The Golf GTI had no shortage of competitors. Hardly anyone came as close to it as the Hyundai i30 N. Now the Korean hot hatch has been freshly lifted, and its performance variant has 280 hp and an eight-speed DCT. This is matched by the GTI Clubsport 45 with 300 hp - let's go, GTI!
Kadett GT/E and Astra GSi or OPC, 205 GTi, Civic Type R, Audi S3, Mégane R.S. and Focus ST. Notice what? Lots of GTI competitors who either haven't existed for a long time or who don't really manage to come close to the Golf GTI - whether in terms of sales figures, on winding country roads or even in terms of the cult factor.
So the Hyundai i30 N can certainly pride itself on being one of the Golf GTI's most stubborn and successful competitors today. Since 2017, Hyundai has been part of the GTI line-up with the i30 N, which was built in the Czech Republic and developed at the Nürburgring.
The i30 is now freshly strengthened from the facelift, has an N Performance of 280 hp and is available with a dual-clutch transmission for the first time. In this comparison test he meets the VW Golf GTI Clubsport 45 with 300 hp and DCT. Unsurprisingly, the Golf is the more expensive of the two compact athletes. The fact that the price difference is almost 10,000 euros seems surprising. The Clubsport 45 cost at least 47,245 euros, although the past tense is appropriate here because the anniversary model for 45 years of the Golf GTI no longer appears in the configurator. But if you're lucky, you'll still get one or the other configured, not yet delivered example
The Hyundai i30 N, currently not to be found in the configurator either, is usually available from 32,950 euros (with 250 hp) (N Performance with DKG from 38,750 euros) - if the type approvals for the 2022 model year are available. Patience is also required here, as is generally the case with the lack of semiconductors in the automotive industry.
Of course there is the Golf GTI without Clubsport and 45 regalia, then (with 245 hp) at least 37,055 euros are on the list. So no matter which version you prefer, the GTI is a few thousand more expensive than the i30 N. But can the classic from Wolfsburg do more than the newcomer from Nosovice?
A lot of play stuff
The duel has already taken place a couple of times, also at auto motor und sport - mostly with the better ending for the Golf. In its eighth model generation, it's struggling with previously unknown problems, including our test car.
The operation is just as confusing and impractical as its weaker golf brothers. The fact that there is even more to operate in the GTI than in a 1.0 TSI doesn't make it any easier. Much, if not everything, seems to have been solved better with the i30 N, but even the previously exemplary easy-to-use Hyundai has lost some of its previously impressive simplicity with the facelift.
Both require swiping through touchscreen menus to activate the launch function. In general, they offer so many individual setting options that one would soon wish for fewer options.
Do the otherwise recommendable DCC dampers of the Golf have to be able to be adjusted in intermediate stages? And how many N buttons and settings does an i30 N really need?
A lot of it is just a toy, but the playchild in the GTI or N pilot is of course happy to ride along. And, of course, both test candidates drive very well even if you don't bother with the many setting options.
If you want to go particularly fast on country roads and racetracks, both the GTI and the N also offer shorter distances: for the Golf, the Nordschleife setting in the menu works very well for country roads, and for the i30 N, choosing the N program to a similar result.
Incidentally, the Golf leaves the overall more mature and balanced impression in everyday driving - not surprisingly. It springs more supple, appears less conspicuous despite the Clubsport trim and has the airier interior. Last but not least, with the standard Akrapovic exhaust system, it is acoustically much more reserved than the somewhat obtrusive-sounding N Performance.
Vmax over 250 km/h
Now one might object that all these secondary virtues are rather insignificant in a GTI or N, but they still have to be evaluated in a comparison test. Life doesn't just consist of laps on the Nordschleife and fun rides, not even for hot hatch enthusiasts - called N-thusiasts at Hyundai.
Even they would of course like the fact that the Volkswagen is the faster car on the Autobahn. As a club sport, it is not limited to 250 km/h, but 267 km/h. The i30 N can no longer follow him.
Not that that played a role in real life, but it is an undisputed quality of the VW regulars. It seems more significant that the Golf is a little faster than the i30 when accelerating - the faster the drive, the clearer it is. Up to 200 km/h the difference is already 2.4 seconds (18.6 to 21 seconds). In other figures: the GTI would have surpassed the i30 N by more than 50 meters.
You can tell that the Golf gets down to business more quickly, even without lower level physics. Although he does less noise than the i30. The VW engine hangs more attentively on the gas, acts more revving, its dual-clutch transmission changes gears faster and smoother than that of the Hyundai drive unit. In the i30 N, meanwhile, one considers whether the surcharge for the DKG option (at least 3,000 euros) is actually invested wisely. Because the precise six-speed manual gearbox blessed with an increase in speed already proved to be a real joy-giver in the previous model.The DKG can't keep up, it works properly, but nothing more.
From the attack department
The Golf GTI drives better, says colleague Sebastian Renz, and as usual he's right. It is not at all easy to grasp the beauty of the experience correctly. It is due, for example, to the more precise steering. The VW can be snuggled up more precisely to the ideal line, and the grip of the front wheels can be felt in the wrists.
This can be understood as a confidence-building measure of the chassis. It rewards sensitive turning with high cornering speeds and neutral handling. And it's fast too. In contrast, the i30 N Performance is the bully from the attack department, it wants to be balanced around corners with a little harder hand, understeers more, and its steering is far less communicative. And in contrast to the very pious GTI, it shows a clear tendency to oversteer in the event of abrupt load changes.
It's entertaining, no question, but anyone who has been driving the wild Hyundai for a long time will sometimes find themselves annoyed and may look for a touch surface in the submenus that teaches the cheeky exhaust some manners.
Of course, we also want to list the beautiful sides of the i30 N: These include the decorative and strong N sports bucket seats, for example, which, however, cost an additional 1,400 euros. The seating furniture in the Golf isn't as pretty, but overall it's more comfortable. The handy DCT selector lever and the two N buttons and the large shift paddles on the steering wheel are also to be appreciated in the Hyundai - the Golf has little to counteract that. The transmission in the GTI is operated via a knob, the small paddles on the steering wheel are almost coyly hidden behind the steering wheel spokes.
But that doesn't change the fact that the Volkswagen is just ahead at the end of this comparison. Almost everything as always. No wonder the GTI remains unforgotten.
With better everyday qualities and the finer drive, the Golf GTI is once again ahead. It's also more economical and faster, but it just doesn't seem as wild as it used to be.
It's louder, wilder and more intense than the VW. Anyone who likes it will prefer the Hyundai to the Golf GTI Clubsport. The i30 N Performance is also cheaper and more eye-catching.