RE: Focus ST vs. Golf TCR vs. Megane Trophy vs. i30 N

RE: Focus ST vs. Golf TCR vs. Megane Trophy vs. i30 N

Sunday 29th September 2019

Focus ST vs. Golf TCR vs. Megane Trophy vs. i30 N

The Focus ST has shown promise thus far, but how does it compare to the best hot hatches currently on sale?



It would be a fair accusation to say that we've been a little conflicted about the Mk4 Focus ST thus far. Alright, that's just yours truly in fact, because nobody else has driven it: really impressive on track, maybe not so joyous on European roads, then much better over here. But we - or rather, I - have not been decisive just yet. Now, usefully, is the moment to be nothing but.

Because here is the Focus ST, in the bleak mid-September of the Peak District, against three formidable rivals: Megane Trophy, Golf GTI TCR and i30 N. Same time, same place, same atrocious weather conditions. Nothing reveals a car's foibles and failings (or, indeed, what's actually really good) like a comparison with direct competitors in identical conditions.

Why these three? The Megane is here as perhaps the most exhilarating hot hatch currently around, incisive and frenetic and demanding; the Golf GTI TCR is... the Golf GTI option, classy and mature and effortless; then there's the i30 N, arguably the car the Focus ST was in its previous generation: conspicuously good value, defiantly rowdy and perhaps a bit rough around the edges, sure, yet tremendously likeable nonetheless.



And what of the Civic? It's still a fantastic hot hatch, no doubt, but every debate around the car boils down to how it looks. If you can't abide its styling, that rather inhibits its appeal. However good it might be. So it's been left aside for this one - complaints to the usual address...

The test begins with the tedious, seemingly interminable, slog up the M1, sat in the firm embrace of the ST's Recaro seat - it's not quite the Heimlich manoeuvre of the Fiesta, but the Focus holds you reassuringly tightly. No time on the London-Leeds motorway could never be said to fly by, but the ST makes light work of it: punchy, comfortable and refined. Valid complaints are made about the detached, bloated feel of modern cars, though there's no doubting the impression of safety and security they offer when conditions would suit tillers more than tyres.

Anyway. Once we've all congregated at the accommodation for Monday night, it doesn't take long to begin nattering about the hot hatches. Nic doesn't seem all that enthused by the Golf, a "sluggish" DSG gearbox being his main complaint. Happens a lot. Dafydd has found precious few of the i30 N's 1,944 drive mode premutations to his liking under commuting conditions, while Sam reckons the Megane is hard work in traffic, but rather enjoyed the attention bestowed on the Liquid Yellow Renault Sport. There's little positive to report, it seems; suspicion is that that's as much to with the dull drive up and lingering hunger than the cars themselves. Tuesday can't come soon enough...

Actually, scratch that; yes it can. The day dawns damp, cold and blustery, even worse than Monday, with six weeks of rainfall predicted to arrive in 24 hours. At least a fortnight of it seems to have arrived before the last breakfast sausage is done, precipitation lashing against windows, wheels and faces. Time to drive a car then.



For those that like fast cars, it would take an obscene act of defiance not to like the i30 N. Even in a brief drive it raises a smile, because people who like the things you like have made this; the rev limit rises with the oil temperature like an M car, the contact points are simple and satisfying, the limited-slip diff is doggedly determined and the exhaust parps merrily. Immediately it feels built to entertain, involve and engage, precious commodities in today's automotive world - it's certainly one to return to.

The expectation of the Golf is to feel dowdy and demure after the boisterous Hyundai, a preconception it confounds pretty swiftly. While it goes about its business in a more reserved fashion - the TCR-specific exhaust being terribly polite - there's no arguing with the lightest kerbweight here and a power output just 10hp behind the Megane. Remember, too, that the DSG-only TCR has seven gears against the others' six, and that the EA888 has always been an eager engine, its briskness shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

Furthermore, there's a lot to be said for benign, approachable, progressive Golf GTI in these conditions. Despite being speed sensitive, the TCR's steering is easily the best of the group, consistent and readable in a way the others - Megane and Focus, especially - are not. Even in its most aggressive Sport setting, the Golf's damping retains a comfort and pillowy softness that eludes the others in their stiffer modes. The relative lightness - it has 100kg on the Focus - bestows upon it an agility that doesn't require chassis trickery to create, the Golf assured and accurate through direction changes and predictable without being dull. Even seven years after its introduction, its talents are plain to see.

