Performance-focused derivatives of humble hatchbacks are big business. Not only do they offer their makers a tidy profit, they also build excitement and enthusiasm around a brand.
Australia is actually one of the world’s bigger markets for hot hatches, too. A disproportionately high percentage of Volkswagen Golf sales are GTI and R models, Renault doesn’t bother with non-R.S. Meganes, and the just-launched Toyota Yaris GR was a sellout success.
But as sometimes happens, there’s a greater rush of new or updated contenders due in Australia between now and the end of 2021. Which means if you’re keen on a new pocket rocket, you should work out if it’s worth waiting around for a bit.
The BMW 128ti is a new variant of the 1 Series to go up against the Golf GTI. Unlike the pricier M135i xDrive, which gets all-wheel drive (AWD), the 128ti uses front-wheel drive (FWD) aided by a Torsen limited-slip differential.
Power comes from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine making 195kW of power at 4750rpm and 400Nm of torque from 1750rpm. These outputs are 30kW and 50Nm lower than the M135i. The standard transmission is an eight-speed automatic with paddles.
BMW claims the 128ti can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds and hit a top speed of 250km/h. This dash is 1.3s slower than the all-paw (but 80kg heavier) M135i.
The 128ti gets its big brother’s stiffer anti-roll bars, springs and shocks, and re-tuned M Sport suspension. In terms of price, expect it to be positioned right between the $45,990 118i and the $63,990 M135i xDrive Pure.
Other notable stuff includes M Sport brakes with red calipers, model-exclusive 18-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, red or black body accents depending on paint finish, and red contrast stitching throughout the cabin.
All Hyundai seems to be saying right now is that its updated i30 N will arrive between January and June next year, though for what’s it’s worth we’ve already driven a camouflaged version here for local suspension testing.
Vitally, the i30 N’s once-standard six-speed manual gearbox will be joined by a brand new, wet-clutch eight-speed DCT auto with manual mode controlled by wheel paddles or the shifter (pull back to upshift, too) for the first time. This should drive a major uptick in sales.
The 2021 i30 N’s 2.0-litre turbo engine has been tuned to deliver an extra 4kW, taking peak power to 206kW. Peak torque for the standard (in Australia) Performance Package has been increased by a significant 39Nm to 392Nm. The zero to 100km/h sprint time has been improved by two tenths to 5.9 seconds using launch control.
The most obvious design changes are the more angular grille, new LED headlights, different lower bumper design with air curtains to cut turbulence, different LED taillights, and a revised rear diffuser. New 19-inch forged alloy wheels that cut a claimed 14.4kg feature, and are wrapped in Pirelli P Zero rubber.
Inside there’s new 10.25-inch central touchscreen display running more advanced software, and showing crisper graphics. There’s also the option of new one-piece ‘N Light’ seats trimmed in leather an Alcantara, which save 2.2kg each.
Renault’s Australian division has axed all conventional passenger cars in its range (Zoe, Clio, non-R.S. Meganes) to focus on SUVs and vans. But the halo Megane R.S. hot hatch will remain, and get an upgrade expected during the first half of next year.
Excitingly, there’s a power bump: the old Trophy’s uprated 220kW and 400Nm (with the six-speed manual) 420Nm (EDC dual-clutch auto) 1.8-litre turbo is now standard. To maximise the soundtrack, its exhaust has a new mechanical valve. The EDC might be the sole option in Australia.
This front-wheel drive’s 4Control rear-wheel steering system remains. Hardcore Trophy versions (not confirmed or Australia) get the same engine but sport a mechanical limited-slip diff up front, plus stiffened shocks, springs and anti-roll bars. There are unique 19-inch wheels too.
Inside there’s an optional R.S. Monitor similar to what the Hyundai i30 N offers, which tracks your acceleration, braking, steering-wheel angle, 4Control system progress, temperatures, pressures, etc.
There’s a new 9.3-inch centre screen and an updated infotainment system, plus a new 10.2-inch TFT digitised instrument section. There are also more active safety features.
Compared to its top-selling predecessor, the brand-spanking Mk8 VW Golf GTI has better aero (0.275 Cd), slick new headlights with Matrix LEDs available, a slimmer grille with a light signature, broader shoulders, and new centrally-mounted GTI badge on the hatch.
It sports an evolved EA888 ‘evo4’ 2.0-litre turbo engine putting out a GTI Performance-matching 180kW of power and 370Nm of torque (from 1600rpm), is mated as standard to a seven-speed DSG, and does the 0-100km/h dash in a claimed 6.3 seconds.
It has new adaptive dampers, (hopefully) more delineated driving modes, a lighter front axle featuring aluminium, and new wishbone bearings, springs, and bump stops. The spring rate at the rear is up 15 per cent. The electric power steering gets heavier at speed.
Inside, the tartan seat options and red stitching remain, but the rest is very contemporary. The three-spoke wheel with perforated leather grips has slick new touch controls, and behind it sits a large fully digitised instrument panel.
Centre screen options are either 8.25-inch or 10-inch – the latter called Discover Pro – and this bigger setup blends in with those instruments to form what VW calls an Innovision Cockpit. Background lighting embeds the displays in a spectrum of 30 colour choices.
Toyota slashed $10,000 from the GR Yaris price for the first 1000 buyers, and the result was a sellout success. It’ll aim to build on this with a special Rallye edition before the half-way point of 2021, based on Europe’s Performance Pack.
