Pint-sized performance cars – seventeen iconic hot hatches

2019 /2018 Tony Baker and James Mann with Drive-My

Seventeen iconic hot hatches lock horns in our giant shootout. Pint-sized performance DRIVE-MY puts the hottest hatchbacks through their paces, but which is best? Peugeot 205, VW Golf & Escort XR3i face their gifted offspring. The sports car reinvented. The hot hatch brought practical, affordable performance to the masses. Ross Alkureshi gathers 17 greats of the genre together for the very first time and picks the best. Photography Tony Baker/James Mann.


Hot hatches have sizzled in recent years. Pick up a magazine and invariably there will be a feature on one. Turn on the TV and a cheeky chap will show you how to earn your fortune by buying an unloved one, giving it the briefest of fettles and then selling it on. Attend an auction, and marvel at the heady prices – how about £38,480 for a perfect 205 GTI?

VW Golf GTI mkI vs. Alfa Romeo Alfasud Ti 1.3, Ford Escort XR3i, Vauxhall Astra GTE Mk1, Fiat Strada Abarth 130TC, VW Golf GTI 16V MKII, Renault 5 GT Turbo, Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9, MG Maestro Turbo, Volkswagen Golf VR6 MKIII, Renault Clio Williams, Peugeot 306 GTI-6, Honda Civic Type R, Ford Focus RS Mk1, Alfa Romeo 147 GTA, Renault Clio 182 Trophy, Renault Mégane R26R

VW Golf GTI mkI vs. Alfa Romeo Alfasud Ti 1.3, Ford Escort XR3i, Vauxhall Astra GTE Mk1, Fiat Strada Abarth 130TC, VW Golf GTI 16V MKII, Renault 5 GT Turbo, Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9, MG Maestro Turbo, Volkswagen Golf VR6 MKIII, Renault Clio Williams, Peugeot 306 GTI-6, Honda Civic Type R, Ford Focus RS Mk1, Alfa Romeo 147 GTA, Renault Clio 182 Trophy, Renault Mégane R26R

In most cases, there’s a constant, those usual suspects: Volkswagen Golf GTI, the aforementioned Peugeot, Renault 5 GT turbo. And yet the sheer scope of the hot-hatch back catalogue is surely greater than the sum of its current in-vogue 1970s and ’80s parts. Therefore, to find an ultimate winner, we’ve cast our net wide and included some of the lesser-known of the species, other old-school warriors, the true pioneers and a few fairly hardcore younger bucks.

Of course, our journey on the hatchback’s evolution from cold to hot – from practical family runabout, through affordable sports car replacement, to high-performance warrior on road and track – starts thus: ‘In the beginning, there was the Volkswagen Golf GTI…’

…well, actually, no. Simca produced its sporty 1204 Special in June 1970, and Abarth had fiddled with the Autobianchi A112 even earlier, yet it was the 1976 arrival of the Golf GTI that set the front-wheel-drive, transverse-engined, fuel-injected template and changed the game.

Giugiaro’s iconic outline was endowed with subtly steroidal aggression via the addition of a front bib spoiler, wheelarch extensions, side stripes and alloy wheels. Trendy interior cloth lifted the well-built and smart but otherwise black cabin. Its 1.6-litre fuel-injected four-pot engine produced 110bhp, thrusting the lightweight (872kg) hatchback from 0-60mph in 9 secs. This fast, stylish and desirable family car responded beautifully to being pushed hard.

To drive one, even four decades later, is a revelation. Graham Welch’s stunning Mk1 – a later 112bhp 1.8 – is a joy. The engine is smooth and punchy, yet remarkably flexible. The light clutch and five-speed ’box (from ’1979) ensure both speed through ratios and long-legged cruising.

Its agile chassis, allied to precise steering, allows you to barrel ever harder through corners – no wonder it would harry many a supercar along a B-road when it was new. Back in town, and the terrier persona disappears to leave a docile and practical workhorse. It’s still easy to see how this car came to define a genre, and why Volkswagen shifted so many – just shy of half a million of them in Mk1 form alone. Despite early models preceding the Golf, it would be a full decade before Alfa Romeo’s Alfasud gained another door to join the hatchback fray. In sporting twin-carb Ti form the diminutive southern Italian was available with 86bhp 1.3- or 95bhp 1.5-litre engines.

Visually, Tony Gould’s 1.3 is less well resolved than the GTI: its addenda try a little harder to add pizzazz to a relatively unremarkable profile. The cabin is a pleasant place to be, but front-drive and a flat-four engine were anathema to seasoned Alfisti – yet spark it up, get motoring and you quickly find out that this overlooked little Alfa is a real charmer. The engine spins freely and is mated to an excellent gearbox, while the ride is well mannered. Acceleration won’t melt the tarmac, but this tyke grips the road beautifully. Be it tight, low-speed bends, hairpins or long sweepers, all are dispatched with nonchalant ease as the ’Sud zips through, hungrily looking for the next challenge.