Thing is, so are the draw backs. VW may well call it a "race-inspired model", but in reality the TCR feels no naughtier than a Performance Pack to drive. Which means it has a comfort zone, and doesn't feel at its best beyond it; in these conditions the VAQ differential can't put power down as effectively as the others, to the point that the wheelspin can convince the gearbox to change up prematurely - even in manual mode. Speaking of which, the paddles do rob the Golf of some involvement, and the DSG is no longer the paragon it was once seen as. When the going gets tough, the dampers don't really get going, the pay off for its comfort being a looseness and lethargy to the body control when pushed. It's fine, the Golf, really good at points - as Nic will argue only more stridently after more motorway miles - yet never demands your attention, or captures your imagination, like the very best. With an as tested price north of Β£40k, it ought to.



The Megane, on the other hand, doesn't so much demand attention as hook you to an adrenalin drip and prize your eyes open with matchsticks. In the sopping wet it's a really wild ride, fighty and agitated, but as the rain eases the Megane comes into its own. Despite Renault's claims of the RS being "easy to live with on an everyday basis", there's an intensity and fierceness to the Megane's drive that can't be found in any of the others - and it's great.

The four-wheel steer is contentious, and not as well integrated as some others, but you do get used to it; the agility imbued by that combined with the stability of those wide tracks means the Trophy fairly scythes through bends, feeling at once planted and ferociously direct. So much so, in fact, that Race (with the ESC off) eventually makes sense in place of Sport mode, which keeps the 4WS agility there until 62mph. The steering provides greater feedback with load through it than at lower speeds and the dampers - ably assisted by those hydraulic bump stops, surely - deliver resounding control where the Golf flounders. The Megane doesn't like consistent, pitter-patter bumps, but the body control over larger imperfections is remarkable, absorbent and eerily precise. Combine all that with the tenacity of its limited-slip diff, the best noise here and those incredible looks and the Megane is, if nothing else, never an experience to be forgotten in a hurry.

Immediately after that, the i30 feels a little old hat, not that fast and a bit leaden - sounds silly, though it's more a reflection of the Renault's demeanour than the Hyundai's. The N's genius, as becomes more evident during the day, is in feeling like a traditional hot hatch but never an old fashioned one. It focuses on what's important, not the fripperies. Despite all the settings it's an easy car to read and exploit dynamically, and once a Custom configuration has been settled on via those chunky buttons - make the engine and diff aggressive and the chassis as supple as possible - it can be left there and enjoyed. The i30 feels more compact than its rivals here, so it can be placed with greater confidence, yet it's also tough and only too happy to endure punishment. It's cheekily adjustable in an old hot hatch fashion, but not gratuitously so, more engaging than the Golf, less contrived than the Megane and - put simply - a right giggle.

So then how does the Focus compare to all of those? Well, it's worth noting the elements that still irk, perhaps the more so in light of the cars here. Not being able to configure an individual drive mode, as the other three permit to great effect, is daft; Normal suits a lot of driving, but some extra exhaust noise might be nice without the intolerable suspension stiffness of Track. Against the Megane the brakes seem a bit snatchy; against the Golf the steering seems over keen. Even stationary, the interior makes the Focus seem a chubbier, less wieldy car than the i30.



Make no mistake, though: there's some real genius underneath this Focus. In appalling conditions it pulls the most traction out of the surface by a margin, meaning the throttle can be chased sooner, with greater confidence, than in any other car. A decade ago, the Focus RS was a new benchmark for front-wheel drive performance, and there's simply no way it would be close to this torquier ST on a bumpy, wet road - nowhere near. This ST is so effective it's hard to imagine a 4WD RS being much faster - the front end is immediate on the way into a bend, trustworthy through it and always locked on line going out.

