Can the Volkswagen Golf GTI still manage in the increasingly crowded hot hatch market?

The Volkswagen Golf GTI is considered the forefather of the hot hatch segment. The first Golf GTI was introduced in June 1976 and has been going strong ever since. Nowadays, the Golf GTI is in its eighth generation and is still one of the best all-around performers in the segment. It’s also sold both in Europe and North America, which is not something that can be said for all the cars on the list. With that being said, the modern hot hatch scene is as dynamic as ever and many new contenders for the best hot hatch title. Here are some of the best alternatives that aim to de-throne the GTI.

Skoda Octavia vRS

Great Alternatives to the Volkswagen Golf GTI High Resolution Exterior
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Great Alternatives to the Volkswagen Golf GTI High Resolution Exterior
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If you are looking for a hot hatchback with German tech, but want to get the most for your money, then this is what you are after. The Octavia gives you that Volkswagen powertrain at a lower price, which starts at around €26,000, which is about €10,000 less than the Golf GTI. At the same time, you get more car. At 4,689 mm (184.6 in), the Octavia is significantly longer than the 4,287 mm (168.8 in) Golf. Interior and cargo space are also much more generous than the German hatchback. The Octavia offers from 600 liters (21.2 cubic feet) to 1,555 liters (54.9 cubic feet) of cargo space, as opposed to the GTI’s 374 liters (13.2 cubic feet) or 1,230 liters (43.4 cubic feet) with the rear seats folded. The sporty Skoda is powered by the same 2.0-liter turbo-four with 245 horsepower (180 kW) and 273 pound-feet (370 Nm), which go to the front wheels via a six-speed manual or a seven-speed DSG. This allows for a 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) sprint in 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph (250 km/h).

Check out our review on the Skoda Octavia vRS!

Skoda Octavia vRS Specifications
Skoda Octavia vRS
Engine 2.0-liter Tsi
Horsepower 245 HP
Torque 273 LB-FT
Transmission 6MT or 7AT
0-60 MPH 6.6 Seconds
Top Speed 155 MPH

Ford Focus ST

Great Alternatives to the Volkswagen Golf GTI Exterior
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Great Alternatives to the Volkswagen Golf GTI Exterior
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It’s no secret that, in Europe, you have more options when it comes to hot hatchbacks. Among the latest propositions is the 2020 Ford Focus ST. Unlike the VW and Skoda, the Ford boasts a larger 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine. Like the others, it’s an inline-four turbocharged unit. It produces 280 horsepower (206 kW) and 310 pound-feet (420 Nm). On paper, the Focus ST boasts a better 0 to 62 mph time – 5.7 seconds versus the GTI’s 6.0 seconds. However, tests have shown that the GTI actually pulls away from the ST when both cars are equipped with automatic transmissions. The reason for this is that, while the GTI has a dual-clutch unit, the Focus ST relies on a seven-speed torque converter, which takes significantly more time to change gears. The fact that the Focus weighs about 42 kg (90 pounds) more doesn’t help either. You also get 373 to 1,250 liters (13.2 to 44.1 cubic feet) of cargo space, which is about the same as the Golf GTI. European prices start at €33,500. Sadly, this generation of the Focus ST will not be available to the US, at least for now.

Ford Focus ST Specifications
2019 Ford Focus ST
Engine 2.3-liter
Horsepower 276 HP
Torque 310 LB-ft
Transmission 6AT
0-60 MPH 5.7 Seconds
Top Speed 154 MPH

Read our full review 2019 - 2021 Ford Focus ST

Hyundai i30 N

Great Alternatives to the Volkswagen Golf GTI Exterior
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Great Alternatives to the Volkswagen Golf GTI Exterior
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Hyundai has been breathing down the Golf’s neck for some time now and, in recent years, they’ve come up with some very good cars. The i30 N is one of them. Not only is it cheaper than the Golf at €32,200 vs €37,000 ($35,000 for the US), but it’s also able to keep up with it in terms of performance. This is thanks to the 2.0-liter GDI turbo-four engine, producing 250 horsepower (184 kW) or 275 horsepower (202 kW) and 260 pound-feet (353 Nm). This allows for a 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) sprint in around 6.0 seconds. Word is, the upcoming model will have more power and an optional eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. Until then, power goes to the front wheels through a six-speed manual only. Being a hatchback, practicality is still relevant. The i30 N also offers more cargo space than the GTI – 395 to 1,301 liters (14 to 45.9 cubic feet). This generation of the i30 sadly isn’t available in the US. The closest thing you can currently get there is the Veloster N, which has a slightly more powerful version of the same engine but is smaller.

