Check out the stats below. Nothing out of the ordinary, that’s clear. Taking the subtle hint in the post’s title can you guess which car I’m talking about?
1.6 litre fuel injected engine (normally aspirated) producing just under 120bhp and almost 150NM of torque.
Front engined with front wheel drive.
0-60 time of just under 9 seconds.
Weight : 1000kg.
Wheelbase : 2.4 metres.
Length : 3.7 metres.
Track : Just under 1.7 metres.
Suspension : McPherson’s up front with semi independent springs at the rear.
Transmission : 5 speed manual ‘box
Top marks to anyone thinking of a mark 1 Golf GTi. I would be seriously impressed, no, gobsmacked if a single person even fleetingly thought of the 2007 Suzuki Swift Sport. Yet the above specs apply equally to both cars. 32 years and a host of other differences separate the two models but the performance and handling (surely what matters most in a Hot Hatch) are remarkably similar. Having driven (and enjoyed driving) both it’s really only the look and the badge that would make me plump for the 40 year old. Any truly objective comparison would put the Swift on top.
The birth of this sub genre of tabasco tinged hatches is hotly disputed. VW may still claim to have invented it but Autobianchi and Fiat (with their Abarth tuning branch) and Renault (with it’s distinctive Gordini stripes) all beg to differ. The Golf was however first to get all the pieces right (looks, performance, handling and affordability) in car that still looks pin sharp and with it’s tartan interior is still as desirable as ever.
I’m certainly not alone in admiring this car and it being exactly the same age as myself has always made me feel a certain affinity towards it. That said would it even be described as a warm hatch were it launched today? Sure it was light and nimble but it barely scratching under 10 seconds to reach 100kph no longer cuts any mustard. Heritage might count for a lot but if I could only have one Hot Hatch I think it would need a shedload more to make up for it’s leisurely performance.
I’ve often thought about this and while VW have honed their offering over the decades (300hp now available from their R model) they have always had a sober side. Clever thinking on their part I’m sure as the car can be driven without a baseball cap on the wrong way round. Surely though a Hot hatch (especially if you can only have one) needs a certain degree of lairiness? I’m not suggesting you need to go as far as a frozen green Focus RS but it needs to be special.
Ford have been making fast versions of their standard fare for much longer than VW. Initially they just weren’t hatchbacks. Icons like the Escort RS and Mexico laid the foundations for their reputation for producing fast affordable cars. I love these early “coke bottle” 2 door saloons but some of the later fast Fords are just a bit too shouty for me.
It might be a little left field but it was the boffins in Billancourt, who in my opinion got it just right. The gorgeous little Renault 5 was first souped up before even the Golf. In English speaking markets it was called the Gordini and on the continent the Alpine. Power was a little north of 90hp and it could pretty much hold it’s own with the Golf which was quite a bit heavier. This model, although very desirable is not the object of this post. In 1980 (to comply with those convoluted and frankly ridiculous rallying rules) Renault took their little slice of motoring heaven and replaced the rear seating accommodation with a turbo charged 1.4. This furnished the rear wheels with a whopping 160hp. They stapled two of the biggest, blockiest air vents you have ever seen where more boring manufacturer’s were foolishly putting 2 extra doors. 4 beautifully forged dished and staggered alloys. Wider and 1″ more diameter at the rear. It looked more than brilliant. Aggressive but not brash. Chunky yet retaining a visual and actual lightness. 60 comes up in under 7 seconds and over 120 MPH was achievable. These are still more than respectable figures today. Apparently you didn’t need the skills of Senna to enjoy it either. It was also the harbinger for the even more bonkers mid engined Clio V6’s of the late nineties and noughties.
There you have it. My vote for the ultimate Hot Hatch goes to a 36 year old French car with only 2 seats, a ludicrous interior and a propensity for going on fire.