The purchase and precision are not at the expense of involvement, either, the Focus as game as any other fast Ford when the situation presents itself. The chassis is better balanced than the i30, working each corner more equally, while also requiring less concentration than the Megane for damn near the same entertainment. The Golf is stoic by comparison, and also less capable, the Focus a masterclass in ability and amusement. The chassis is entirely amenable, and predictable, to whatever you instruct through brake, steering and throttle.

Ford made much of the Focus's torque at launch (50lb ft more than the i30), which doesn't count for as much on a test track thrash, but makes it effortless on an actual road. It saunters along through its mid-range meaningfully, defying the kerbweight and feeling at least as quick, if not a bit more so, than anything else here. It also makes its front axle behaviour seem even more miraculous. It was said at the top that now was the time to be definitive on the Focus ST - and it's most definitely extremely good.

In fact, by bringing together much of the Renault's dynamic edge, the Golf's manners and the Hyundai's sense of fun, the Focus ST is the best hot hatch of this four. It remains far from flawless - it's dull inside and out for this money, plus the rev match is annoying - but there's no denying the Ford's enormous ability, fine chassis and effusive character.


So what of the rest? The Megane resides second, the most exciting car here by any score, but demanding of too much compromise for victory. When it's great, it's properly brilliant, though opportunities to experience that are fleeting - if triumphantly memorable. The rest of the time the driver must deal with a tough ride and a frantic nature; the Focus proves being accommodating and riotously good fun are not mutually exclusive.

As in every test since its launch, the i30 N must take a moral victory (it's Β£11k cheaper than the Golf!) and is closer to taking second from the Megane than the Renault is from snatching a win. There's very little to dislike about the Hyundai, put simply, its effervescent nature supported by hardware quality for not much money; sadly the engine is the weakest here, and the top two proved a little better at the limit, but that doesn't stop the N being a great hot hatch.

For different reasons, the Golf is as well - because it's a really strong quartet of cars - though the GTI simply doesn't do enough to justify either the branding or the price. While it's been mentioned before, a Clubsport S was a more fitting tribute to this era of Golf GTI, and would have fared better in this test - that the TCR has been denied a sliver of that magic is something of a shame. The Focus takes victory, then, and has proven itself another finely executed fast Ford in the process. Best get hold of that Civic after all...


SPECIFICATION - FORD FOCUS ST
Engine:
2,261cc, turbocharged four-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 280@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310@3,000-4,000rpm
0-62mph: 5.7 secs
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,508kg (lightest kerbweight with 75kg driver, full fluids and 90 per cent fuel)
MPG: 35.7
CO2: 179g/km
Price: Β£31,995 (price as standard; as tested Β£34,940, comprised of Performance Blue paint for Β£800, Panoramic sunroof for Β£995, Blind Spot Information System for Β£400, Ford Performance Pack (with Track drive mode, shift indicator, launch control, rev matching and multi colour ambient light) for Β£250, Head-up display for Β£400 and wireless charging pad for Β£100)

Search for a Ford Focus ST here

SPECIFICATION - HYUNDAI I30 N PERFORMANCE
Engine:
1,998cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive limited-slip diff
Power (hp): 275@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 260@1,500-4,700rpm
0-62mph: 6.1secs
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,429kg
MPG: 39.8
CO2: 163g/km
Price: Β£29,495 (and Β£29,495 as tested!)

Search for a Hyundai i30 N here

SPECIFICATION - VW GOLF GTI TCR
Engine:
1,984cc 4-cyl, turbo
Transmission: 7-speed DSG automatic, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 290@5,400-6,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 280@1,950-5,300rpm
0-62mph: 5.6 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited, optionally 162mph)
Weight: 1,410kg (to EU, with 75kg driver)
CO2: 175g/km (WLTP combined)
MPG: 42.2 (NEDC correlated)
Price: Β£35,305 (price on the road, as standard; as tested Β£41,289.19, comprised or GTI TCR Performance Pack (19-inch Pretoria alloy wheels with 235/35 ZR19 tyres, speed limit derestriction to 164mph, 20mm lower sports suspension and Dynamic Chassis Control) for Β£2,900, Panoramic sunroof for Β£1,000, rear tinted glass for Β£100, side decals for Β£555 (now removed), rear side airbags for Β£300 and Vodaphone S5-VTS tracker (fitted by VW for press cars) for Β£534.19)

