Top 10 Hot Hatches To Buy Before It’s Too Late
Collectors are waking up to the attractions of hot hatches. Here are ten to bag before they go the way of aircooled 911s
Fiat Panda 100HP (2006)
Hot hatches have got faster and more sophisticated but those who appreciate the real magic of the genre know numbers are only half the story. Fiat has a laudable hot hatch history but the Panda 100HP is arguably the last of its greats. Its combination of boxy styling, five-door practicality and – yes – reliability make it a car you can buy with your head. But at its heart is a feisty 1.4-litre engine stirred by a close-ratio six-speed gearbox. It was criticised at the time for its rock-hard suspension and perceived lack of power but point it down a twisty B-road and you’ll realise what matters more.
AutoFact: In place of the ‘City’ button that lightens the steering on standard Pandas the 100HP gets a ‘Sport’ setting with less assistance.
Mini Cooper Works GP (2006)
You could argue the Mini Cooper was the spiritual father of the hot hatch. Purists may be outraged at seeing a ‘new’ Mini in this line-up too but time moves on and now the first-generation models are verging on modern classic status themselves. And the most collectable of them is also the most extreme, the 2006 Cooper S Works benefitting from a full programme of performance enhancement and weight saving. OK, that includes removing the rear seats but they were pretty much useless anyway and for keen drivers the supercharged 215bhp engine, limited-slip differential and classically feisty handling are true to Mini tradition back to those 1960s originals.
AutoFact: Just 2000 first-generation Works GPs were sold, 460 of those in the UK.
Volkswagen Lupo GTI (1999)
The concept of the hot hatch existed before the Golf GTI arrived in 1976 but Volkswagen arguably perfected the formula for success and made fast, front-driven superminis a mainstream fixture. It’s had its ups and downs over the subsequent 40-odd years but the Golf GTI remains a benchmark hot hatch, albeit a much more luxurious and sophisticated car. For the true spirit of that original you need to look elsewhere in the VW back catalogue, the stylish Lupo GTI is a perfect mix of premium build quality and classic hot hatch rawness. Prized among VW fans, it’s a leftfield but discerning choice with rising values.
AutoFact: With 123bhp and a sub-tonne kerbweight, the Lupo GTI has comparable performance to the Mk1 Golf GTI’s 108bhp and 810kg.
Nissan Sunny GTI-R (1990)
The Nissan Sunny GTI-R (known as the Pulsar in its home market) isn’t the first rally-inspired supermini to benefit from turbocharged power and four-wheel drive – the Group B era of course spawning road-going versions of the Renault 5 Maxi Turbo and Peugeot 205 GTI T16. Closer in spirit to 90s Japanese rally reps like the Subaru Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi Evo, the Sunny GTI-R heralds from a later era of rally homologation and has comparable performance. But in the otherwise dowdy clothes of the Nissan Sunny. Unmodified examples are rare but, like many 1990s Japanese performance cars, increasingly covetable.
AutoFact: The ATTESA four-wheel drive system shares its acronym with the Nissan Skyline’s but is mechanically unrelated.
Audi A1 Quattro (2012)
Not known for its hot hatches, when Audi did decide to take the plunge with its VW Polo-based A1 it went all in. Meaning four-wheel drive, muscular turbocharged power, a premium cabin and neat design all translated into compact, hot hatch packaging. Launched in 2012, the resulting A1 Quattro had a burly 252bhp and 258lb ft of torque from its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, explosive performance and came wrapped in delicious rally-inspired detailing. Just 333 were made of which 19 were officially imported to the UK – exclusivity that makes it much more exotic than the related (but less powerful) mass-production S1 you can still buy today.
AutoFact: The multi-link rear axle from the TT S was adapted specially to make the front-driven A1 a baby Quattro.
Suzuki Swift Sport (first-gen 2005, second-gen 2012)
Until its recent replacement, the Suzuki Swift Sport held the honour of being the last naturally-aspirated hot hatch on sale. A more fitting tribute couldn’t be imagined, the unassuming looking Swift Sport successfully embodying the core values of any true hot hatch. In an age of turbocharging and diesel-like torque delivery the Swift’s 1.6-litre engine is a breath of fresh air. Its modest 134bhp was delivered through traditional upgrades like raised compression and improved breathing. To get its best you need to rev it like crazy, the suspension is both supple and composed, the steering fast and direct and the whole package refreshingly bombproof and simple.
AutoFact: Though you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart there are two distinct generations of Swift Sport, though they share the same engine, character and appeal.
Citroen AX GT (1987)
The Germans may claim to have invented the hot hatch but the French arguably came to define it. The AX was Citroen at its best too, combining French engineering minimalism with forward-thinking use of materials with the aim of reduced weight and improved efficiency. Plastic panels and a single wiper blade were among the obvious weight-saving features, the Elise-like kerbweight paired with gutsy, carb-fed 1.3 and then 1.4-litre engines resulting in deceptively rapid performance. Steel-wheeled AX Sport models were followed by the GT and then GTI. Trademark lift-off oversteer and inherent fragility mean few survive to this day – if you find a good one it’s an instant classic.
AutoFact: Carb-fed hot AXs have a more old-school power delivery, later post-1991 cars got fuel-injection.
Clio Renaultsport 172 Cup (2002)
Renault’s reputation as a builder of outstanding hot hatches is well-deserved, the tradition running from the 5 Gordini and Turbo through three generations of Clio Renaultsport. While the Williams versions are iconic, the second-generation Clio Renaultsport spawned some fantastic models, not least the collectable run-out edition 182 Trophy. Best to drive though is arguably the pre-facelift 172 Cup, the combination of pared-back kerbweight, muscular 170bhp, 2.0-litre engine and feisty handling adding up to a thrilling package. The understated Mondial Blue over Speedline Turini wheels contrasting vividly with its bombastic performance.
AutoFact: Stripping ABS out of the Cup was a hardcore move but saved 15kg, one of many weight-saving measures over the regular 172.
Peugeot 106 Rallye (1993)
Spot the theme here. Peugeot’s 1980s and '90s run of form came to dominate the hot hatch world, the 205 GTI now an iconic example of the breed with well-preserved examples changing hands for serious money to sit alongside supercars in investors’ collections. That ship may have sailed but the spirit of the 205 was carried through into a generation of feisty French superminis, the purest of the lot arguably the 106 Rallye. If you like your performance cars raw, raucous and back to basics the original S1 Rallye’s revvy 1.3-litre engine and non-assisted steering embody all that’s good about French hot hatches.
AutoFact: The S1 Rallye is a true homologation car, built to get the 106 into rallying in the competitive sub 1.4-litre class of the time.
Honda Civic Type R (1997)
While we consider the hot hatch a predominantly European genre others have, on occasion, made their mark. Where the French became masters of souping up and tuning prosaic supermini architecture Honda took a very Japanese approach, the Type R getting an exotic 1.6-litre engine delivering an astonishing 182bhp and revving to 8,200rpm. This drove through a limited-slip differential, the double-wishbone rear suspension a contrast to the simple twist-beams used on most contemporaries and indicative of very Honda-like thoroughness. Originally a Japanese market only car its reputation has meant a number have been imported to the UK, unmodified examples are rare but highly coveted. Best hot hatch ever? It’s in the running.
AutoFact: Weight-saving geekery in the Type R extends to the trademark titanium gearknob seen in many high-performance Hondas.