2012 Volkswagen GTI vs. Its Competition

2011 Volkswagen GTI
Nelson Ireson Nelson Ireson Senior Editor

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.

2011 Volkswagen GTI2012 Volkswagen GTI
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2012 Ford Focus2012 Ford Focus
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2012 Mazda MAZDA3 with SkyActiv2012 Mazda MAZDA3
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2012 MINI Cooper 2-door Coupe Side Exterior View2012 MINI Cooper
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Quick Specs
It isn't the fastest or flashiest sporty hatchback around, but the 2012 Volkswagen GTI may well be the most balanced, carrying forward its legacy into the 21st century.
With the 2012 Focus, Ford shows that small cars don't have to feel so banal, with charismatic compacts that are more satisfying to drive, more luxurious, and better-equipped.
With its new Skyactive powertrains, the 2012 Mazda3 is the eco-conscious choice that sure doesn't drive like one.
In all of its guises the 2012 MINI Cooper is fun-to-drive, uniquely styled, and with three standard levels of performance, there's an option for everyone.
MSRP From   
Gas Mileage   
21 MPG City / 33 MPG Hwy26 MPG City / 38 MPG Hwy18 MPG City / 40 MPG Hwy25 MPG City / 37 MPG Hwy
Turbocharged Gas I4Gas I4Gas I4Gas I4
EPA Class   
Compact CarsCompactCompactMinicompact
Style Name   
2-Door HB Manual4-Door Sedan S4-Door Sedan Manual i SV2-Door Coupe
Front Wheel DriveFront Wheel DriveFront Wheel DriveFront Wheel Drive
Passenger Capacity   
Passenger Doors   
Body Style   
Hatchback4 Door Sedan4 Door SedanCoupe
Detailed Spec Comparison
 2012 Volkswagen GTI vs. 2012 Ford Focus2012 Volkswagen GTI vs. 2012 Mazda MAZDA32012 Volkswagen GTI vs. 2012 MINI Cooper