I now understand why people who’ve owned one of these have such affection for them; that’s tempered by their propensity to rot, of course, which makes this example a true survivor. Cometh the new decade, and cometh the other big guns, with Ford’s first crack being the Mk3 Escort-based 1981 XR3 – a dynamically compromised disappointment. The XR3i, developed by Special Vehicle Engineering, arrived the following year with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection. The 1.6-litre CVH unit’s power output rose by 7bhp, to 105bhp, but a revised suspension set-up now made this front-wheel-drive warrior a stronger competitor.

Phil Haywood’s mint Sunburst Red example warms your cockles on this overcast day. Inside, it’s blue collar in feel with pale-grey velour abounding, and lower-quality plastics. It’s the same story with how it performs; the engine is more civilised than its previous incarnation, but still no sophisticate at the top of the rev range. The exhaust, though, emits a lovely hard rasp, and straight-line performance is on a par with the GTI – marginally slower in a sprint, with a higher maximum – but it can’t match its poise and pace on B-roads. At £6278, however, against the VW’s £6500, it grabbed a large market share for the Blue Oval. It did gain a negative 1980s ‘boy racer’ image, but has shed that, to once again appear sharp and full of purpose.

Vauxhall had underwhelmed so far in the fight, its Astra SR falling well behind the pace being set. Cue the 1983 GTE variant, this time with the Cavalier SRI’s 1.8-litre engine under the bonnet. With 115bhp and 111lb ft torque, it could now raise its fists expectantly.

By this point, the hot hatch styling school was de rigueur, and its spoilers, sill extensions, alloys and decals imbued the boxy Astra with a spirited aesthetic – especially in the all-white of this Vauxhall Heritage Collection car. It’s decidedly roomy inside but, like the Ford, it feels fairly basic. The handling is sweeter than the XR3i, however, with a poise that remains unruffled even at the ragged edge. Never nervous, the steering allows you to guide it faithfully and you’re thankful of the supportive Recaro sports seats as you persuade it to kick up a rear tyre. Performance is now on a par with the competition, so is the Lutonian better than the Golf?

No, it isn’t. Despite being an accomplished package, it lacks the VW’s mid-range urge and, like all other pretenders to the crown, that car’s solidity and all-round competence. However, we’re only talking by a matter of degrees.

At launch, our second Italian offering risked being dismissed as a dinosaur. Dispensing with en vogue fuel injection, Fiat strapped a pair of side-draught twin-choke Weber 40DCOE carburettors to its venerable Aurelio Lampredi-designed twin-cam – in 2-litre form, à la 131 Mirafiori – then shoehorned it under the bonnet of the Fiat Strada Abarth 130TC. A five-speed ZF gearbox, stiffer suspension and – again – Recaros completed the picture. The result was 0-60mph in 7.7 secs, 118mph, and the bragging rights as ‘fastest hot hatch’.

Gill Hague’s car remains a seriously entertaining ruffian to drive. The blaring engine note is the antithesis to its more subdued-sounding injected competitors – move over lads, Italian stallion coming through. You lose the low-down efficiency of delivery, but get above 2000rpm and its 130lb ft of torque pulls seamlessly. The ZF gearbox is hard graft for town work, as is the steering, and where the Golf GTI and Alfasud are nimble dancers, the Abarth bullies its way into, through and out of corners.

Despite that class-leading performance, not many were sold in the UK. Its somewhat harsh ride made it better suited to the role of weekend warrior – less of a consideration today.

Volkswagen’s second stab at the Golf GTI was a bit underwhelming. The in-house stylists certainly employed their conservative pens. Worse was to come, because the Mk2 was distinctly lardier but shared its predecessor’s engine so, despite an improved aerodynamic Cd (0.34 against 0.40), it was slower. With the war heating up, something had to be done.

The result was the 16-valve twin-cam motor – a conversion of the sohc unit – and at once it was the great redeemer for Wolfsburg. Power rose to a heady 139bhp, with torque at 124lb ft, but most importantly the 0-60mph dash was now covered in a scorching 7.5 secs.

Mark John’s 16v is discretion personified – even a bit bland. Inside it’s more grown-up, too, with electric windows and central locking. As expected, the drive is more refined, up to a point… because get above 4000rpm and its inner hooligan is released. The steering is lovely and meaty and, with a stiffer ride than the Mk1, the handling is a particular high point with immense grip and complete predictability, no matter how hard you provoke it. Visually the Mk2 16v might be more of a sleeper than its predecessor, but it’s certainly lost none of its innate spirit.

Renault has a history of small, fast cars, and the 1972 R5 built on that reputation with the Gordini and Gordini Turbo, yet it truly came of age in hot-hatch terms after the arrival of the 1984 Supercinq. Its humble Cléon-Fonte engine – pushrods, rockers and all – dated back to 1962, so surely this wasn’t the future? But it was. Bored out to 1397cc, with a 7.9:1 compression ratio and fitted with a Garrett T2 turbocharger, an air-to-air intercooler and a Solex 32DIS carburettor, it produced 118bhp and 122lb ft torque. Much of a muchness in then-current company, but the Supercinq weighed in at a waif-like 820kg.

