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Ford Focus ST vs Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR vs Hyundai i30 N Performance

  • Three of the best hot-hatches fight it out
  • One's posh, one's feisty, and one's an all-rounder
  • Is the VW Golf GTI TCR worth all that extra money?

2019 Ford Focus ST vs Hyundai i30 N vs VW Golf GTI TCR

Hot hatches have been around for nearly fifty years, but over the last five calendars or so they've had a real resurgence. One of the best currently on sale is the Hyundai i30 N Performance. It wowed the pants off everyone who drove it when it was released back in 2018. For a first attempt at a hot hatch - it was masterful.

The Ford Focus ST on the other hand, is brand-new. Ford has a lot to live up to in this territory - its Fiesta ST took home the honours of being Parkers' Car of The Year 2018. And, the final prong holding up this pyramid of power is the VW Golf GTI TCR. It's the latest iteration of the infamous Golf GTI moniker, and is the most premium-feeling, and most expensive of the lot.

What are the model ranges like?

Ford Focus ST

2019 Ford Focus ST driving

The ST is the latest range to be added to the Focus lineup, and it's the fastest and most expensive to boot. Up front there's a 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine making 280hp. It comes in hatchback and estate form. It's also available as a diesel - a 2.0-litre unit with 190hp and 400Nm ft of torque.

From launch, the hatchback and diesel are manual only. Although the hatchback will get an auto option later this year. At £250 the Performance Pack is fantastic value. It adds selectable drive modes, rev matching, and red brake calipers.

VW Golf GTI TCR

2019 VW Golf GTI TCR driving

The TCR has become the flagship of the GTI range as it enters its dotage. All versions get the same 290hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.

There's only one option pack available, and it costs £2,000. It comprises of 19inch alloys, a drop in suspension by 20mm, Dynamic Chassis Control, and a speed limiter derestriction - bumping up top speed to 164mph.

Hyundai i30 N Performance

2019 Hyundai i30 N performance driving

The i30 N Performance is the top dog of the i30 N range. Cash price is £29,495, some £3,500 over the regular N. This money buys more power (upped from 250hp to 275hp), larger wheels, a fruitier exhaust, an electronic differential, and heated leather bits inside.

What are they like to drive?

Ford Focus ST

2019 Ford Focus ST lifting a wheel

The Ford is by far the most frisky, the most likeable, the most fun. The chassis feels taut but playful. The steering is super direct. It actually uses a faster rack than a Fiesta ST, meaning full lock is essentially just two turns.

The 2.3-litre engine is lifted out of the old Focus RS, albeit slightly detuned. It still pops and bangs which is very fun if you're an overgrown child - which you probably are if you're after a hot hatch.

On the confines of a track, the Focus is livelier than the other two, and will be coerced into getting out of shape if the mood takes you and you turn off stability control.

In comfort mode, the suspension is pretty good at absorbing bumps and not relaying too many of them back to you. Sport is harder, but is generally supple enough for a typical B road in Britain, while making it sharper all round. Race is torturous on anything but a smooth race track.

Hyundai i30 N Performance

2019 Hyundai i30 N Performance rear driving

In isolation, the Hyundai I30 N is a brilliant drivers' car, but seems not quite as lively as the Focus.

Like the Focus, it uses a limited-slip differential to measure out power and ensure it's not wasted. It does feel more subtle than the one used in the Focus. For day to day driving, this may be a good thing - but if you're really looking to go quickly it doesn't make you feel as confident.

Power wise, it's slightly down on the Focus. The 0-62mph time is also more leisurely (6.1 seconds vs 5.7 seconds). Although, the exhaust does produce parpy noises.

In terms of comfort, the Hyundai falls in the middle of the pack here. It's nowhere near as stiff as the Focus, and is probably better at the day to day stuff. Worst fuel economy on our (admittedly very unscientific) test day.

VW Golf GTI TCR

2019 VW Golf GTI TCR rear driving

The Golf is the most powerful, quickest on the 0-62mph sprint (5.6 secs) and feels the fastest in a straight line. In a word, it feels monstrous.