Hyundai i30 N Specs
2021 Hyundai i30 N
Engine 2.0-Liter
Horsepower 247-276 HP
Torque 260-289 LB-FT
Transmission 6MT or DCT
0-60 MPH 5.9-6.4 Seconds
Top Speed 155 MPH

Read our full review of the 2021 Hyundai i30 N

Honda Civic Type-R

Great Alternatives to the Volkswagen Golf GTI Exterior
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Great Alternatives to the Volkswagen Golf GTI Exterior
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The Civic is actually a pleasant surprise, because it costs as much as the Golf GTI, but offers more performance. To be more specific, its 2.0-liter turbo-four produces 320 horsepower (235 kW) and 295 pound-feet (400 Nm). At the same time, the Japanese hot hatch starts from just under €37,000, same as the GTI. In the USA, prices start from $35,595. The styling of the Civic is certainly not easy on the eye, but if you don’t mind it, on paper it represents better value for money. It can also reach 62 mph (100 km/h) in around 5.6 seconds, although conditions need to be perfect to match it. Unlike most hot hatchbacks, which are limited to 155 mph (250 km/h), the Type-R will go all the way to 170 mph (274 km/h). The Civic also scores an enviable cargo capacity of 728 liters (25.7 cubic feet), which can be increased to 1,308 liters (46.2 cubic feet), after folding down the rear seats.

Honda Civic Type R Specifications
2020 Honda Civic Type R
Engine 2.0-Liter 
Horsepower 306 HP
Torque 295 LB-FT
Transmission 6MT
0-60 MPH 5.7 Seconds
Top Speed 169 MPH

Check out our driven review of the 2017 Honda Civic Type R!

Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo

Great Alternatives to the Volkswagen Golf GTI Exterior
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Great Alternatives to the Volkswagen Golf GTI Exterior
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The Golf GTI may be the benchmark hot hatch, but the most talked-about hatchback in recent times does not actually claim to be a hot hatch. The Mazda 3 is in its fourth generation and, with it, brings back some of the performance it was lacking with the previous generation. Mazda is adamant that the Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo is not a hot hatch and is definitely not a new MazdaSpeed 3. Instead, they’ve chosen to go for a more upscale image – something that becomes obvious, once you step inside. Although performance is not the focus here, the Japanese hatchback still has a 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four unit from the SKYACTIVE family. If you put premium fuel, you are looking at 250 horsepower (186 kW) and 320 pound-feet (434 Nm). The weak point of the car is the six-speed automatic, which isn’t as eager to shift as the GTI’s DSG unit. There’s no manual option for this engine. It’s also all-wheel-drive only. Mazda promises a 0 to 62 mph time of around 6.1 seconds. For all its luxury, the Mazda does not impress with its overall cargo capacity. Although 569 liters (20.1 cubic feet) sounds like plenty for a hatchback, it goes up to only 1,019 liters (36 cubic feet), after the rear seats fold down. US prices start at $30,850, which makes it cheaper than the GTI.

2021 Mazda 3 Turbo Specs
2021 Mazda 3 Turbo
Engine 2.5-Liter
Horsepower 250 HP
Torque 320 LB-FT
Transmission 6AT
0-60 MPH 6.1
Top Speed TBA

Read the latest on the Mazda 3 Turbo!

BMW 128 Ti

Great Alternatives to the Volkswagen Golf GTI Exterior
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Great Alternatives to the Volkswagen Golf GTI Exterior
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This is probably the most controversial of all BMWs, after their 2-Series Active Tourer MPV-thingy. With this F40 generation, the BMW 1-Series dropped its most distinctive features – the rear-wheel-drive. It also dropped the glorious inline-six engine. Instead, they’ve chosen to “blend in” with the flock, by using the more boring front-wheel-drive layout and turbo-four engine. Still, the 2.0-liter unit produces 265 horsepower (195 kW) and 295 pound-feet (400 Nm). They are sent to the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic, which results in a claimed 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) time of 6.1 seconds. This is the second hottest version after the M135i, which also has an inline-four, but is all-wheel-drive. As far as cargo capacity goes, you are looking at 380 to 1,200 liters (13.4 to 42.2 cubic feet), which are average figures. At the same time, prices start from €43,100. At this point, it’s really difficult to justify, spending the extra money, unless you are a BMW fan.

2021 BMW 128ti Specifications
2021 BMW 128 ti
Engine 2.0-Liter
Horsepower 261 HP
Torque 295 LB-FT
Transmission 8AT
0-60 MPH 6.1 Seconds
Top Speed 155 MPH

Check out our full review of the 2021 BMW 128ti

Dim Angelov
Dim Angelov
Born in 1992, I come from a family of motoring enthusiasts. My passion for cars was awoken at the age of six, when I saw a Lamborghini Diablo SV in a magazine. After high school I earned a master’s degree in marketing and a Master of Arts in Media and Communications. Over the years, I’ve practiced and become skilled in precision driving and to date have test driven more than 250 cars across the globe. Over the years, I’ve picked up basic mechanical knowledge and have even taken part in the restoration of a 1964 Jaguar E-Type and an Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint. Lately, I’ve taken a fancy to automotive photography, and while modern cars are my primary passion, I also have a love for Asian Martial Arts, swimming, war history, craft beer, historical weapons, and car restoration. In time, I plan my own classic car restoration and hope to earn my racing certificate, after which I expect to establish my own racing team.  Read full bio
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