Hatchbacks are the answer to everyday practicality and usability. Cars that don’t break when you put them through vigorous use, from basic needs such as carrying the kids to school and all the way to the extreme end of travelling 2000 kms across
say, peninsular Malaysia. These are cars you depend on on a daily basis; they can seem mundane and boring to suffice the need for an avid driver. However… Add ‘hot’ in front of the word ‘hatch’, and you are in for a spicy treat.
The recipe for a hot hatch is simple, take a basic hatchback in the brand’s lineup and add power. We’re talking about
FORCED INDUCTION. The good ole’ formula of gaining horsepower called Turbocharging. The defining characteristics of a hot hatch still remains unchanged since the 70s and 80s, however the needs of drivers has since evolved, thus creating a new requirement for manufacturers.
The one manufacturer who has nailed the hot hatch market is in no doubt Volkswagen. Defining the term in its earlier days with the Mk1 Golf GTI. The market had then evolved with the rabbit’s philosophy and over the years, VW continues to win hearts
all over the world. Perfected in 2004, the MK5 Golf GTI had set the standards for fast hatchbacks with its DSG transmission, and crisp handling enabled just about anyone the talent to smoke just about anything in city driving. VW’s DSG had also made the Gladiator days of 3-pedal manual driving obsolete.
So as soon as the latest iteration, the Mk7 GTI landed, we knew we had to find out what its like. To put up its paces, we’ve pit it against the current
crème de la crème of the industry. The RenaultSport Megane RS and the Ford Focus ST. We call it – The New Turbo Kids on the 2.0 Block!
The Golf GTI Mk7 is Volkswagen’s latest version of their idea of a hot hatch. I’ll admit that im not a fan of the new Mk7‘s looks but the GTI is growing on me. Although the exterior is ‘love or hate’, the interior will be the GTI’s new selling point. Everything inside feels more expensive and very very well made. Previous generations were good, but still felt a little rough and plasticky. The Mk7 is on another level, although you can’t run away from the invasion of plastics, they are now made of quality material and certainly doesn’t look cheap. And that’s a good thing! The Mk7 GTI will probably win the market’s choice award but we are not concerned about comfort and economy. As enthusiasts, we want to know what the Mk7 GTI is like to be driven, and for benchmark purposes, there’s no other Euro hot hatch in the market that is more performance biased than the RenaultSport Megane RS.
We’ve brought a wildcard along in
the test, in the form of a Ford. It’s fast and practical, however; will the MK7 GTI be able to beat the Megane RS and be the definitive answer to a HOT hatch? We are going to answer some of the most important questions in this review and decide Zerotohundred’s definitive hot hatch choice.
What are the performance numbers?
Conveniently, all 3 hot hatches are running force-fed 2.0-litre 4 cylinder blocks Turbo is supplied courtesy of K03 Turbos which is proven to give an optimised boost output with minimal lag. However, these 3 cars are tuned differently to one another, and the numbers will tell a different story.
VW Golf GTI MK7
The Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7 has an output of 218bhp and 350nm which is an increase of 5bhp from the Mk6 GTI. Zerotohundred is dealt with in 6.5 seconds courtesy of the DSG twin-clutch gearbox which shifts in 100 milliseconds in between gears and on to a top speed of 250km/h. Although the Performance Pack (which comes with 10bhp more and an LSD) would close the gap, VW will only bring the PP version at the end of the year and yes, it will cost more.
The Megane RS250 and Focus ST has a similar power output of 250bhp and 340nm – and at the same time will both do 250km/h. Appealing to the more involved driver, the engines are both mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox which enables the machines to accelerate from Zerotohundred in 6.5 seconds (or as fast as you can shift..).
