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The Golf GTI is an icon born in 1976. 42 years have given Volkswagen 7.5 generations to create the ultimate hot-hatch, outpaced by the Golf R and other pretenders to the throne that have now transcended the hot-hatch classification into Super-Hot-Hatches.
Perhaps less is more and the GTI is all the hatch you could ever need?
The Golf GTI combines the practicality of a spacious hatch, a generously sized boot, high-tech entertainment and safety devices and more importantly, useable dynamic performance, now with 169kW/350Nm of push and shove – that’s up 4kW over the launch model. That’s enough stick to get you to 100km/h in 6.4 seconds and top out at 248km/h. People, this is all you could ever need – these figures are fab! The GTI’s driving collective is a 2.0-l 4-cylinder turbo petrol motor that is partnered with a 6-speed automatic double-clutch gearbox. The gearbox is perfection. Driven through its front wheels, Volkswagen have managed to send its power to the tarmac through its front-wheel-drive system with distinction. The power is delivered enthusiastically but flawlessly. The execution is refined to a point that brings 42 years of experience together seamlessly.
The GTI has always been the flagship by which others mimic.
Enter the challenger: Mercedes-Benz A 250. Despite the A-Class having 22-years in the game and four generations deep, the A-Class changed direction after its 2nd generation; initially created as a subcompact city hatch. The 1st and 2nd generation were designed to appeal to young mothers and retired folk wanting a small, safe and practical city run around. In 2013, Mercedes-Benz said “A” stood for Attack! They wanted a piece of the sassy hot-hatch market - the 3rd generation guise was designed to carry out the quest. Aesthetically, the attempt was a success and perceptions of the A-Class were adjusted. In reality, a good product but not a real challenger to the GTI.
2018 hailed the W177, also known as the 4th generation. Soothing on the eye, the new A-Class is an evolution of the 3rd. Less curvaceous, the new design is arguably more classical in its execution. Thrown some shade though, for its rear end design, which is said to bear a striking resemblance to Kia’s Cerato hatch. All-round the design of the new A-Class is very pleasing and a good evolution of the 3rd generation.
The A250 is packaged to target the GTI. Similarly, it also features a 2.0-l 4-cylinder turbo petrol motor, only with a fraction less oomph: 165kW/350Nm. It too is featuring a front-wheel-drive set up only with a 7-speed automatic box. This collaboration of power and geometric synergies will get you to 100km/h in 6.71 seconds and top out at 250km/h. As you can see, the figures are neck and neck!
So which car is better? Let me unpack this question in sections.
The design – this is a subjective science. The GTI is arguably a smidge more masculine while the A250 carries that gorgeous Benz star messed into its diamond grille. The overall looks are classically sporty.
The interiors are both comfortable and practical. The Golf wins the practical sash as it is bigger and offers a roomier cabin. The A250 wins the aesthetic crown. The interior dash is a revolution. Gone is the instrument binnacle. Now replaced with a floating digital all-in-one tachometer and infotainment system. A first in a commercial vehicle. There are also fewer buttons, like in an Audi A3, which dramatically modernizes the cabin. As space-aged as the cabin is, it does borderline on tech chitch. I enjoy its daring execution.
The technology – the category is pretty neck and neck. The GTI is less overt in the presentation of the technology while the Mercedes-Benz flourishes in its extrovert display.
The drive – I’m not surprised by the Golf’s light and effortless way. It is the master by which everyone emulates. I was pleased to note the vast improvement in the 4th generation A-Class’ ride. Now lighter on its feet with a forgiving suspension set-up, all while remaining agile. Accelerate hard, and the GTI does a better job of sending its power to the road’s surface while remaining completely composed. The A250 loses grip which decomposes a refined package. The gearbox’s both do a superb job of splicing through their respective gears with the GTI’s DSG 6-speed being just a fraction better. Being athletic models, the sound emitted from each of the cars’ exhaust is paramount. The GTI’s audible bark is better at lifting the hairs on the back of your neck.
In conclusion, despite the A-Class’ vast improvements and in some cases, class-leading innovations, the Golf remains the category leader. Yes, there is the Golf R and forthcoming Mercedes-AMG A35 and A45, but these extreme versions are debatably better on a track than for day-to-day commuting. The GTI reins as the ultimate everyday hot-hatch.
Audi S3, Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1750TBi Veloce and MINI Cooper S 5 door.
A250 Hatch R596 969
Golf GTI R565 800
Service and warranty
The Golf GTI is sold with a 5-year / 90 000km service plan while the A250 comes with a 5-year / 100 000km maintenance plan.
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