Which will reign supreme?
Various hot hatchbacks have come and gone over the years. Some have aspired to greatness but few have the lasting power of the GTI. Recently introduced as a 2021 model, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is about to enter its eighth-generation after first arriving on the European market in 1976. Since the inception of the seventh-generation GTI, VW has seen the demise of competitors like the Ford Focus ST, while an unlikely challenger has burst onto the scene in the form of the Hyundai Veloster N.
While technically smaller than the Golf, the Veloster poses the most significant threat to the GTI's dominance as the premier hot hatchback. It will be some time before the Mk8 GTI arrives at US dealerships and before it does we wanted to see how it stacks up against one of the best affordable hot hatchbacks on the market right now.
The Mk8 GTI's styling is an evolution of the last-generation Mk7 model. Much like the Porsche 911, VW likes to keep the GTI design formula relatively consistent as to not rock the boat too much. Still, this latest GTI does feature some radical new design features including a full LED light bar across the front fascia and unique fog lights. In our honest opinion, VW has been off in its wheel game lately and the spokes on this new GTI look too thick to our eyes.
If the GTI is the epitome of subtlety, the Veloster N is more like a firecracker attached to a strobe light. Available in a variety of bright colors that raise the intensity even further, the Veloster N might look a bit silly for drivers over the age of 40. It's got a large rear wing, red accents, and the quirky three-door body style. If you want attention, the Veloster N is the right car.
VW's latest GTI is powered by an updated 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, now outputting 245 horsepower and 273 lb-ft. Like the last GTI, buyers can still choose between a seven-speed DGS transmission and a six-speed manual to send power to the front wheels. Early estimates for 0-60 mph have placed the GTI at around five and a half seconds with the DSG, as we expect the engine to feel underrated like previous generation cars. A DCC adaptive damping system is available and should provide a smooth ride.
The Veloster N also uses a turbocharged four-cylinder displacing 2.0-liters, available with either 250 hp or 275 hp if you opt for the Performance Package. Hyundai only offers a six-speed manual for now but a DCT is rumored to be made available soon. Even with a manual only, the Veloster N should keep up with the GTI because it only weighs just over 3,000 pounds. The GTI should be the more comfortable car but the N will be more nimble due to its smaller stature.
It's a clear point here to the GTI as VW's latest cabin design feels nice enough to be stuck on an Audi product. A 10.25-inch digital instrument panel and 10-inch infotainment screen make the cabin feel modern and forward-thinking while throwbacks like Tartan plaid cloth give the GTI a retro vibe. We expect all of the materials inside the GTI's cabin to feel upscale, easily justifying the car's purchasing price.
The Veloster's interior feels cheap by comparison. There are lots of hard surfaces and it feels like Hyundai used up all of its paint colors on the exterior and had none leftover for the cabin. Aside from the blue drive mode buttons on the wheel and some trim surrounding the starter button, the N's interior is a drab chamber of cheap plastics with only some sport seats to remind you this car isn't a base Veloster.
Practicality reigns supreme once again with the GTI, as the Golf that it's based on sits a size class above the sub-compact Veloster. We don't have the official US-spec measurements for the Golf GTI just yet but the outgoing car boasted 53.7 cubic feet of space with the seats folded compared to the Veloster's 44.5 cubic feet and narrow hatch opening. The GTI also gets an additional door in the back with more space for rear-seat occupants. If you plan to carry people and their stuff, the GTI is the way to go.
Pricing for the 2021 Golf GTI is still months away but we doubt it will be any cheaper than the outgoing car, which was priced at $28,595. The Veloster N starts at $27,600 and even with the Performance Package, still manages to remain under $30,000. By comparison, a fully-loaded GTI can approach the $40,000 mark, meaning the Veloster N will almost certainly be the better value.