This is in part, down to its slick automatic gearbox. It's a DSG and changes gear quicker than human hands and a manual gearbox. This does make the Golf feel a bit sterile to drive though.

It's also the heaviest, making it feel the least agile of the three. It does feel the most planted though, and is by far the most placid for everyday driving. For a long journey at speed on the motorway the Golf would be our choice. No farty noises from the exhaust, though.

What are they like inside?

VW Golf GTI TCR

2019 VW Golf GTI TCR interior

The Golf is by far the nicest inside. Despite the lairyness on the outside (we're looking at you, racing stripes) inside, it's much like any other Golf. Seating position is spot on with a lot of adjustment, while all of the nobs, dials, and buttons feel well-made. Everything is where you expect them to be. At 380-litres, the boot is the same size as other five-door hatchback Golfs of this generation.

Ford Focus ST

2019 Ford Focus ST interior

It's not bad in here and doesn't feel that differently from any other Focus. Seating position good. S button and track mode, helpfully located on the steering wheel, help it feel sufficiently different from a regular Focus.

But there are blanked out panels where buttons are on other models down by the side of the gearbox. Surely not befitting of a top-spec car.

Coming in at 375-litres, the boot size of the ST is no different from the regular Focus. Five litres down on the Golf, but you'd struggle to notice the difference.

Hyundai i30 N Performance

2019 Hyundai i30 N Performance interior

The big chequered flag button on the bottom of the steering wheel is a nice touch, and it does liven up the otherwise bland interior. The screen in here is nowhere near as nice, or as hi-res as the Golf's. Rear seats feel squashed. N Performance models are down in outright boot capacity thanks to a stiffness bar squeezed in back there. Size is down from 395 to 381, but it's still the largest here.

PCP finance costs

The finance costs here don't quite fall as you'd expect. The cash price for the i30 N is the cheapest, but because of a low APR deal on the Focus, the Ford looks better value on the monthlies, despite being a newer car.

The i30 N does come with a useful deposit contribution, and £1,000 off if you take a test drive first.

The most shocking figure belongs to the Golf. £589.67 a month. That's how much the monthlies are. Admittedly, as seen above, the Golf is by far the classiest, and has the most sophisticated interior, and it's the most comfortable on a long journey. But is it worth a £212.35 more a month than a Focus ST?

Hyundai i30 N Performance

Representative manufacturer PCP
Monthly cost £425.69 (x36)
Upfront £3,000 (£750 deposit contribution, £1,000 test drive incentive)
Total payable £31,539.84
Mileage allowance 10,000
APR 5.4%

Ford Focus ST

Representative manufacturer PCP
Monthly cost £377.32 (x36)
Upfront £3,000
Total payable £31,301.62
Mileage allowance 9,000
APR 2.9%

VW Golf GTI TCR

Representative manufacturer PCP
Monthly cost £589.67 (x36)
Upfront £3,000 (£1,500 deposit contribution)
Total payable £40,425.95
Mileage allowance 10,000
APR 3.8%

The Parkers Verdict

2019 Focus ST vs hot hatch rivals

All three are brilliant in their own right. The i30 is the surprise contender, the current flavour of the month. On the opposite end of the scale is the Golf, the sophisticated stalwart that's been around the block.

But it's the Focus ST that takes the win. Faster than the Hyundai, more fun than the Golf, it manages to carve out a massive niche between these two bookends and firmly plan an oval shaped flag with FORD stamped out in between them.

The Hyundai and the Golf are harder to split. There's no denying that the Golf is the best all-rounder and that the Hyundai is funner. If the regular Golf GTI were in this test, it'd be getting the silver medal. However, there's no escaping that price. Yes, it is monstrously fast, but no, it's not worth £164 a month over the i30N.

Read more Parkers comparisons and advice articles: 

*Deals are correct at time of publication. Everyone’s financial circumstances are different and credit is not always available – Parkers cannot recommend a deal for you specifically. These deals are indicative examples of some packages available this week.