Where performance hatchbacks are concerned, the Golf GTI has always been at the top of the list for most South Africans and for good reason. However, times change and now and again there comes a competitor who disrupts the order of things. In 2020 Hyundai birthed the i30N, to contend with the likes of Volkswagen’s GTI, and now they’ve introduced a better and sharper version with a DCT gearbox to bring to the fight. Let's compare these two and see which is the better pick.



Golf 8 GTI

 Volkswagen has had decades to fine-tune the GTI recipe and it has all culminated in the MK8 – for now at least. We're a GTI-loving nation and statistically are one of the biggest markets globally for the GTI nameplate. In its eighth generation, the VW Golf GTI has matured in every aspect and has been dubbed the most digitally advanced GTI yet by its makers. Is that enough to maintain its status in the South African market? Well, that's debatable.

Hyundai i30N

 Still building its reputation is Hyundai's i30N. It's one of those vehicles that you have to experience to fully grasp what all the hype is about. When it first came out it was only available with a manual gearbox, which paired with its driving characteristics, made it the ultimate purist performance hatchback. At the time, it was lower in power and torque than the only available GTI (TCR), but what it lacked in output, it compensated for in handling and mind-blowing driving dynamics. In its latest form, it's more evenly matched with the Golf from a power and torque point of view and redeems itself from the Golf 7 GTI TCR, which we initially pitted it against.


 Of all the modern Golf GTI's we've experienced, dating back to the Golf 5 GTI, the 8's interior and seats are the least appealing. In exchange for beefy hugging sports seats found in the MK7 GTI, VW fitted the MK8 with less impressive slim, multi-coloured seats that have integrated headrests. They recently released a Jacara Edition with check pattern fabric seats. Another evolution in the Volkswagen's interior is the move to touch-responsive functions, like the audio volume, airconditioner and temperature settings. Now this may seem like a progressive move from the Germans but it hasn't been received the way they may have hoped it would. Certain things still work best as mechanical buttons and switches. The traditional gear selector has also been replaced by an electronic version the size of a key fob. On a more positive note, the eight comes with dual screens, one for the instrument cluster, and the other an infotainment screen.

The Hyundai on the other hand is more traditional, with a distinct volume dial on the centre of the dash, beneath the touch-responsive infotainment screen with smartphone integration. This cabin exudes "performance vehicle" with its thick steering wheel with two coloured buttons on each side, one with the letter N and the other a chequered flag. Both send signals to the i30N's computer, telling it to bring up a different engine mapping on demand. With a leather and Alcantara finish, the Hyundai i30N's seats are what you would expect from a sports car and hug you in all the important places, while still being comfortable enough for daily use. The Hyundai comes standard with seat heating in both front seats, as well as a heated steering wheel. Being the purist performance hatch that it endeavours to be, the i30N makes use of a traditional gear selector with shift paddles and a manual handbrake for doing handbrake turns. 


 The one thing that these two hatchbacks have in common is their engine displacement. You'll find a 2.0l turbocharged engine in the Golf 8 GTI with 180 kW and 370 Nm, all being sent to the front wheels through a dual-clutch transmission. Having driven the Golf 7.5 and GTI TCR, piloting the MK8 GTI was an underwhelming experience with its 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.4 seconds. It's an unspoken rule that every new car has to be better than its predecessor, especially when we're dealing with performance vehicles. VW seems to have done the opposite with its Golf 8 GTI, it's not only a super refined sterile machine that prioritises attributes that don't weigh much in this space like comfort and cabin insulation, but it's also lost the famous vrrr pha sound that it became known for. You might as well be driving a standard Golf and you wouldn't know the difference. The 8 no longer feels like a performance car, and to prove this, go have a look at the Golf 7 GTI TCR's engine outputs and you'll notice that it produces more kW and torque than the car that replaces it. 

Performance and engaging driving dynamics are the two dominant ingredients in the i30N. The Koreans honed in on these two and got it right the first time. The updated Hyundai i30N DCT is still the robust performance hatchback that we experienced in the manual variant, the minor but perceptible difference is that the updated version is a car you can live with and drive daily without hating it. It feels dampened for the streets when left in any other setting besides Sport. It's still a firm and planted vehicle but doesn't give you the feeling of driving a go-kart even when you don't want to. 

The power and torque injection was a much-needed improvement, and it has played a role in making the i30N easier to drive every day. Speaking of output, the 206 kW and 392 Nm are exactly what the car doctors ordered! It's an exhilaratingly quick car, and you don't need the 0-100km/h time to perceive this. At 5.4 seconds, the launch control will aid in getting as close as possible to that time.


If you're currently in the market for a performance hatchback, these two should naturally be at the top of your shopping list. The Golf 8 GTI has lost what made it a GTI and endeared it to many South Africans. If you like the look of it, that would be the only reason to buy one. However, if you're looking for driving thrills and something you can put on the racetrack on the odd occasion, cast your eyes on the Korean-built hatch.

Weight saving from lighter alloy wheels and the bump in engine output has made the Hyundai i30N a well-rounded performance hatchback. It was previously imbalanced due to its phenomenal handling and confidence to dive head-first into any corner and still make it, but lack of engine poke to give you the same rush on the way out. It's now quicker and retains its dynamic handling, making it the perfect all-purpose performance hatchback.


Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI – R766 500

Hyundai i30N – R811 900


Gugu Masuku – Proudly ATM