Search for a VW Golf GTI here

SPECIFICATION - RENAULT SPORT MEGANE 300 TROPHY
Engine:
1,798cc 4-cyl, turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@2,400rpm
0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Top speed: 162mph
Weight: 1,494kg (to EU, with 75kg driver)
CO2: 183g/km
MPG: 34.9
Price: Β£31,810 (price as standard; as tested Β£36,085 comprised of Liquid Yellow paint for Β£1,300, Bose Pack (Bose sound system with seven speakers, digital amp and sub, plus 8.7-inch touchscreen with R-Link 2), for Β£800, Front parking sensors and rear parking camera for Β£400, Visio system (Lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and auto high beam) for Β£250 and Recaro Sports Pack (Renault Sport Recaro seats with red stitching and Alcantara) for Β£1,500)

Search for a Renault Sport Megane here



































Photographs: Sim Mainey

Author
Discussion

Smash1e

Original Poster:

1 posts

21 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
Pleased with the outcome, got the focus ST on order.....

FN2TypeR

7,091 posts

51 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
Four great cars, what a time to be alive if you're in the hot hatch buying market at the moment!

I'd take the Hyundai, out of these four, but I wouldn't blame you for choosing one of the others instead - brilliant stuff.

ghost83

4,039 posts

148 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
Golf for me! I’m extremely happy with my mk7 gti pp so I’d definitely have another

Interior is better than the rest in terms of quality too

Repent

358 posts

131 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
Great article! Really solid decision to leave the Type R out and leave the rest to make their mark before meeting the generational kingpin.

Front wheel hatchbacks are so capable now and have been for some time, and have managed to dial up the fun increasingly. A comment on a recent thread from
someone frequenting European fun runs in GT3’s and the like was that a wide range of cars from considerably above the Porsche down to hot hatches it was consistently the latter that were driven the fastest. That level of confidence their platforms provide, less concern exploring the limits on public roads and less cash to lose must add up, as someone who’s always dreamed of getting a GT3 and is now close to being able to do so I wonder which is more fun more of the time.

Edited by Repent on Saturday 28th September 08:32

csampo

230 posts

153 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
Smash1e said:
Pleased with the outcome, got the focus ST on order.....
Same, ordered it after a road test. Should be a great daily, and excellent value given the discounts already available (and low APR)

SidewaysSi

7,855 posts

192 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
FN2TypeR said:
Four great cars, what a time to be alive if you're in the hot hatch buying market at the moment!

I'd take the Hyundai, out of these four, but I wouldn't blame you for choosing one of the others instead - brilliant stuff.
Time to be alive? Really?! They are capable for sure but they aren't nearly as engaging as something older IME.

s m

19,795 posts

161 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
How much lighter are the Golf and Focus without the panoramic sunroof options?

The Golf must be nearly under 1300kg without it and no driver on board?

Zetec-S

3,890 posts

51 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
csampo said:
Smash1e said:
Pleased with the outcome, got the focus ST on order.....
Same, ordered it after a road test. Should be a great daily, and excellent value given the discounts already available (and low APR)
Do you mind giving a rough idea of the discount/deal you were able to get?

Elatino1

830 posts

19 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
SidewaysSi said:
FN2TypeR said:
Four great cars, what a time to be alive if you're in the hot hatch buying market at the moment!

I'd take the Hyundai, out of these four, but I wouldn't blame you for choosing one of the others instead - brilliant stuff.
Time to be alive? Really?! They are capable for sure but they aren't nearly as engaging as something older IME.
You can't compare them to an old car, an old car is old, this is a new car review.

Which of these cars have you driven and what older 5 door hatches are you comparing them to?