Ford Focus ST
- 2.0-litre Turbocharged 4-cylinder | 250bhp and 340nm
- Zerotohundred – 6.5 seconds
- Top Speed – 250km/h
- Price – RM 208,853
RenaultSport Megane RS250
- 2.0-litre Turbocharged 4-cylinder | 250bhp and 350nm
- Zerotohundred – 6.5 seconds
- Top Speed – 250km/h
- Price – RM 235,000
Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7
- 2.0-litre Turbocharged 4-cylinder | 218bhp and 350nm
- Zerotohundred – 6.5 seconds
- Top Speed – 250km/h
- Price – RM 217,888
What are they like to drive on a hill run?
We managed to find a short piece of
abandoned route which was roughly about 1km long. It had the bends and the straights which we felt was perfect to put these 3 hot hatches on a timed run. The results are as follows :-
Renault Megane RS250 – 31.2 seconds
The Megane was no doubt, the most track focused of the 3 and it certainly showed with the time it produced. As opposed to the Focus ST, where power is a lot more useable, and in the corners, the chassis is showed no signs of flex and is confident. There was no premature understeer, in fact with the LSD working in the background, you feel progression of the rear rotating into the corner when pushed hard. As for the curse of high-hp turbo FF cars experiencing dreaded torque-steer, RenaultSport has ingeniously integrated a pivoting strut that activates under load, substantially decreasing the said negative sensation, not dissimilar from Ford’s Focus RS’s Revo Knuckle but not available on their ST. The steering feedback felt sharp and positive which aided in the confidence of driving the RS enthusiastically.
Ford Focus ST – 31.7 seconds
What the Ford has on its hands is brute force. The car feels über powerful and absolutely fun on a hill run. However, the ST is heavier than the Megane RS by almost 100kgs, making it just slightly slower on our timed run. I personally find the ST to be a little soft on a hard run, with a dose of body roll coming into play. However, there is a lot of front end grip courtesy of the Torque Vectoring Control which balances the power and brakes of the front wheels to give maximum grip. The Torque Vectoring Control system is simply Ford’s version of the electronic LSD found in the VW GTI’s XDS, that works by applying controlled braking on an individual wheel, typically the inside wheel to not just reduce understeer, but to help the ST rotate into the corner at greater speeds.
Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7 – 32.4 seconds
It was a disappointing result for the Mk7 Im afraid. Not because it wasn’t a good car. In fact it’s a great car to be honest. But in a comparison based on pure talents, VW’s GTI fell back in pure-bred performance. On the drive, it felt quick and sharp but
there is no denying that it is down on power. The GTI feels torquey, however it runs out of breath at the top end which inadvertently donated precious brownie points to both its 250hp competitors. We had the system on dynamic, which stiffens up the suspension and sharpens the steering. The car felt quick around corners and the steering was our favourite, despite being electric. The feedback, weight and sharpness felt spot on. We reckon the GTI could do with a bit more power on tap, perhaps the Performance Pack GTI will change the game eventually? Now, the GTI is the only hatch here with an “automatic” DSG, which is a defining choice for most drivers these days.
Which of the 3 would we have to live with on a daily basis and why?
This isn’t a very complicated question. Now – the Focus ST is the biggest car here, however its sheer size of the cabin is fully dominated by the heavily bolstered Recaro seats which has killed the interior space. At the same time, driving visibility can be improved and due to a taller driving position, it doesn’t feel as sporty to drive compared to the other two. There is a sweet spot though with the Focus ST. It is easier to live with and to drive in as opposed to the more demanding Megane RS.
In terms of practicality – we are still surprised how the Megane has the largest boot amongst the three. So it is the best car here if you need to carry cargo in the boot, and transport it very quickly. Then again it has other disregarding features that many would find
it lacking. I find in particular the cockpit with the foot pedals, shifter, buttons and handles of the of the RS uninspiring to use as with the position of the instrument cluster. It’s not the worst honestly, they do work as they should and with time, it’s definitely adaptable. But if they’d only nailed it the first time, like say, a Civic Type-R, then it’ll be the perfect weapon for road and track.
