The Golf GTI gets a modest horsepower boost for 2019, but the Focus ST still beats it on paper.
If you’re looking for a practical compact hatchback that’s also a blast to drive, then what you’re looking for is a hot hatch. Hot hatchbacks are great for the driving enthusiast who wants a true performance car that’s exciting enough for spirited driving and practical enough for everyday commuting and errand-running. Two popular hot hatches that strike this balance beautifully are the Ford Focus ST and the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Let’s take a look at what’s similar, what’s different and which is better between the Focus ST and the GTI.
The Focus ST is slightly longer and wider than the GTI, but they are virtually the same size, both fitting nicely in the compact hatchback segment. They’re both big enough to have plenty of real-world practicality and small enough to offer a nimble driving experience. See the 2018 Ford Focus models for sale near you
As for styling, they both offer noticeably sporty upgrades over the compact cars they’re based on. However, the changes are a little more extreme with the Focus. The casual observer might not notice that a GTI is any different from a regular Golf, but the Focus ST adds aesthetics like thoroughly revised front and rear fascias with a big, gaping black grille in front and a prominent rear wing in the back. The 2019 GTI has visual upgrades to the Golf of its own like different fascias and wheels, but the changes are more subtle than they are on the Ford. See the 2019 Volkswagen GTI models for sale near you
Visually, the Focus ST is for getting noticed and the GTI is more for enjoying the drive under the radar.
Neither of these cars will let you forget that they are performance cars from the inside. However, they both bring their own brand of sportiness to the table.
In the Focus ST, that means available Recaro seats, which are heavily bolstered, but not uncomfortable. The Recaro seats are available in full-leather or partial leather depending on the trim level. The rest of the interior is pretty similar to the regular Focus, which means a nice, clean design and a good infotainment system, but a notably cramped back seat.
The GTI is arguably a better family vehicle purely because of the roomier cargo area and back seats. The rest of the interior of the GTI is more refined overall than that of the Focus ST’s with nicer materials, a more premium design and a sleek infotainment system. As part of the GTI’s signature styling, plaid seat inserts are available which we find hard to resist.
Mechanicals and Performance
Performance is a big priority for an enthusiast shopping for a hot hatch so let’s get right into it.
2019 Ford Focus ST Engine
2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Engine
2.0-liter turbocharged inline four; 228 hp, 258 lb-ft of torque; 24 mpg city/32 mpg hwy
Both of these hot hatches are front-wheel drive and come standard with a manual transmission. However, the GTI is available with a 7-speed DCT automatic, which makes it return 25 mpg city/31 mpg hwy. Enthusiasts will appreciate the manual in the Focus ST, but the availability of an automatic makes the GTI more available to more drivers.
It’s worth noting that the GTI got a slight power increase for the 2019 model year being bumped up from 220 hp to 228 hp. That brings it closer to the Focus ST in power, but the Ford still has the Volkswagen beat in pure performance numbers. It’s also worth noting that these numbers for both cars are only attainable with premium fuel, but both of them will run just fine on regular fuel.
So, there’s a pretty clear trade-off in terms of performance and efficiency. The GTI offers less power and torque, but better fuel economy and the ST offers the opposite. It’s up to the driver to decide which is more important.
Features and Technology
The Focus ST and the GTI can both get pretty luxurious on the upper trims. You can add features like heated leather seats, a heated steering wheel, a power moonroof, premium audio and navigation to both cars, but the VW offers more in the way of safety and driver-assistance technology. Features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and forward-collision warning are available on the GTI, but not on the ST.
We like the infotainment systems in both of these cars. The Ford SYNC 3 system is an upgrade we recommend since it adds Android Auto and Apple CarPlay along with a great user interface plus the availability of Sony premium audio. The GTI comes standard with a 6.5-in touchscreen that’s upgradable to an 8-in unit available, both of which come standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
The 2019 Focus ST is the more affordable hot hatch between these two. The Ford has a starting MSRP of $25,170 and the GTI starts at $27,595. Even on the high end of the model ranges, the Ford continues to be more affordable with a loaded Focus ST3 being in the low-$30k range and a range-topping GTI Autobahn model easily getting into the high-$40k range, especially with the DCT transmission, which is a $1,100 option. The Ford is definitely the value choice over the VW.
It’s hard to declare which of these two hot hatches is better than the other considering they serve different kinds of enthusiasts. If you’re looking for a practical family car that’s also fun to drive, you’ll probably prefer the roomier, slightly more efficient GTI with more safety tech and an available automatic transmission. However, if you’re looking for driving fun on a budget, the Focus ST, which is more affordable and serves up more power and torque will probably suit you better. The Focus ST is a hot hatch for you and the GTI is a hot hatch for the family. Find a Ford Focus for sale or Find a Volkswagen GTI for sale