The result, as this car – the first of four from Renault UK’s Heritage Collection – shows, is a flyer. Nail the throttle and there’s perceptible lag before the engine pumps out torque like a Soda Stream. It transforms the R5 into a turbo rollerskate, particularly in the mid-range – from 40-60mph it was just 0.1 secs slower than a Ferrari 308! There’s no let-up in bends, either, when the modified chassis clings on tightly. Yes, it feels as if it was fashioned from a biscuit tin, the interior is plasticky and build quality iffy, but no doubt about it: there’s a new king in town.

Or there would have been, if it weren’t for that pesky 205 GTI. Peugeot’s 1.6-litre version had already appeared, and set new standards in terms of handling. It helped, too, that the design was fresh and of the decade, with a sleek appearance – purposeful at the front, cheeky behind. Oomph came from an injected, all-alloy 1580cc four-cylinder engine, giving 105bhp.

To counter the GT turbo, Peugeot slotted in a 1.9-litre lump. The only identifiers of that on Mark Fincham’s car are badges on the C-pillars and different alloy wheels. Wind it up and, even with 130bhp, it’s still not in the R5’s class – slower to 60mph by 0.7 secs – but if ever a car proved that performance stats aren’t everything, this is it. The steering pulsates with feedback and it’s a sinuous, agile delight to drive; combined with the powerplant’s free-revving nature and the 1.9’s bombastic exhaust note, it spurs you on to push to its limits. That’s something many did, finding themselves doing David Bellamy impressions in the undergrowth. The 205 GTI outsold its Régie rival by more than two to one, though, and that’s the ultimate compliment. Despite having tenacious roadholding, MG’s MetroTurbo was hamstrung by the power limits of its gearbox. No such worries for its big brother, the Maestro Turbo. Produced from 1988-’1989, with just 505 cars built, it inherited the Montego Turbo’s 2-litre O-series engine with intercooled Garrett T3 turbocharger.

Peter Cooper’s example reminds you just how unsubtle the Tickford-designed bodykit was: there’s little grace, its uncouth bulkiness having one job and that’s to scream machismo. Your first few attempts at tearing down the road instead see you squirting all over it, as the front wheels struggle to contain 169lb ft of torque. Regulate the twitchiness in your right boot when you unleash the whistling maelstrom, however, and matters turn vivid as it breaks the 7 secs 0-60mph barrier by 0.3 secs. Handling is pretty good – understeer being its go-to trait – even if the light steering is lacking a little in communication. Onrelease, its chiselled looks were out of step and build quality was dicey, but there was no arguing with the sheer vigour of its out-of-the-box straight-line performance, which wrestled the sprint title from the R5. Still, at £12,999, it’d have taken a brave – or patriotic – person to buy one over the identically priced Golf GTI 16v.

VW’s Mk3 GTI was a non-event, however – turgid in style and handling, and average in performance. Germany has never been renowned for its cricket, but in ’1992 the Teutonic behemoth threw a googly by squeezing the Corrado’s 2.8-litre V6 under the bonnet of the Mk3 GTI. Incredibly, the compact dimensions of the narrow-angle unit allowed it to be fitted transversely. Suspension was beefed up to account for the extra weight in the nose, and it was endowed with ABS and traction control. Mark Toft’s VR6 has lost the snap of the Mk1’s outline, but inside it’s fully loaded. The V6 is silken, with a deep-set growl above 4000rpm, and it’s aided by a tactile gearchange and incisive brakes. The ride is stiff, at odds with the luxurious cabin, and despite the additional mass up front it corners relatively flat. But this Golf is at its best at motorway speeds, where cruising is blissful and it hard-charges past dawdlers. Did the VR6 move the game forward like the original GTI? No. It did herald a market splinter, though, with its more mature power unit producing the first hot hatch GT.

With the ’90s hatchback space race in full flow, Renault’s next offering was a giant leap in terms of development. No longer would a warming-over be sufficient: now it was time to re-engineer, or become redundant. Developed by Renault Sport, the Clio’s 16-valve unit was first bored out to 2 litres with new internals including crankshaft, pistons and conrods. Likewise the suspension was comprehensively improved, and a close-ratio gearbox fitted.

Subtle ‘Williams’ badges were added to the discreet yet purposeful styling, but the moniker had nothing to do with development and everything to do with the marketing department milking the Renault-backed F1 team’s success.