Edited by Elatino1 on Saturday 28th September 09:39

csampo

230 posts

153 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
Zetec-S said:
Do you mind giving a rough idea of the discount/deal you were able to get?
About £4.5k off list via broker; 2.9% APR

Edited by csampo on Saturday 28th September 09:33

G.Fraser

189 posts

84 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
I’ve got a Focus ST on order too! It’s an estate in orange! I love Fords anyway but I’m pleased it did well here. Despite being a Ford apologist I was very close to ordering a CTR as I’m mostly on board with the looks, and it’s a good opportunity to run such a highly regarded car for a bit. However as my family are getting bigger and we’re planning more family trips having the estate will be a real boon.

I absolutely adore my current Mountuned Mk2 ST though and I will be very sad to see it go frown It’s relatively light(ish), no modes, just simple fun with a big lovely engine. Nevertheless it’s time to move on, onwards and upwards!

burger81

231 posts

114 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
Why oh why didn't ford make the drive modes customisable? An annoying oversight, honda also have done the same but you don't hear that mentioned as a negative as much.
Seems a minor gripe but would make such a difference, no?

I'd still have the Hyundai, I like something a bit different after a golf GTi pp

G.Fraser

189 posts

84 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
csampo said:
Zetec-S said:
Do you mind giving a rough idea of the discount/deal you were able to get?
About £4.5k off list via broker; 2.9% APR

Edited by csampo on Saturday 28th September 09:33
I got a similar quote but ended up using a dealer where I got a bit less discount but a good part ex offer. I used Carwow to find the deal (first time, I’d recommend it) and I got 10% off.

jason61c

3,900 posts

132 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
Given all the paid for content on here around the focus, i'm not surprised it 'won' or that the civic wasn't included in the test.

Dave Hedgehog

12,906 posts

162 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
WTF circa 35k for a basic hot hatch ...

The worlds gone mad

csampo

230 posts

153 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
burger81 said:
Why oh why didn't ford make the drive modes customisable? An annoying oversight, honda also have done the same but you don't hear that mentioned as a negative as much.
Seems a minor gripe but would make such a difference, no?

I'd still have the Hyundai, I like something a bit different after a golf GTi pp
It is a shame about the modes, but on driving both normal and sport felt well judged so it was not a deal breaker for me. The auto rev-match should not be locked; however, it is a very well executed system, undoubtedly smoother than my HT and permits very quick down shifts. Almost like a halfway house between flicking a paddle and executing a traditional shift; I liked it boxedin

Edited by csampo on Saturday 28th September 09:58

Zetec-S

3,890 posts

51 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
Dave Hedgehog said:
WTF circa 35k for a basic hot hatch ...

The worlds gone mad
None of these are particularly “basic”.

I don’t get why people keep banging on about the price. They’re still pretty good value for a combination of practicality and performance (ie. the whole point of a hot hatch). And as mentioned above, healthy discounts are achievable.

csampo

230 posts

153 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
Dave Hedgehog said:
WTF circa 35k for a basic hot hatch ...

The worlds gone mad
Never really understood this line of argument; when inflation adjusting, prices seem about right. I think a mk2 Golf GTI was about £14k in 1992; that's about £28-£29k in todays money, which is more or less exactly what I've paid for the ST. RRPs are meaningless on modern cars due to the PCP/discount mechanisms that all of the manufacturers seem to employ

Do agree that the TCR is over priced even after discounts; I nearly ordered one but then for MY2020 they made the optional Akrapovic exhaust standard fit and jacked the price by over 2k. Guess they must have a warehouse full of this 'option' that they need to use up!

s m

19,795 posts

161 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
csampo said:
Never really understood this line of argument; when inflation adjusting, prices seem about right. I think a mk2 Golf GTI was about £14k in 1992; that's about £28-£29k in todays money, which is more or less exactly what I've paid for the ST.

Do agree that the TCR is over priced even after discounts; I nearly ordered one but then for MY2020 they made the optional Akrapovic exhaust standard fit and jacked the price by over 2k. Guess they must have a warehouse full of this 'option' that they need to use up!
£41.5k for the Golf as tested

ZX10R NIN

18,924 posts

83 months

Saturday 28th September 2019
quotequote all
I like Fords but read the review expecting the Megane/i30N to win so it was a nice surprise to see the Ford come good.