Car Buyers' Guide: Hot hatchbacks
The hot hatch has been around for a while now. Over the years the main players in the market might have changed but the thinking behind a hatchback remains the same.
These small, compact cars are surprisingly powerful and fun to drive. If you’re in the city, they’re extremely practical and they’re generally great, safe cars.
The added features on hatchbacks can often go unnoticed. Sometimes the extra badge on a vehicle — i.e. Honda and its Type R badge — may be the only small sign of change. But there’s certainly a lot more than you may initially expect. Having the additional badge often means larger brakes, lower profiles, faster acceleration and improved performance for certain models of car, which means you end up getting quite a lot from such a small, compact car.
The Ford brand has been synonymous with performance cars. The 1960s brought us the Ford Galaxy, while the 70s were all about the Escort RS. The carmaker still continues its racing heritage in 2016 with the Ford Focus RS — a hot hatch that can accelerate from 0-100km/h in just 4.6 seconds. The power behind this car is delivered from its turbo-charged, 2.3L engine, and its competent four-wheel drive and traction-control systems ensure the delivery of power is safe.
The RS was developed with input from Ken Block — a world-famous stunt and rally driver usually spotted drifting around cities in his rally-spec Ford Fiesta.
But it’s not all about what’s going on under the bonnet, there are also plenty of features in the cabin too. They include thick, bolstered, racing Recaro seats, available in a mix of cloth and leather as standard. The seats hug your handles when you’re turning corners but they’ll probably be a little uncomfortable on longer drives.
Small racing touches such as the rear spoiler adorn this hatch from top to bottom.
The Mercedes Benz AMG A45 is a fairly new kid on the block and has a role in the rapidly evolving brand. This hot hatch with its electronically-controlled growling exhaust appeals to those who like to be heard on the road. It allows you to alter the sound from the cockpit — something we haven’t really seen much of.
The small 1991cc engine delivers a surprising power output of 280kW, reaching 100km/h in 4.2 seconds. This is achieved by its familiar twin scroll, turbo setup, which is directed through its 4Matic, four-wheel drive system. The gearbox has dual clutch transmission and comfortably works well even at lower speeds. It can still shoot through the gears when accelerating in race mode with some backfire from the exhaust. Race+ driving mode is more suited to the track and we wouldn’t recommend using it between the lights or your rpm will soar, along with your fuel bill. Thankfully its cross-drilled brakes with sparkling red calipers provide excellent stopping power.
But it’s not all about speed. The AMG ride control with adaptive dampers allows you to drive around town without bouncing out of your seat, and the lane-keep assist is a safety feature designed to alert you when the system detects the vehicle is about to deviate from a traffic lane.
There are numerous performance models being released in the New Zealand market but few combine this with practicality and the latest safety features of an inner city hatch.
Have you been contemplating a sensible hatchback when really you long for something with more flare and excitement? We’d recommend taking a hot hatch out for a test drive — you may just be pleasantly surprised.