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Hot Hatch Takeover

Burps, pops and plenty of lateral grip

Ntsako Mthethwa
April 27, 2023
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Hot Hatch Takeover

This has to be Mzansi’s favourite performance car segment? Think about it. What combines everyday usability, performance and practicality better than hot hatches? And what would Speed Week be without the theatrics of our brood of fiery hatches? 

The Volkswagen Golf 8 R, Audi RS 3 and Hyundai i30 N recently joined the hot hatch fray and judging from the crowd at our TopGear SA Show Day, people seem to love them. Packing 735 kW of combined power output, this German duo duked it out with the sole new Korean fighter and our 2021 winner, the inimitable Toyota GR Yaris. 

Volkswagen Golf 8 R

It's been honed by the folks at VW’s R division and as a hot hatch, its 2.0-litre turbocharged TSI engine has been fiddled with to deliver a ‘mere’ 235 kW of power and 400 Nm of torque driving all four wheels for maximum grip - especially in the wet.  A tad tardy to the hotch hatch party, the Volkswagen Golf 8 R has been criticised for being a little too clinical and a little too understated. Gone is the bassy exhaust note and its cleaner lines seem to have some tongue-lashing it as anything but the halo Golf it is. Our experience at Speed Week tells a different story. If there was an underdog in the trio, it’s this car that in first appearances was totally outclassed by its standout cousin, the Audi RS 3. 

But as the corners rolled on, the Golf seemed to show its mettle as more and more was asked of it. As you page to the chart-topping times, you’ll realise just how sorted this Golf 8 R is, making use of its all-wheel drive, Race mode and launch control to full effect. It was undoubtedly one of the most dramatic cars off the line, but as soon as the wheels were rolling, as Mandla put it, “it just got on with the job without any real fuss.” 

The Golf chassis was most impressive as was its ability to soak up undulations and bumps without totally interfering with the balance and grip levels. All of our testers lamented the Golf’s frustrating onboard UX (User Experience), but despite this, as a car that is able to transform from comfortable cruiser to searing performance hatch, the Golf left us perplexed…in a good way. It represents a significant step up from the model it replaces, further confirming Jost Capito's words that the Golf 8 R is 'a real driving machine'.  

Hyundai i30 N 

Cracks, bangs and more pops – that is the first impression we got with the Hyundai i30 N. The i30 N is the Korean firm’s first attempt at a front-wheel-drive hot hatch. It was the second least powerful of our group yet arguably the best-sounding of the hot hatch pack, perhaps piped slightly by the Audi. It garnered loads of attention at our show day with many pleasantly surprised that Hyundai had turned out such a looker. We all agree, it is one of the best penned hatches in the group, only overshadowed, perhaps, by that Kyalami Green Audi RS  3.  

Best described by its maker in three words; performance, emotion, and statement, the i30 N is everything a hot hatch should be. It is one of the cheapest cars in our Speed Week line-up, yet it punches way above its weight. It occupies a space in the segment that the Germans have had all to themselves for many years, and it's thoroughly deserving of a seat at the table – somewhere near the front we think. The i30 N really is an all-inclusive package: under the bonnet sits a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine that's good for 206 kW and 392 Nm…some decent bragging rights if you ask us. Its dual-clutch transmission is fantastic, swapping cogs in various driving modes as you ordered. The car’s pièce de resistance is its chassis and braking behaviour. Yes, it has a sharp turn-in for a FWD car and it delivers exciting acceleration, but when you hit the brakes or when you are mid-corner and building on the throttle, the car really engages and shines. Mandla Mdakane would hazard that the i30 N had the best braking system and feel of the lot. How’s that?

Ultimately, the i30 N as a purely FWD proposition wins here, no doubt, but in the company it kept this year, the Golf and Audi just had the measure of the Hyundai simply due to their superiority in a few more areas. All our testers just couldn’t find fault with the i30 N and we salute Hyundai’s valiant attempt at this genre, not to mention the pricing. Get one now we say…

Audi RS 3 

The Audi RS 3 is the showstopper of the lot. It sees its cousin’s 235 kW and ups the ante to 294 kW and 500 Nm from its 2.5-litre 5-cylinder power plant. Audi claims it can complete the 100 km/h sprint in 3.8 seconds while shifting through a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Our best timing saw a flat 4.0 seconds. Another fresh addition is the so-called RS Torque Rear mode that is capable of sending 100% of the torque to the rear wheels. It's an absolutely bonkers hot hatch with space-age mechanical wizardry happening in the background!  

That aside, Audi's RS models have always been about practical aggression, and this is no exception. As the whole team unleashed it up Slaaihoek, we were offered a stern lesson – this is NOT the RS 3 we thought we knew. Gone is the understeer, gone is the clinical drive and if you thought it behaves as a tempered all-wheel drive steed, you’d be wrong. Instead you get a quattro system that is jostling algorithms and sending comms to sensors constantly trying to optimise traction in the name of engaged performance. The RS 3, while it remains relatively sedate on the open road, is a livewire when things are dialled into hardcore mode. Everyone raved about its playful nature, darting about the place unlike any RS 3 before. 

Wearing its Kyalami Green garb, the RS3 was the only car that felt the way it looked – totally menacing from the minute the two bazooka tailpipes at the back bark to life. As a technical marvel, the RS 3 is incredible, but perhaps too lively for some of us. Mandla seemed to be drawn to the car, grabbing the keys at every opportunity and perhaps for someone of his racing ilk, that makes sense. As for the rest of us mortals, the RS 3 was scary and daunting at the limit, and no matter what lies beneath its skin, the price tag is as eye-watering as watching the RS 3 power slide out of control through the chicane on Slaaihoek and then, thankfully, wrestled back to normality under Mandla’s hand. 

Toyota GR Yaris – 2021 Speed Week Winner

What is there to say about the Yaris that we haven’t said before? The Yaris was here to defend its crown from the Korean and German usurpers. Its shoving 198 kW and 360 Nm of torque from just a three-pot 1.6-litre turbo still beggars belief. Some of our test team had never driven the car before, totally sold to its mega talent. It remains a marvel of engineering and still a hoot to drive. 


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