While there are dozens of hatchbacks to choose from, only a handful offer real sporting potential.
Among those, the GTI has one of the longest histories in the U.S., and for good reason.
Some of the newer offerings are bringing the fight to VW on price, power, and quality, however. Mazda's Mazdaspeed3, for example, builds on the excellent basis of the standard Mazda3 with a punchy 263-horsepower, 280 pound-foot turbocharged, direct-injected 2.3-liter engine and a heavily re-tuned suspension.
The resulting acceleration and driving dynamics are truly engaging, but piping all that power through the front wheels means there's some torque steer, even with recent models introducing technology to help mitigate the problem.
The Mazda's interior might come up short against the GTI's, too, though optional tech and upholstery upgrades can help balance the equation--especially when the Mazdaspeed3's lower price is taken into account. The 2012 Ford Focus isn't all that thrilling in base form, but a new ST model is coming early in 2012, and it will bring nearly as much power as the Mazdaspeed3, plus dashing European styling and equally high-tech transmissions.
We'll have to wait until its release to know if it's a real threat to the GTI, but on paper, it's something to watch out for. Finally, there's the 2012 MINI Cooper range.
Available in hatch, coupe, and wagon body styles, the Cooper is one of the most versatile models on the market.
In John Cooper Works trim, it's also more powerful, lighter, and better-handling than the Volkswagen.
Its interior, while built largely of quality materials, has its ergonomic quirks and no shortage of squeaks and rattles, however.
Considering the MINI's price can grow even more quickly than the GTI's, it ultimately comes down to a matter of preference.
|2012 Volkswagen GTIBrowse Used Listings||2012 Ford FocusBrowse Used Listings||2012 Mazda MAZDA3Browse Used Listings||2012 MINI CooperBrowse Used Listings|
|21 MPG City / 33 MPG Hwy||26 MPG City / 38 MPG Hwy||18 MPG City / 40 MPG Hwy||25 MPG City / 37 MPG Hwy|
|Turbocharged Gas I4||Gas I4||Gas I4||Turbocharged Gas I4|
|2-Door HB Manual||4-Door Sedan S||4-Door Sedan Manual i SV||2-Door Coupe|
|Front Wheel Drive||Front Wheel Drive||Front Wheel Drive||Front Wheel Drive|
|Hatchback||4 Door Sedan||4 Door Sedan||Coupe|