It remains modern-looking but diminutive by today’s standards. The controls are light, and its inherent agility is clear even at low speeds. The real surprise is just how much torque is available, yet level the throttle and it surges on the revs. With a sub-1000kg fighting weight and 129lb ft to play with, acceleration is strong rather than epic, but there’s fluidity to all of the Clio’s movements with the chassis responding dextrously to driver inputs. Having stepped out of the VR6, it’s akin to changing from clogs to ballet pumps. The 306’s ‘GTI-6’ badge seemed to hint at a V6-powered Peugeot hot hatch, but those soaring expectations were quashed as punters realised that it related to a six-speed gearbox – a first in the hatchback class. Any misgivings are dispelled the moment you start driving, however.

This is a seminal moment in the history of the genre: after the delicacy of the Clio Williams, the GTI-6 marks the point where they began to morph into road-burning chargers.

It’s all down to the tight ratios in the Motorsport Division-developed gearbox; with sixth essentially an overdrive, the remaining cogs allow you to rifle-bolt through to the 167bhp 2-litre engine’s 7200rpm redline. Power comes hurtling in at 3000rpm and the 16-valve unit sounds gloriously hard-edged, but the real deal here is how close it comes to matching that ghost of Peugeot past, the 205. Despite newfangled power-assisted steering, the weighting is spoton, allowing you to explore the firm’s best chassis since its exalted game-changer to the full.

The only indicator of potency is the badge on its rump. After the vagaries of the past – theft, joyriding and rocketing insurance premiums – for the hot hatch, subtlety was now king. There had been decent Japanese offerings before, but none were quite as well resolved as the new millennium’s Honda Civic Type R. The surprise is that it took so long for an Oriental model to master the medium. With no sixth-gen ‘EK’ here in Blighty, we had to wait for the Swindon-built ‘EP3’. That meant making do with just 197bhp at a nosebleed-inducing 7400rpm, a six-speed manual ’box, and 0-60mph in 6.7 secs. The ‘breadvan’ styling is a touch heavy around the rear, but lifted by numerous Katakana-style ‘Type R’ badges and decals. That continues inside, in an interior far removed from bland 1980s and ’90s Japanese offerings.

Stars of the show are the 1998cc VTEC power unit, which shrieks happily to 8000rpm, and a six-speed gearbox – operated via a cheeky, canted miniature gearlever – that’s a tactile pleasure to use. Handling is up to scratch, too, as are the brakes, but it’s a car that begs to have its proverbials revved off – and it would be rude not to.

This Honda UK Heritage fleet car wouldn’t look out of place on the road today… and they don’t – over five years of production more than 35,000 were sold, and Honda reliability means that many are still in use as daily drivers.

Ford’s offerings in this market had underwhelmed – certainly considering its earlier rear-drive prowess. The Focus RS, however, propelled it to the very top of the class. Thanks to forged pistons, a Garrett turbocharger and a sports exhaust, among other tweaks, its Duratec 2-litre put out 212bhp. To handle that power, Ford and Tickford Engineering incorporated a Quaife limited-slip diff.

Daniel Timms’ car shows what 18in OZ alloys plus a few bulges, spoilers and vents in the right places can do to lift relatively bland lines. You could have any colour, as long as you were partial to Imperial Blue, and the two-tone interior is a little garish, but forgivable.

Some cars are effortless to guide – Mk1 Golf, 205 GTI, Clio Williams – but the RS isn’t: it’s a bruiser. There’s grip aplenty, but tuck its nose in tight and hard under speed and you can feel that diff earning its pennies, as the front end bucks and bobs. Hold your nerve, though, and when the road straightens it powers away. Exhilarating, practical and built in limited numbers, it’s a proper hooligan in the old-school Ford mould.

Remember the Bisto television advert? Well, engage ears rather than nose and say after me: “Aaaaah, Busso.” That’s what you’ll do each time you fire up the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA and hear its deep V6 burble. Forgoing the standard turbocharged four-pot formula, the 156 GTA’s 3.2-litre V6 – the legendary Giuseppe Busso-designed unit – was audaciously squeezed into the chic 147’s engine bay. Hot-hatch attitude came from the addition of deep front and rear spoilers, a variety of air intakes and 17in alloys.

The result, as Gordon Wong’s example proves, is the best-sounding car here, and quite possibly in this genre – ever – as well as one of the finest-looking. With 246bhp, it’s a front tyre- shredding beast; be injudicious with the throttle and there’s torque-steer aplenty, but get the balance right and this Italian tenor sings gloriously as it keeps pace with its Focus rival.

On straights that is, for in standard guise the steering lacks the sheer level of feel of its Ford rival, and the ability to fully harness all of that power – a different matter here, with an aftermarket Quaife Q2 limited-slip differential.

Whereas the Golf VR6 is only a borderline hot hatch, with the glorious Alfa – V6 and all – there’s simply no argument.

By this time, Renault was a repeat offender, with a conveyor belt continuing to unleash scorching shopping trolleys onto the buying public. Following quickly on the heels of its 172 and revered 182 Cup, came the Trophy 182.

