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Used test: Honda Civic Type R vs Renault Mégane RS vs Volkswagen Golf R
Buy any of these absolutely cracking hot hatches at a couple of years old and you'll have yourself a bargain, but which one will look best on your driveway? We have the answer.....
Honda Civic Type R 2.0 VTEC Turbo
- List price when new £31,525
- Price today £25,000*
- Available from 2017-present
Our current Hot Hatch of the Year is a truly extraordinary driver’s car, but how does it fare as a used buy?
Renault Mégane RS 280 Cup
- List price when new £28,995
- Price today £23,000*
- Available from 2018-present
The latest version of the RS has made a name for itself as a great hot hatch, and it’s also the cheapest here.
Volkswagen Golf R 2.0 TSI 300 DSG
- List price when new £34,910
- Price today £24,000*
- Available from 2014-present
There’s an all-new Mk8 Golf out now, but how does this old Mk7 Golf R compare with its lairy rivals?
*Price today is based on a 2018 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
Pace, agility and fun. Whether buying new or used, anyone wanting to spend their hard-earned cash on a hot hatch wants these three factors above all others.
Over the years, the Honda Civic Type R has fulfilled all of those requirements easily, and we’ve always loved it, even those versions whose ride has been so firm that they’ve threatened to cripple our backs faster than our finances. This latest version is one of our very favourites, though, and a winner of many of our hot hatch awards: it even combines its blistering pace with a more supple ride. Even better, bought as tested here, at a couple of years old, it’s also quite reasonably priced.
Likewise, the sportiest versions of the Renault Megane have always been multiple What Car? award winners and at or near the top of our charts. This latest RS version is no exception – it’s a real pacesetter, using high-tech to back up its brute power.
And what about the Volkswagen Golf R, for so long one of the suavest of all fast cars, a high-performance and four-wheel-drive version of the iconic Golf GTI? Soon to be replaced by an all-new Mk8 version, is now the right time to consider buying the superseded car at a lower price?
Here, we’re testing all three of these cars at a couple of years old, but which one has the top fun factor? Read on to find out.
What are they like to drive?
You could argue that 0-60mph times aren’t particularly relevant as a performance benchmark. After all, how often do you find yourself at the front of a queue at traffic lights with a de-restricted stretch of the grey stuff ahead?
Still, it’s nice to know you could embarrass all-comers if you wanted to, and the four-wheel-drive and automatic Golf will do that with ease. Avoid cars fitted with the optional Akrapovic exhaust and the Golf R is pretty hushed for a hot hatch, and it’ll make the perfect getaway, catapulting you to 60mph in well under five seconds. Indeed our test car managed it in 4.5sec, as its engine was producing 306bhp; post-2018 models make do with 296bhp, please note, the small power drop down to new fuel economy regulations that came into force at that time.
The Civic’s engine – also a 2.0-litre turbo – packs even more punch than the Golf’s, producing 316bhp. However, because the Civic is front-wheel drive, there’s a limit to how much of that power you can actually transfer to the road off the line. We managed 0-60mph in 5.4sec, although that requires delicate use of the accelerator and clutch pedals. Adopt an aggressive approach and you’ll just sit there in a cloud of tyre smoke. The Golf and Civic are more closely matched when it comes to rolling acceleration – between, say, 30 and 70mph – although the former still edges it.
The Mégane is left trailing well behind. Its 276bhp 1.8-litre engine is massively outgunned not only for power but also torque – the sort of low-rev muscle that allows you to build speed when you don’t want to thrash the engine to its redline. It still managed a credible 0-60mph time of 5.9sec, though.
The Mégane sounds suitably special, too – especially in Race mode, when it growls with real purpose when you floor the accelerator. The Golf is even louder when specified with the optional Akrapovic exhaust, although the bassy drone isn’t especially tuneful. We wouldn’t go out of our way to seek out a used one with this option.
Despite its suggestive triple-exit exhaust, the Civic sounds a wee bit clinical next to its rivals. The whooshing sound it makes when you accelerate hard is reminiscent of a jumbo jet during take-off; it leaves you in no doubt that lots of power is being produced but doesn’t really tickle the soul.
That said, there’s real pleasure to be had from using the Civic’s perfectly positioned gearlever; swapping cogs requires the merest flick of your wrist. The Mégane’s gearbox is a bit stiff by comparison, although it’s precise enough once you’ve made the extra effort.
The Golf’s standard auto ’box is of the dual-clutch variety, so shifts are blink-of-an-eye quick, but they don’t always happen quite when you want them to during hard driving.
Our 0.9-mile test track is designed to simulate a meandering B-road. On it, the Civic lapped quickest, crossing the line 0.3sec ahead of the Mégane; its secret is staying incredibly composed and balanced through high-speed corners and stable under hard braking. It can claw its way out of slow corners far more effectively than most front-wheel-drive cars, too.
But not quite as effectively as the Mégane, which has standard four-wheel steering, allowing the car to pivot itself around slower corners to further improve agility. At really low speeds, it can feel a bit like you’re piloting a shopping trolley, but it’s remarkably effective between 30mph and 60mph.
The Golf, drag race champion though it may be, simply couldn’t keep up with its stiffer, more focused rivals through the twisty bits of our test track. It consistently lapped nearly a second slower than the Mégane and 1.2sec slower than the Civic, swaying about the most and feeling the least stable under hard braking. Its steering is pleasingly natural in weight but a bit vague compared with its rivals’ when you’re pushing hard.
And what about when you’re not in the mood for all that lark and just want to get to where you’re going in comfort? Well, despite having the biggest wheels (20in), the Civic is easily the most forgiving of the three, smoothing over lumps and ridges better than many regular family hatchbacks. Its standard adaptive dampers deserve much of the credit here; they allow you to stiffen or soften the suspension at your whim.
Our test Golf also had adaptive dampers fitted (at a cost of £850 from new), along with 19in wheels – an inch larger than standard. In this form, it isn’t far behind the Civic for comfort. Meanwhile, the Mégane is by far the firmest and isn’t available with adaptive dampers at all, although it’s still (just) on the right side of acceptable – even if you find one on 19in wheels over the 18s you get as standard.
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