In basic showroom trim the Renault is the cheapest at £22,467, followed at a distance by the £27,280 Ford and the £28,930 VW. Line up the specs, though, and it's more like £25k (Renault), £29k (Ford and £31k (VW).
So how does the VW justify its higher price? One, it's four-wheel drive while the other two are front-wheel drive. Two, it's a VW, which is a much harder commodity to put a price on.
What have they got?
In terms of firepower, the Golf's 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine serves up 267bhp at 6000rpm and 258lb ft at 2500rpm, which sends it from 0-62mph in 5.7sec.
The Renault's 2.0-litre turbo engine produces 247bhp and 251lb ft. That's sufficient for 0-62mph in 6.1sec - although the lighter Renault is quicker to 100mph.
The Ford is the big-hitter, with a 2.5-litre, five-cylinder turbo thumping out 300bhp and 324lb ft.
Golf versus the rest
In the real world, the Golf initially feels comprehensively outclassed for pure acceleration. The Megane drops the VW without trying very hard at all, and during an impromptu 20-100mph blast at the test track there is nothing between the Renault and Ford.
Yet, out on normal roads, the more regular the circumstances the more the Golf R starts to make sense. It isn't trying to emulate the Focus or Megane, and the overall impression from the cabin is that this is a high-quality, not especially thrusting kind of car.
When you pull away, the gap grows wider. The Golf R has a smoother, better ride quality than the RS, and its smaller tyres generate less road rumble. The same is true of the Renault, whose ride is calmer but noisier than the Ford's, but nowhere near as soothing as the VW's.
What isn't so good on the Golf is the vague gearchange and soft, unconnected feel of the clutch. You'd be wise to obliterate those issues by paying the £1305 and ticking the DSG box.
The Golf R is predictable and extremely mature in the way it handles, but also a touch on the ordinary side - odd, considering how incisive the Scirocco R is on the road.
The Ford and Renault are singing from an entirely different hymn sheet. They are designed to intentionally singe your fingers from time to time and be much more exciting company as a result.
Which is better between the Ford and Renault? The gap is so small you can only just see daylight on the other side - factor in Renault's price advantage and it almost becomes too close to call.
But be in no doubt, when the great road opens out before you, the RS delivers the biggest thump of adrenalin. It remains supreme among mega-hatchbacks when it comes to pure driving thrills.
Read the full article in this week's Autocar magazine, on sale now.
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