i dont prefer them but it doesnt mean they arent good as I have no idea about them. all look good but go gti and you ll never regret

    • Alan

      So based on why they picked the Golf, surely the VRS Octavia when you get it, must clean up for space, practicability and price considering its the same car with even more gear??

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