In came costly Sachs Race Engineering dampers, shorter front springs for a 10mm-lower ride height, and a larger rear spoiler filched from the Clio V6. Its paintwork was Capsicum Red, the alloy wheels dark grey, and inside were Recaro seats and build plaque à la Clio Williams. Performance remained as per the Cup, with a 0-60mph time of 6.8 secs and a top speed of 140mph.

For a car that appeared in 2005, it comes the closest in essence to the driving experiences offered by the best first-generation hot hatches. Its low centre of mass is tightly planted to the road surface, yet the ride remains compliant. It’s a glorious, responsive and raging reminder of how the small hot hatch used to be, only ramped up further with more power – it’ll even kick up a rear tyre under heavy provocation. Today it’s a bit of a bargain buzzbox… was it the last of a dying breed? Our next car may answer that. With the Mégane R26R, Renault went hardcore.

Chasing the modern obsession for all-out Nürburgring lap-time honours, its R26 bodyshell was stripped to jettison 123kg (for a 1230kg total) and make its already svelte predecessor look as if it ate all the pies. In came race seats, carbonfibre bonnet, Perspex rear windows, a rear rollcage, harnesses, track suspension and optional Toyo track tyres. Underneath there was the same 227bhp four-cylinder turbo 2-litre, six-speed ’box and limited-slip differential.

The Mégane’s ‘bubble-butt’ lines have always been a bit Marmite, but are presented best here. Cabin practicality is negligible, yet the ride is surprisingly civil. Then you nail the throttle; there’s no lag, the noise a wild metallic race-car scream as you short-shift through the cogs and those front wheels subdue the asphalt to sprint from 0-60mph in less than 6 secs. It deals with changes of direction with alacrity – the road equivalent of a skeleton bobsled on the Cresta Run – and stops just as quickly, too.

And what of that ’Ring time, you ask? The R26R made history by securing the title of fastest- ever lap by a front-drive car.

I hold my hands up for earlier calling out the ‘usual suspects’ – there’s a reason they remain the star turns. As our gathered cars demonstrate, however, there’s true depth to the hot hatch family tree: many of the rivals are a short step from greatness, and that’s where the bargains lie. So which is the winner? For sheer driving pleasure and charisma it has to be the Peugeot 205 GTI. The Germans may have defined the genre, but the French perfected it. Which would I buy today? A Clio Williams, 306 GTI-6 or Clio Trophy would definitely tempt me.

Thanks to Alfa Romeo OC (; Renault (; Mk1 Golf OC (; XROC (, Vauxhall Heritage (vauxhall.; Fiat MC (; Pug1off (; Maestro & Montego OC (; Peugeot Sport Club (pscuk. net); The Phirm (; Honda (honda.; Assoc of British VW Clubs (; John Daniel, Steve Neil and all of the owners


Not so hot: hatchet jobs


This cynical 1983 collaboration between Nissan and Alfa Romeo featured the Cherry’s econobox body combined with the by-then rather aged Alfasud drivetrain. The 1490cc Ti engine with twin-choke carbs pushing out 95bhp was sprightly enough, but hot hatch performance had moved on. The steering was feelsome, but the ’Sud suspension was only partly carried over so handling was as uninspiring as that of its Japanese sibling.


This one is controversial, because it still performed and was built better than many rivals. But compared to the Mk1 and Mk2, the Mk3 was a gargantuan disappointment. At 1032kg, middle-age spread had set in with the sharp lines of the original replaced in ’92 by an altogether flabbier aesthetic. The 2-litre engine delivered an underwhelming 115bhp, while it was safer and more refined than before – both hot-hatch no-goes.


Up against French firebrands and glorious Germans, in 1981 the Blue Oval released a crisply styled offering. Sadly, the illusion was shattered from behind the wheel as the crude 1.6-litre CVH motor thrashed through just four gears to the top of its rev range, and a dull chassis combined with indecisive steering to deliver an experience with all the sparkle of a bottle of fizz opened a month ago – all show, and compromised go.


For a few dollars less: bargain fun


The GTti broke new hot-hatch ground with its sophisticated 993cc, 12-valve, twin-cam turbo triple. Kicking out 99bhp, it pulled the 800kg Japanese supermini from 0-60mph in just 7.7 secs. Rack-and-pinion steering combined with an accomplished chassis to give inspired handling to go with its frantic power delivery. Motor Sport was impressed in September 1987, calling it ‘a jolly little car and one of very notable performance’.


Its all-alloy 1.4-litre engine only had a puny 85bhp, but this 1987 gem’s low kerb-weight meant an impressive 99bhp per tonne.

Unconvincing build quality, a lack of solidity and lots of noise at speed were offset by a 0-60mph time of 9.2 secs, punchy mid-range acceleration and a 110mph maximum. Better still were cheap insurance and nimble, fun handling. Fuel injection (from 1991) upped power to 100bhp, turning it into a GTi.


