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2021 Hyundai i30 N, Volkswagen Golf GTI and Toyota GR Corolla: Why now is the time to buy a hot hatch before they're replaced by SUVs

The updated Hyundai i30 N is expected to hit Australian showrooms later this year.

Take a seat, hot hatch fans, we’ve got some good news and some bad news to tell you.

First, the good news – we’re about to enter a golden period for hi-po hatchbacks with the updated Hyundai i30 N and new Volkswagen Golf GTI arriving in a matter of months. And they’ll be followed soon afterwards by a new Golf R and the still-unconfirmed-but-highly-likely Toyota GR Corolla.

The bad news is these might be the last generation of hot hatches.

These go-fast small cars have been a staple for some brands for decades, but are now facing serious challenges on two fronts – the continued switch towards SUVs and the rise of electric performance cars.

If this is to be the end of an era though, it seems car makers are ready to send hot hatches out in style. It also speaks to the growing importance for performance cars to a pair of brands that have typically shied away from them – Hyundai and Toyota.

VW arguably invented the hot hatch with the first Golf GTI, and despite competition over the years from the likes of Ford, Peugeot, Subaru and Honda, it wasn’t until recently that the sales giants from South Korean and Japan took more of an interest.

Hyundai is rapidly expanding its N Performance range in the wake of the well-received i30 N. The updated i30 N will boast a more powerful 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine, now making 206kW/392Nm, but (more importantly) it will get the option of an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. That will help expand its sales appeal and puts it on a collision course with the new Golf GTI.

The eighth-generation Golf hot hatch has more history than the Hyundai, but it can’t match it for performance. The latest Golf GTI will retain the same 2.0-litre turbo engine and make 180kW/370Nm, but VW will include a limited-slip differential to match the Hyundai offering.

And if that’s not enough performance to satisfy, VW has an ace up its sleeve that Hyundai can’t match – the new Golf R. It’s due to arrive in Australia sometime in 2022 and will boast a more powerful engine (235kW/420Nm), as well as having all-wheel drive and a more premium interior.

As we’ve written in the past, Hyundai has invested in cultivating an enthusiastic owner group for the i30 N and, with the arrival of the updated model plus the addition of the i20 N and Kona N by the end of the year, it looks set for a big 2021 as it tries to take on the more established Volkswagen.

On the horizon for both to worry about is Toyota’s plans to expand its GR sub-brand. The GR Yaris has made a splash but it’s expected to only be the beginning and the next arrival (after the GR 86) is most likely to be the GR Corolla.

It would go head-to-head with the i30 N and Golf GTI, giving the Japanese brand a long-overdue entrant into the most popular hot hatch market. While it’s still all unconfirmed reports, the GR Corolla is expected to use the same 1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine from the GR Yaris, but with even more power. It will get a bump from 200kW to 221kW to enhance its ‘big brother’ status, while also using the same all-wheel-drive system as the rally-bred Yaris.

(Image credit: Best Car Web) (Image credit: Best Car Web)

There have been conflicting reports on when the GR Corolla will appear, but don’t be surprised if it hits showrooms (at least in overseas markets) before the end of 2022.

Ironically, the biggest threats this trio face could be from within, with all three brands expected to launch high-performance compact SUVs in the near future. As mentioned earlier, the Hyundai Kona N is due for local launch this year, while the Volkswagen T-Roc R is coming in 2022 and reports from Japan say the Toyota GR C-HR will arrive soon too.

While there’s no guarantee hardcore hot hatch fans will migrate to these higher-riding alternatives, the continued growth of SUVs combined with the consistent decline of small cars does raise questions about the long-term prospects of small cars like the i30, Golf and Corolla.

Even though these popular models would likely be the last to go, if the demise of Holden and its Commodore have taught us anything, no model is too big to fail.

The other reason why hot hatch fanatics should embrace the next crop of options, is they could soon be replaced by hybrid or electric options as governments mandate cleaner cars; particularly in Europe where the strict Euro 7 rules are due to come into force in 2026.

As Ford recently demonstrated by axing its long-running Focus RS, emissions standards are increasingly strict, and powerful petrol engines are too difficult and expensive to engineer in many cases.

While Volkswgaen has already discussed the prospect of an ID.R electric hot hatch that should be as quick as the Golf R, it won’t be the same for traditional hot hatch enthusiasts.