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Six new performance hatchbacks to look forward to in 2021

Published Jan 19, 2021


JOHANNESBURG - Although a challenging year lies ahead for the South African motor industry amid the pandemic-related economic fallout, the car companies are still planning an enticing array of new products for the year.

And performance hatch fans in particular have a lot to look forward to in 2021, with Volkswagen’s eighth-generation Golf GTI and R models on the way, along with their Audi S3 cousin, while BMW, Hyundai and Toyota are also planning to crash the party, the latter with something of a rally-inspired wild card.

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Here’s a quick look at what you can look forward to this year.

Audi S3 Sportback

Expected: Third quarter, 2021

Audi isn’t getting involved in any power wars with its new-generation S3 Sportback, which retains the same 228kW and 400Nm outputs as its predecessor, but Audi says the newcomer makes better use of its power in more dynamic driving situations thanks to its updated S-specific suspension and all-wheel drive systems. Adaptive damping remains optional however.

For the record, the familiar 2-litre turbopetrol engine will get the new Audi from 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds, which is two tenths of a second slower than the current model.

The new S3 models ride on 18-inch wheels as standard, while larger 19-inch alloys can be ordered, and the performance model can also be told apart by its unique front bumper design with larger side inlets and black grille surround

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Moving inside, the cabin is roomier than before and more digitised, while the elegant dashboard design of the current model makes way for a more radical facia that seems to have taken some inspiration from Lamborghini.

BMW 128ti

Expected: First quarter, 2021

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BMW is getting ready to pick a fight with the Golf GTI and its weapon of choice is the new 128ti.

Although it’s unfortunate that our cars will be detuned from 195kW to 180kW, due to South Africa being classified as a hot weather market, the good news is that it still has enough power to match the new GTI, which is scheduled to hit the streets around the same time.

What else is there to look forward to?

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The new 128ti is front-wheel driven and BMW says it’s a good 80kg lighter than its all-wheel drive M135i xDrive sibling, and the newcomer also boasts some sporty dynamic hardware, including a Torsen limited-slip differential, model-specific steering set-up and a sports suspension system that lowers the 128ti by 10mm versus regular 1 Series hatches.

On the outside, the 128ti can be told apart by an extended Shadowline package with high-gloss black and red trimmings, while the cabin is marked out by sports seats with red accents, as well as red contrast stitching for the steering wheel, door trims and instrument panel.

Hyundai i30 N facelift

Expected: First half of 2021

Hyundai’s first proper hot hatch only just touched down in South Africa last year and it’s already getting a reboot of sorts, and this means prospective buyers can look forward to a sharper appearance as well as the option of a dual-clutch gearbox for the first time.

The facelifted i30 N’s 2-litre turbopetrol engine has been tweaked to produce 206kW and 392Nm, which is a gain of 4kW and 39Nm, and as a result the hatch can now sprint to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds.

Hyundai SA has confirmed to us that as per the overseas models, the i30 N will be offered with the new eight-speed DCT dual-clutch transmission in South Africa. It’s likely that the manual variant will continue to be offered, however this has yet to be officially confirmed.

Hyundai has upgraded the chassis too, with the electronically controlled suspension and steering systems being retuned for the facelifted model, to improve both ride and handling characteristics.

But what about its smaller i20 N sibling? At this stage there is no confirmation on whether this compact performance hatch will reach local shores.

Toyota Yaris GR

Expected: Mid 2021

Forget kilowatt outputs and 0-100km/h times, the new Toyota Yaris GR is unlike any performance hatch you’ve ever seen on the market - think of it as a rally car for the road.

Set to arrive on local shores around midyear, the Yaris GR was created as a homologation model for the next-generation WRC car, and as such it features all-wheel drive, as well as a completely bespoke suspension system and the world’s most powerful production three-cylinder engine.

The GR’s purpose-built 1.6-litre, three-cylinder powerplant produces 200kW at 6500rpm and 370Nm from 3000 revs and thanks to the extensive use of lightweight materials it boasts a power-to-weight ratio of 156kW per tonne. This should allow the little firecracker to accelerate from 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds.

Only purists need apply here as the sole gearbox option is a six-speed manual with rev matching on the up and down shifts. The driver can also choose how much of the car’s torque goes to the rear wheels, which is as much as 70 percent when Sport mode is selected.

Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI

Expected: Second quarter, 2021

Quite possibly the most keenly anticipated performance hatch this year, along with its R sibling that we’ll get to shortly, the eighth-generation Golf GTI is set to hit local shores during the second quarter.

The new GTI is powered by a revised version of the familiar EA888 2-litre turbopetrol engine, which now produces 180kW and 370Nm, an 11kW and 20Nm improvement over its predecessor. Power goes to the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and you can expect the newcomer to sprint from 0-100km/h in around 6.3 seconds.

On the chassis front, the GTI gains a new driving dynamics system called the Vehicle Dynamics Manager, which controls both the XDS function and the lateral dynamics components of the DCC adaptive dampers, when optionally fitted.

The exterior design package includes a large lower air intake in a honeycomb pattern, X-shaped fog lights, an illuminated upper grille strip, wider side sills and a larger rear diffuser.

The new Golf GTI rolls on unique 17-inch Richmond alloy wheels as standard, but buyers can choose from various 18-inch and 19-inch options.

Volkswagen Golf 8 R

Expected: Fourth quarter, 2021

The GTI’s all-wheel-driven big brother has the same basic ingredients as its predecessor, but it enters 2021 with a bit more power and the option of a drift mode.

The Golf R’s upgraded 2-litre turbopetrol engine now produces 235kW and 420Nm, which is an improvement of 7kW and 20Nm, and that twisting force is also produced lower in the rev range, with the maximum torque figure available from just 2100rpm and all the way up to 5350rpm.

Volkswagen quotes a 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.7 seconds for the new Golf R.

The all-wheel drive system has been given a significant upgrade and now in addition to distributing power between the front and rear axles, it can also vary the output between the left and right wheels for enhanced agility. This new torque vectoring system allows the rear differential to distribute up to 100 percent of the rear axle torque to the wheel on the outside of the bend.

Drivers can also enjoy more driving modes than before, with the current Comfort, Sport, Race and Individual profiles being joined by a ‘Drift’ mode, which configures all driving parameters for the Nurburgring.

Watch this space for more information closer to launch.

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