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When you think of roadsters, one of the cars that immediately comes to mind for many is the Mazda MX-5 Miata. It’s eye-catching, fast, and surprisingly affordable. But the demand for sporty “hot hatches” is on the rise and is giving the Miata a run for its money. These hatches like the Volkswagen Golf and its performance-oriented GTI model can seat up to five. They have ample cargo space and exciting performance to match that of the Miata. Can the Golf match the Miata in popularity?

The Volkswagen Golf vs. the GTI

Guo Yongfeng, President of Faw-Volkswagen Sales, presents the new red Volkswagen Golf GTI car during the 19th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition
The Volkswagen Golf | HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

The Volkswagen Golf on its own is a great compact car. There’s also a performance-oriented model called the GTI. While it’s a trim level of the Golf, the transformation it brings to the car’s performance is wild. What’s the difference?

The standard Golf only offers one powertrain option which is a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out an underwhelming 147 hp. While its performance is more or less average, it does offer pretty good gas mileage. 

The GTI has a standard turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 228 hp. That’s quite a leap. The best part? The fuel efficiency in this Golf model really doesn’t drop that much. It offers an appealing balance between value and performance.

Outselling the Mazda MX-5 Miata?

Even with the boost in performance the GTI brings to the Volkswagen Golf, you might not think that it could even come close to the Mazda MX-5 Miata’s sales. Think again.

In 2017, VW managed to sell 68,978 units of the Golf while Mazda only managed to sell 11,294 units of the MX-5 Miata, according to data from GoodCarBadCar. The trend continued with the Golf selling over 33,000 more units than the Miata in 2018, over 29,000 more units in 2019, and over 13,000 units in 2020.

So far in 2021, according to GoodCarBadCar, sales for the MX-5 Miata are improving. They are averaging just under 1,100 units sold per month so far this year. By contrast, the Golf is averaging just over 800 units per month. But it remains competitive.

How do the Volkswagen Golf and the Mazda MX-5 Miata match up?

The 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata may not have the sheer power of some of its peers, but it does have the highest performance score in its class according to U.S. News. Its athletic engine and nimble handling make it fun to drive. Like the GTI, it gets surprisingly good gas mileage for a car in its segment.

The Miata doesn’t have a turbocharged engine under the hood. It still manages to provide plenty of power to propel this lightweight compact car up the highway. Its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine gets 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. It offers a rear-wheel-drive configuration standard with a six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is available.

Space is an issue. The cabin doesn’t offer a lot of room and only two people can ride in it. The capacity the trunk offers is among the lowest of any new vehicle on the market. That will be a drawback for many who travel frequently or need room for more passengers.

The 2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI also offers an exciting ride with sporty handling and its turbocharged engine. The cabin is roomy with two rows of seating and an upscale vibe. There’s plenty of cargo room too. 

That exciting turbo engine has a standard six-speed manual transmission like the Miata, but there’s also a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic available according to U.S. News. While the manual transmission enhances its athleticism with an easy-to-manage clutch, the automatic transmission offers a smooth ride too.

The 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata remains a sports car contender. The 2021 Volkswagen GTI is a comparable sports car that offers exciting performance. It also allows you to take more people along for the ride and provides plenty of cargo room too. While one is obviously more popular, both are great options.


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