The ‘breadvan’-styled Cloverleaf eschewed the standard car’s flat-four in favour of the 155’s 2-litre Twin Spark, transforming it into a modern successor to the Alfasud. A punchy torque curve made this 1995 three door a straight-line hoot, with the sharp-shifting five-speed ’box a joy; new steering and suspension made it a grippy, precise and compact performer that squared up to contemporaries such as Peugeot’s 306 GTI-6.


Extreme hatches


Any of the Group B homologation monsters could appear here, from Peugeot 205 T16 to Lancia Delta S4, but in 1984 Austin Rover Motorsport created the greatest juxtaposition with this crazy take on your grandparents’ Mini Metro. With a 3-litre V6 sitting in the rear of a space-frame chassis, coupled with four-wheel drive, even in basic 250bhp ‘Clubman’ spec it was wild at heart.


A monstrous bonnet scoop and huge rear spoiler betray Nissan’s furious Group A WRC special. A 227bhp turbo 2-litre, four-wheel drive and a close-ratio ’box made the 1990 Sunny a fire-breather; it should have been a rally success, but a lack of competitiveness and reliability led to the programme being canned the week the UK road car arrived.


La Régie had previously shoehorned an engine into the back of a hatch. In the spirit of that R5 Turbo, in 2001 a Laguna-sourced V6 was tweaked up to 230bhp and mounted amidships in the Clio. A wider track, steroid-injected body and 17in OZ alloys completed the devilish package. The facelift Mk2 had 255bhp and easier-to-tame handling.


Tech and photos


Sold/number built 1975-’1983/461,690

Engine sohc 1781cc ‘four’;

Power 112bhp @ 5800rpm / DIN

Torque 109lb ft @ 3500rpm / DIN

Transmission five-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear trailing arms, torsion beam axle

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes vented discs/drums

Weight 1921lb (872kg)

0-60mph 8.3 secs

Top speed 114mph

VW Golf GTI MkI road test

VW Golf GTI MkI road test. Clockwise: GTI tweaks add aggression to Giugiaro’s clean shape; Bosch-injected 1.8-litre replaced 1.6 in ’1982; solid, rational interior with famed ‘golfball’ gearknob.


Sold/number built 1974-’1984/185,738 (all Ti variants)

Engine dohc 1350cc flat-four;

Power 86bhp @ 5800rpm / DIN

Torque 88lb ft @ 3500rpm / DIN

Transmission five-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear torsion beam axle, Watt linkage, Panhard rod

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes discs/drums

Weight 1907lb (865kg)

0-60mph 11.9 secs

Top speed 102mph

Alfa Romeo Alfasud Ti 1.3

Alfa Romeo Alfasud Ti 1.3 Clockwise: second-series Alfasud is chunky, with plenty of ’80s matt-black trim; tiny 1.3-litre flat-four loves to rev; cabin feels sporty but flimsy.


Sold/number built 1982-’1986/na

Engine sohc 1596cc ‘four’;

Power 105bhp @ 6000rpm / DIN

Torque 101lb ft @ 4800rpm / DIN

Transmission five-speed manual, FWD

Suspension MacPherson struts f/r

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes ventilated discs/drums

Weight 2027lb (1077kg)

0-60mph 8.6 secs

Top speed 116mph

Ford Escort XR3i road test

Ford Escort XR3i road test. From top: Escort lacks the Golf’s classy feel; injection gives the CVH motor some sparkle; XR3i has left its boy-racer days behind, and now looks cool again.


Clockwise: excellent Astra exceeded all expectations, with peppy performance and fun chassis; Cavalier-sourced overhead-cam 1.8; rather charmless cockpit.


Sold/number built 1983-’1984/11,000

Engine sohc 1796cc ‘four’;

Power 113bhp @ 5800rpm / DIN

Torque 111lb ft @ 4800rpm / DIN

Transmission five-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear trailing arms, torsion beam axle

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes discs/drums

Weight 1819lb (825kg)

0-60mph 8.5 secs

Top speed 115mph

Clockwise: Strada has an old-school approach, but makes a charismatic companion; twin Webers for ageing twin-cam; racy seats and evocative wheel.


Sold/number built 1984-’1987/585

Engine dohc 1995cc ‘four’;

Power 130bhp @ 5900rpm / DIN

Torque 130lb ft @ 3600rpm / DIN

Transmission five-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear transverse leaf spring, lower wishbones

Steering powered rack and pinion

Brakes discs/drums

Weight 2094lb (950kg)

0-60mph 7.7 secs

Top speed 118mph

Clockwise: even in earlier ‘small bumper’ form, the Mk2 is more substantial; a twin-cam, 16-valve head transforms the GTI; check trim echoes early Mk1s.


Sold/number built 1984-’1992/c600,000 (all Mk2s) Engine dohc 1781cc ‘four’;

Power 139bhp @ 6100rpm / DIN

Torque 124lb ft @ 4600rpm / DIN

Transmission five-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear trailing arms, torsion beam axle

Steering powered rack

Brakes vented discs/discs

Weight 2158lb (980kg)

0-60mph 7.5 secs

Top speed 134mph

From top: lightweight interior feels flimsy, but little wheel is a joy to hold; blower revitalised aged engine; GT turbo scurries through the bends.