The Mk7 GTI is a great car – no doubt. To live with everyday, it has got to be the the GTI. The cabin is superb. I enjoy how many things in the GTI feels expensive and a step ahead of the other two and of course the seats are the most practical here among the 2, supportive yet comfortable. Everything is leather and people will love that. The DSG gearbox shifts faster than the eye can blink and the adaptive suspension provides the driver choices to fit in different
scenario. The GTI will sit 4 most comfortably here as well and comes with a decent parking sensor system which will help in day-to-day driving.
At the end of it all, VW’s hot hatch is great value for money and the most you can get for the price you pay. While
there’s nothing wrong with the Focus ST or the Megane RS to live with everyday, one may not enjoy the daily driver experience as much. Whereas the Mk7 GTI will do just about everything you ask it to do, anytime of the day and still be able to raise the hair behind your neck when you want it to. It’s a definite, between the 3, the Mk7 GTI will be our choice to live with everyday.
If I wanted a car
with mod potential – which of the 3 would be the most rewarding?
Hot hatches are one of the biggest market for aftermarket upgrades and we are convinced that when
one buys a hot hatch these days, chances are, they would want to fiddle around with the car. Okay, at least most of our readers would. The beauty about forced induction is the ease in gaining horsepowers from a simple tweak. Despite the fact that it may void warranty, these so called ‘poisons’ for cars are just too desirable to resist.
The Mk7 GTI has the most potential for upgrades available between the three. Many who are familiar with the VAG cars will be aware of big tuning entities like APR, REVO or GIAC who develops multi-stages in performance packages. Generally, a “stage 1” ECU remap gains 20-30bhp easily. I consulted a tuning expert on the Mk7 GTI and he was convinced that, when treated to a more free-flow intake, the improved breathing will give the engine an easy 10bhp hike for better top end power. Then it’ll be the usual exhaust turbo-back kits that can be found via brands like Milltek and AWE Tuning which will enhance the car’s sound.
The Megane RS is probably a car you buy to actually not modify. At least not the aesthetics. There just isn’t many offerings, if any on the market. But again, because the Megane RS is so popular, there are potential, but intricate upgrades that can be done to solidify the experience. Remapping from companies like Superchips and other popular providers are much favoured in the RS community. Many opt for larger intercoolers simply to improve the cooling efficiency of the RS’s engine under hard driving, especially in our hot Malaysian weather. Then comes the usual exhaust and intake replacements. The Megane RS is already a focused car so there aren’t that many things you need to do to the car, except for power increase should you choose to.
The Focus ST will probably have the least aftermarket upgrade choices amongst the three. But we think if anyone were to fiddle with the ST, they’d begin with brakes. The ST may benefit from added braking ability especially when pushed hard. Choices of 4-potters from AP Racing and Alcon are popular within the community. REVO and COBB Tuning currently offer ECU reflash for the Focus ST which will increase power by about 20bhp or so and a higher torque figure. Perhaps anti-roll bars would enhance the rather soft handling characteristics of the car thus making it more involving to drive hard.
What’s our verdict?
Priced at RM209k OTR, the Focus ST wins the value award as it comes jam packed with not only power, but also goodies like the sunroof, a decent sound system and Recaro seats. I enjoyed the Focus ST just as much as the Megane RS although in very different ways. In short – the Focus ST was a feisty and fun driver but the Megane RS will always
be the most involving driver’s car among the 3, simply because it is the most performance oriented.
After parting with the 3 cars, on the subject of spiciness, the Mk7 GTI left me with the least impression. Perhaps because the car was as predictable as the previous incarnations, like it was just as I expected it to be. We are sure that the Mk7 GTI will sell the most between the 3 hot hatches but if we were to keep a car from the group for a whole year, It’ll be the Megane RS every time.
RS has so much to offer in terms of performance and is what matters as a hot hatch. The engineers at RenaultSport has left a yardstick for other manufacturers to follow, and just basing purely on its performance and experience, the Megane RS will tickle your funny bone any time of the day. Regardless of price – we think the Megane RS is still the hottest hot hatch on the road!