Five of the last true hot hatches
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We celebrate the achievable hot hatch in today's Thursday Five
Nobody gets into journalism to be popular. I imagine that if I wasn’t at this desk, tapping away with these fingers, I’d be populating some other job reserved for society’s square pegs. A highschool janitor or a clown for kids parties, perhaps.
It’s with this in mind that I concede that this article probably won’t win me any popularity contests.
The hot hatch is dead.
Well, it’s at least on life support, flailing in a lonely hospital ward as it snatches each of its last breaths.
I will concede that drivers these days are spoiled for choice when it comes to hatch back pocket rockets that are capable of big performance. The new Honda Civic Type R, Golf GTi and Golf R, Ford Focus ST and RS, Holden Astra VXR, Mini Cooper S, BMW M135i, Fiat 500 Abarth, and Renault Megane / Clio duo are all stellar machines capable of stellar things.
But there’s a problem.
At the dawn of time when the almighty granted us life, food, water, and hot hatches, the latter’s purpose was simple. Fun.
The original Golf and 205 GTis kicked things off in remarkable fashion, both quickly helping establish a new breed of a car. A format that one could drive to the shops and use to drop the kids off at school, but could also use to utterly annihilate any B-road you could find. They were peppy, rev-happy, and personify the hot hatch legend in being engineered purely for driver satisfaction.
In their endless crusade for quicker speeds, higher G, and Nürburgring supremacy, most of the current crop has let go of this idea, and thus due to all their techno whizzbang additives have priced themselves out of the reach of real people living in real jobs. However, there are a few glimmers of hope that remain for those wanting entry-level performance thrills — they’re our Thursday Five.
Holden Barina RS
Photo / Holden
While it might not be the most charismatic car in the bunch to drive, there are certainly plenty of positives to the Holden Barina RS.
For one, I think it looks fantastic, with its bloodshot eyes, chiseled jaw-line, and chrome trim. It’s also got plenty of improved performance kit over a run-of-the-mill Barina to support its turbocharged 1.4-litre propulsion unit.
But by far and away the best thing about the RS is its price, which starts at a humble $26,450 — making it, in my eyes, the cheapest four-door hot hatch on the market today.
Volkswagen Polo GTi
Photo / Volkswagen
Take away the red highlights and flashy wheels, and Joe Punter would have a very hard time separating the Volkswagen Polo GTi from any other Polo.
But where the Polo GTi lacks in precious oomph outside, it has it in abundance inside. The 1.8-litre engine has a supporting cast that consists of a turbo, sports suspension, and a teeny tiny footprint allowing for maximum maneuverability. 0-100kph is over in a mere 6.7 seconds, and if you keep going you’ll eventually hit 236kph.
Priced at $35,990, it’s a great, reasonably achievable proposition for the aspiring hatchist. I just wished it flaunted the fact a little more.
Peugeot 208 GTi
Photo / Peugeot
History shows that the ‘GTi’ badge has been dusted off several times over the 32 years that have elapsed since the original Peugeot 205 GTi first excitedly charged off the production line. But it seems to be most at home on the new 208 GTi.
The 208 has been praised for more than able handling, and acceleration to match.
The 208 also retains a certain amount of French quirk, with the iconic GT-I badge returning to the C pillar, and a striking (yet pleasant) interior that oozes quality.
Priced a nip under 40k, the 208 GTi scrapes into this list by the skin of its teeth, thanks largely to its undoubtable charm.
Ford Fiesta ST
Photo / Ford
You simply cannot write a list about contemporary hot hatches and not include the Ford Fiesta ST.
While we harp on and on about the 205 GTi and Golf GTi of old, the Fiesta ST is the car on the market most likely to supersede the old school to become a platform that people reminisce about in a few decades. It is lightning quick, both in a straight line and through the curly stuff — but you already know this. It is after all an industry favourite.
While the Barina RS is an effectively priced toe-dip to performance, the Fiesta is a true track-day warrior on Sunday, daily driver on Monday — all for less than $35,000.
Suzuki Swift Sport
Photo / Suzuki
The few people who know me will know that I own one of these things. And the unfortunate ones among the few who are mates of mine will know that I never shut up about it.
It’s not perfect by any means. Most superminis will have a more commodious boot and fifth seat, its fuel consumption isn’t exactly class-leading, and by no means is it fast in a straight line.
However, in every other regard, it is the best embodiment of what a hot hatch should be — and as such, is the best modern interpretation of the hallowed heroes Volkswagen and Peugeot produced back in the day.
The steering, though a little numb, is direct and compliant. The suspension is the perfect balance of B-road firm and daily driven soft. Its naturally aspirated 1.6 craves a rev, with the six-speed transmission more than happy to be shoved every which way. Above all else, it is fun. Thanks to its livability, maybe more fun than the track-ready Fiesta?
While the four-door variant is priced a smidge over the Barina RS, the ‘SSS’ is twice the car — a complete hot hatch for base-model Corolla money.
I might be biased on the matter, but I'm also right.