Sold/number built 1985-’1991/c160,000

Engine ohv 1397cc ‘four’, with turbo;

Power 118bhp @ 5750rpm / DIN

Torque 122lb ft @ 3750rpm / DIN

Transmission five-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front McPherson struts rear trailing arms, transverse torsion bars

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes discs/drums

Weight 1808lb (820kg)

0-60mph 7.1 secs

Top speed 123mph

Clockwise: Peugeot’s in-house 205 design still looks fresh; focused cabin is prone to wear; potent 1.9-litre motor gives the GTI sparkling performance.


Sold/number built 1986-’1994/332,924 (1.6 & 1.9)

Engine sohc 1905cc ‘four’;

Power 130bhp @ 6000rpm / DIN

Torque 119lb ft @ 4750rpm / DIN

Transmission five-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear trailing arms, transverse torsion bars

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes vented discs/discs

Weight 2004lb (910kg)

0-60mph 7.8 secs

Top speed 127mph

Clockwise: Tickford tweaks leave you in no doubt that this is a spiced-up Maestro; turbo pushed O-series ‘four’ past 150bhp; roomy – and very grey – interior.


Sold/number built 1988-’1989/505

Engine sohc 1994cc ‘four’, with turbo;

Power 152bhp @ 5100rpm / DIN

Torque 169lb ft @ 3500rpm / DIN

Transmission five-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear trailing arms, torsion beam axle

Steering powered rack

Brakes vented discs/drums

Weight 2379lb (1080kg)

0-60mph 6.7 secs

Top speed 132mph

From top: luxurious cabin reflects the VR6’s mini-GT aspirations; transverse V6 provides effortless pace; Mk3’s fairly anonymous looks hid real potency.


Sold/number built 1992-’1998/na

Engine dohc 2792cc 15º V6;

Power 172bhp @ 5800rpm / DIN

Torque 173lb ft @ 4200rpm / DIN

Transmission five-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear torsion beam axle

Steering powered rack and pinion

Brakes vented discs/discs

Weight 2546lb (1155kg)

0-60mph 7.4 secs

Top speed 140mph

Clockwise: signature metallic-blue paint and gold wheels made the Williams a hot-hatch icon; punchy twin-cam; blue dials lift sombre cabin.


Sold/no built 1993-’1996/12,100 (Williams 1, 2 and 3)

Engine dohc, 16v 1998cc ‘four’;

Power 150bhp @ 6100rpm / DIN

Torque 129lb ft @ 4500rpm / DIN

Transmission five-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear trailing arms, transverse torsion bars

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes vented discs f/r

Weight 2183lb (990kg)

0-60mph 7.7 secs

Top speed 134mph

Clockwise: 306 is bigger, but recaptures the energy of the flyweight 205; lively 16-valve 2-litre; superb sports seats, but interior is otherwise bland.


Sold/number built 1996-2000/na

Engine dohc, 16v 1998cc ‘four’;

Power 167bhp @ 6500rpm / DIN

Torque 142lb ft @ 5550rpm / DIN

Transmission six-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear torsion beam, trailing arms

Steering rack and pinion

Brakes vented discs/discs

Weight 2676lb (1214kg)

0-60mph 7.9 secs

Top speed 130mph

Clockwise: Civic’s boxy wedge doesn’t look sporty, but Type R is a screamer; 2-litre revs to 8000rpm; cheerful cockpit with dash-mounted gearlever.


Sold/number built 2001-’2005/35,190

Engine dohc, 16v 1998cc VTEC ‘four’;

Power 197bhp @ 7400rpm / DIN

Torque 142lb ft @ 5900rpm / DIN

Transmission six-speed manual, FWD

Suspension MacPherson struts, double wishbones f/r

Steering powered rack and pinion

Brakes ventilated discs f/r

Weight 2747lb (1246kg)

0-60mph 6.7 secs

Top speed 146mph

Clockwise: the Focus was always a driver’s car, but the RS went further still; central starter button in rather sudden interior; 212bhp from just 2 litres.


Sold/number built 2002-’2003/4501

Engine dohc, 16v 1998cc ‘four’, with turbo;

Power 212bhp @ 5500rpm / DIN

Torque 229lb ft @ 3500rpm / DIN

Transmission five-speed manual, FWD via LSD

Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear multi-link

Steering powered rack and Pinion

Brakes vented discs/discs

Weight 2818lb (1278kg)

0-60mph 6.1 secs

Top speed 143mph

Clockwise: lovely 147 shape was given added muscle for the GTA; lusty V6 motor is a sonorous jewel; two-tone interior is the most inviting here.