Just 250 examples will come to Australia, presumably priced above the regular GR Yaris that retails for $49,500 before on-roads ($39,950 drive-away at launch).
Power comes from the same world-record turbocharged 1.6-litre three-cylinder engine with 200kW of power and 370Nm of torque as the ‘normal’ GR Yaris, but the Rallye gets a host of track-ready add-ons.
They include stiff race suspension, front and rear locking differentials, 18-inch forged BBS alloy wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, and red brake calipers.
And of course, the little ball-tearer will have three pedals and a manual shifter, too. A proper little rally car for the road that Toyota calls “our first homologation model for WRC competition since the end of production of the Celica GT-Four in 1999”.
As we wrote in our recent prototype drive, “the i20 N is a proper go-fast version of the European i20 hatchback. We won’t get the regular models, but the high-performance N is already confirmed for an Australian touchdown in the first half of 2021 – and it packs plenty of firepower”.
This little brother to the i30 N is the second major offensive from Hyundai’s tuning division, which is led by the former head of BMW M and based near the Nurburgring.
This Korean competitor to the Fiesta ST and GR Yaris totes a new-generation 1.6-litre turbo engine making 150kW and 275Nm, driving the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox.
The suspension comprises specific knuckles, springs, and dampers. The brakes have been beefed up, with a 40mm increase in the size of the front rotors, while the motor-driven power steering is re-tuned. And there’s a mechanical limited-slip differential taming the front wheels.
Expect exterior bits like 18-inch lightweight alloy wheels and Pirelli P-Zero tyres using a bespoke compound. Inside, we found a full-size digital instrument cluster and a large i30N-style infotainment setup.
Hot hatch? Kinda. Skoda has confirmed the hotted-up Octavia RS wagon will arrive late in the first quarter of 2021, with the RS liftback (hatch in vaguely sedan-looking form) to follow close to the middle of the year.
The new version of Skoda Australia’s top-seller will be powered by the Golf GTI’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turboengine making 180kW and 370Nm. A locking front differential and dual-clutch transmission will be standard. Europe’s RS iV PHEVs won’t come because supply is restricted.
The new Octavia shares its underpinnings with the Mk8 Golf. It’s 15mm wider than the car it replaces, while the liftback has grown 19mm longer.
Inside, the Octavia promises to pack more space than the outgoing model. The infotainment layout, offered with an 8.25-inch or 10-inch touchscreen and the option of a 10.25-inch digital instrument binnacle, will be familiar to anyone who’s taken a close look at the Mk8 Golf cabin.
The wagon has previously accounted for 70 per cent of Octavia RS sales in Australia, although Skoda has recently seen the split between liftback and wagon elsewhere in its range swing closer to 50/50.
Audi’s new-generation tier-two hot hatch (below the RS3) will lob in Australia during tax-time next year, in hatchback as well as sedan body styles.
Its 2.0-litre turbo engine makes 228kW and 400Nm (up 15kW/20Nm), though the 4.8-second 0-100km/h claim is unchanged. Quattro variable AWD and a seven-speed ‘S-tronic’ double-clutch auto remain.
Audi touts the new four-link rear suspension, progressive EPAS that loads up with greater speeds, and the greater adaptive-damper variance in sport versus comfort modes. This new model is 30mm longer and wider than its predecessor too.
Interior upgrades include new seats with upholstery made primarily from recycled plastic bottles, and aluminium or carbon-style trim pieces. A 10.25-inch digital instrumentation display, and a 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment screen, are standard.
Available features should include 19-inch alloy wheels, red brake calipers, and matrix LED headlights. You can also expect a 12.3-inch virtual cockpit, ambient lighting, and a premium Bang & Olufsen sound system.
Volkswagen’s latest flagship performance hatch and (almost certainly) wagon are set to hit Australian showrooms in the late third-quarter of 2021. The outgoing Golf R was even more popular than the GTI here.
Power in the Mk8 Golf R is expected to be the latest iteration of the ‘EA888’ 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol. Smart money would suggest it’ll offer the same 228kW/400Nm as that Audi S3 above.
It will again send its grunt to the ground via a 4Motion AWD system and seven-speed DSG dual-clutch auto, making for a likely 0-100km/h time of 4.6-4.8 seconds for the hatch and around 5.0 seconds for the wagon.
Like the model before it, the Mk8 R will also get lowered sports suspension (-15mm or -20mm) compared to the standard model, as well as performance-focused wheels, tyres and brakes. Stay tuned for more.
- 2021 Subaru WRX: We know a brand new WRX will hit Australia in the final stages of 2021, likely as a sedan (hence why it’s not in our list). The 2017 Viziv Performance Concept seems like a worthy teaser.
- 2022 Audi RS3: The new Audi RS3 will debut either very late this year or early next – perhaps around the usual time of the Geneva motor show in March 2021 before a global sales launch starting around mid next year. We’d guess an Australian launch might get pushed to ’22 but we’ll have to see.
- 2022 Toyota GR Corolla: When it launches, the GR Corolla will go head-to-head with the i30 N, Golf GTI, and Megane R.S. We’re guessing it’ll use the GR Yaris’ underpinnings. This ain’t your Nanna’s ‘Rolla.
- 2022 Mazda 3 Turbo: This new Mazda 3 variant uses the same turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that’s rapidly proliferating through the Mazda range, with 170kW of power and 420Nm of torque. Tragically, for now it’s left-hand drive only.