This week, Wheels24’s Facebook page went into hyperdrive after posting a link to an article headlined: “Hyundai’s (i30N) Golf R-killer is finally here!”
It immediately drew the attention of our readers who cringed at the idea of this even being possible. Questions on the logic of such a claim quickly became apparent, and the ensuing comments came flooding in.
One user wrote: "It's time for admin to retire. Golf R killer?”, while another said "Golf GTI killer not the Golf R, poor journalism". One even claimed: “Please remove this post your journalist was probably high when he wrote this headline.”
While the comments provided for plenty of entertainment in the office, it made us realise that, for the most part, you’re treading in uncharted territory when bringing the Golf R or Golf GTI into the equation. Granted, more than 50% of all Golfs sold in South Africa are GTIs, so we (always) expect a strong reaction.
We can agree that Hyundai’s i30N is not a true rival to the Volkswagen Golf R, but we must raise several points that substantiate why there is room for such a rivalry.
2020 Hyundai i30N. Image: QuickPic
The GTI factor
Ah, the Golf GTI. South Africa’s best-loved hot hatch. It’s a lovely car to drive, and it’s laughable how easy it is to extract maximum power. Like the i30N, it’s also front-wheel drive, but a seven-speed DSG (automatic) gearbox sends power to the front wheels.
The 2.0-litre turbo engine develops 169kW/350Nm vs. the i30N’s 2.0-litre motor’s 202kW/353Nm. And then the price. At R679 900, the N is R111 300 more expensive than the GTI. Even when you add optional extras to your GTI, you still won’t touch the N’s price. In that regard, it’s a bargain for the buyer. And if you know you’re in the market for a GTI, why bother with the N, right?
But at R680k, the N starts stepping in Golf R territory. The R trades for R684 400, just a few thousand more than the N. It uses the same 2.0-litre engine as the GTI, but its 228kW/400Nm is a tad closer to the N’s; in terms of power output. The (smart) buyer who is interested in the Golf R, will do his homework efficiently. That means considering a car like the i30N - even if it is front-wheel drive compared to the R’s all-wheel-drive setup.
Also, the smart buyer will test drive both vehicles and gather as much information as possible. If predictable fun - or even ‘I own a Golf R’ - is essential, then said buyer would stick to his guns. But if he or she expanded their horizons and judged the N by driver engagement and driving fun, they’ll probably save R5000 and opt for the Korean. The Golf R is the faster car, but the i30N is the more enjoyable car.
Oh, we almost forgot to mention: To have the Golf R’s specification level on the i30N’s level, you’d have to fork out an additional bag of cash.
2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI. Image: Wheels24 / Charlen Raymond
FWD vs. AWD
Now here’s the part that has so many of the Facebook commentators hot under the collar, because you can’t compare a front-wheel drive (FWD) car to an all-wheel drive (AWD) rival. Uhm, yes you can.
In that price range, the R and N are competing for the same buyer. And both Hyundai and Volkswagen chose the routes they wanted to take in attaining that buyer’s attention.
No one has a problem when a BMW M3/4 or Mercedes-AMG C63 S - both rear-wheel drive cars, by the way - go up against an AWD Audi RS 4. It’s also fine when an AWD Lamborghini Huracan is compared to an RWD Ferrari 488 Pista. But when it comes to either the Golf GTI or Golf R…
2020 Volkswagen Golf R. Image: QuickPic
Just be cool
The GTI and R are seen as halo models in the eyes of many a South African petrolhead.
Though there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s become somewhat of a taboo topic to have an objective opinion on the cars. Raise a point, and owners, as well as those who follow the brand blindly - will threaten you, your partner, and the neighbour’s cat. Why are some owners so sensitive to criticism or any objection towards the GTI or R? Are we not allowed to have a different view on it?
It’s not our fault that the stereotypical GTI owner will accrue debt just to acquire the car. Because 'it’s a GTI and it’s worth it.' If the GTI or Golf R is the ‘ultimate’ car, then it’s your opinion. But be cool when someone suggests that you could’ve spent your R-money elsewhere. Besides, a good rivalry has never been a bad thing.