Sold/number built 2003-’2005/4025

Engine dohc 3179cc V6;

Power 247bhp @ 6200rpm / DIN

Torque 221lb ft @ 4800rpm / DIN

Transmission six-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front double wishbones rear MacPherson struts, aluminium cross beam

Steering powered rack

Brakes vented discs/discs

Weight 2998lb (1360kg)

0-60mph 6.1 secs

Top speed 153mph

Clockwise: Renault Sport 182’s joyous character is infectious; sculpted seats were unique to Trophy; venerable 2-litre is now up to a whopping 182bhp.


Sold/number built 2005/550

Engine dohc, 16v 1998cc ‘four’;

Power 182bhp @ 6520rpm / DIN

Torque 148lb ft @ 5250rpm / DIN

Transmission five-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear torsion beam, trailing arms

Steering powered rack and pinion

Brakes vented discs/discs

Weight 2403lb (1090kg)

0-60mph 6.5 secs

Top speed 137mph

From top: big wheel aside, the R26R has the most focused cockpit of our set; the meaty turbo 2-litre musters 227bhp; Mégane feels at home on the track.


Sold/number built 2008-’2009/450

Engine sohc, 16v 1998cc ‘four’, with turbo;

Power 227bhp @ 5500rpm / DIN

Torque 229lb ft @ 3000rpm / DIN

Transmission six-speed manual, FWD

Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear torsion beam, coil springs

Steering powered rack and pinion

Brakes vented discs f/r

Weight 2690lb (1220kg)

0-60mph 5.9 secs

Top speed 148mph




Ross Alkureishi asseses the market, and DRIVE-MY team members share their memories


The hot hatch market has turned on its head in the past decade, with the Mk1 Golf and 205 leading the way. “I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t surprised me,” says Matthew Jobling of Peugeot specialist Pug1Off. “It’s gone from where the 106 is now – with young owners who haven’t got the money, so the cars are worth a few hundred pounds and they end up killing them – to guys spending £20k on a restoration. They tend to be 35-50, going back to their youth, and nearly always had one when younger.

This is the first ‘plastic’ classic, and as they get rarer values for the best should continue to rise.” Emanuele Collo of Geneva-based Kidston SA ( agrees: “Although I don’t see them increasing short-term, for pristine examples it’s a different story. In most cases these cars lived a very hard life. It’s easier to find an expensive car from the ’60s in top condition, so an outstanding original, unmodified example commanding a big price is not a surprise.”

Iconic models are also becoming popular with collectors, says Collo: “They may start with a Lancia Delta Integrale, then move on to a Golf or 205. There’s renewed interest in the era, and as homologation specials increase in value, it makes sense that standard road cars do, too.”


The hatch takes centre stage

Intended as a 5000-unit rally homologation special for Group 1, the Mk1 VW Golf GTI wasn’t a success. Instead, in 1981 the rear-drive Lotus-Sunbeam became the first victorious rally hatchback, taking the WRC Constructors’ title for Talbot.

The Peugeot 205 T16 – a purpose-built weapon, far removed from the standard road car – propelled Finns Timo Salonen then Juha Kankunnen to the WRC Drivers’ Championships in 1985 and ’1986. It would also win the Paris-Dakar in ’1987 and ’1988. Group A regulations arrived in 1986, and finally brought success for the Golf, albeit in Mk2 16v form, with Kenneth Eriksson and Peter Diekmann. After the demise of Group B in 1986, Group A became the main event and for the rest of the ’80s the Lancia Delta dominated – with one further win in 1991.

Success wasn’t limited to rallying, either: John Cleland outscored the saloons to take BTCC honours in 1989 at the wheel of a Vauxhall Astra GTE. But the natural home of the hatchback is the World Rally Championship, and since the turn of the new millennium there have been only two years when a hatch driver hasn’t taken the title.

“I bought my 205 GTI 1.6 for £150 – the same price Top Gear star Chris Harris had paid for it for an Autocar story. It was huge fun, but it just felt a bit too ‘new’ for my liking so I sold it. A month later I found out that the next owner had written it off! Gutted.” MARTIN PORT

“My wife dreaded travelling in the noisy, hard and uncompromising Clio Trophy I was lucky enough to run for three fabulous months in 2005. Yet from behind the wheel it was a riot: the grippiest, most exciting FWD car I’ve ever driven.” ALASTAIR CLEMENTS

“A woman I shared an office with in ’1995 decided one day she didn’t need her Mk2 Golf GTI any more – did I know anyone? I wrote a cheque instantly. It felt so taut, rapid and torquey; I realised I’d been floundering around on automotive oxen to that point.” GILES CHAPMAN

“Mk1 Golfs were pricey even when merely used, so my first (warm) hatch was a Citroën Visa GT in ’1986. Two years later it made way for an AXGT (right); brilliant but flimsy, it was great fun – if skittish – and bettered 40mpg. After that came a series of Mk2 Golfs. DAVID EVANS

Markku Alen and Ilkka Kivimaki fly towards a win on 1987 Rally Portugal in their Lancia Delta HF 4WD


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