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Hot hatch showdown: GTI Clubsport vs. Civic Type R vs. Focus RS

2016-08-19 10:49

WHO CAME OUT TOPS? Wheels24's Charlen Raymond drove three of 2016's hottest hatches in one month. Image: Wheels24

Charlen Raymond

Cape Town - This year saw perhaps the most polarising selection of hot hatches in recent times.

The choices available make for a buyers market with a performance hatch to suit any need.

The Ford Focus RS, for example, competes against the Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A45, but is much cheaper than its German rivals.

The Honda Civic Type R brings track-orientated DNA to the road but in front-wheel drive guise.

And the GTI Clubsport is a birthday gift from Volkswagen to itself, claims the automaker, and offers the fastest front-wheel drive Golf yet in SA (at least until the S derivative arrives)!

Based on the driving traits alone, each of the three cars offer something unique to prospective buyers.

For this comparative test the cars will be judged on how the different chassis handle the respective power outputs, how the said power is channeled to the road, and how accessible that power is.

Green shows the best figures of the three, and red the worst.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport Edition 40

What makes the GTI a hit locally is how adaptable it can be; delivering a different driving experience for whatever mood the driver is in. Thanks to a number of driving modes (eco, comfort, normal, sport, individual), the car is able to handle numerous driving needs - whether it's a school run or a brisk drive through a mountain pass. Sport is of course the mode I spent almost 99.99% of my time in, but that’s because of the exhaust’s addictive burble.

With 195kW/350Nm from its turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, the benchmark hot hatch does well to channel all that power to the front wheels.

When Sport mode is engaged and the DSG gearbox is switched to Sport, that power increases to 213kW/380Nm on short overboosts.

READ: Driven in SA - VW's Golf GTI Clubsport

The Clubsport shows no fear when driving over a mountain pass. It feels balanced even when tackling tight bends with too much vigour. It’s extremely easy to exploit the power and get the most out of the car. And despite it being front-wheel drive there's enough feedback to let you know exactly how much more the car can handle before gravity kicks in.

The GTI Clubsport is the perfect blend of comfort and sportiness. It does not try to be anything else other than what it was designed for: a hot hatch everyone can drive and enjoy. It's predictable and safe and you don’t grow tired of driving it.

Rating: 7.5/10



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Honda Civic Type R

The Type R is on fire! 228kW/400Nm on the front wheels alone is not a joke. The car pulls like a rocket and brakes without hesitation. And turn-in is damn crisp.

There are only two driving modes: Normal and +R. In Normal, the steering is relatively taut, but in +R it gets properly meaty. The exhaust, too, is louder and in-gear acceleration much more intense. Speed accumulates in the blink of an eye and if you’re not careful, 120km/h will go by very quickly.

READ: Is the Honda Civic Type R the perfect car for enthusiasts?

Either driving mode allows for enthusiastic driving, but the ride quality is very harsh; which makes you shake about like a stirred martini. 

The Type R is built for the track, so expecting it to adapt to everyday-life would be stupid. You want to drive it hard - constantly - because it is a driver’s car. And though it's fun to drive, the power can sneak up on your if you’re not careful.

But the Type R is a bit one dimensional, though. It’s designed for absolute thrills and spills driving and will not shy away from a challenge. It can’t be an every-day car, but it is an ideal track toy or for a quick weekend joy ride.

Is it worth R600k? If you can live with the harsh ride, yes. If you don’t mind driving sideways over speed bumps, yes. If relatively uncomfortable entry and exit does not bother you, yes. If you want the world’s fastest front-wheel drive car, at whatever cost, yes. This is undoubtedly the car for the enthusiast.

Rating: 7/10

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Ford Focus RS

The RS uses the Ford Mustang’s 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine, tuned to deliver 257kW/440Nm. All that power is sent to all four wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. The drive in the Focus RS can best be described as easy; easy to modulate the throttle and push the car to its limits. The RS involves the driver from the moment you set off and requires 100% concentration. And once behind the wheel it’s erm, easy, to find your seating position. 

It accelerates with dynamism, but maintains composure on the road.

READ: Driven - Ford's potent Focus RS drifts into SA

Dynamically the car can hold its own along a mountain pass or any twisting road, but the suspension does stumble on uneven surfaces. Though the dampers can be softened, it still keeps drivers connected and involved. This Focus is a pure-bred RS product.

It rumbles and screams like a proper hot hatch and the exhaust note that accompanies throttle inputs (and lifts) is music to any petrolhead's ears.

Only 300 of units will be available for local customers, so needless to say that this will be a very rare car in a few years' time. It may cost R700 000 (R709k with options), but you'll receive one of the most exclusive Fords yet.

It is the most expensive and most powerful of the three cars in question, but it does what the Type R and Clubsport can’t do: combine driving traits of both cars into one. It has the bite of the Honda, but with the user-friendliness of the Golf. It’s harsher than the Clubsport, but not irritatingly stiff as the Honda.

The Focus RS wins this round, but only because the GTI Clubsport didn't show its teeth.

Rating: 8/10


How would you rate each of these cars? Email us your opinion or get in touch via Facebook and Twitter


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