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10. Ford Puma Racing
Only 1000 Racing Puma’s were produced and they weren’t cheap, costing £22,000, £8,500 more than the standard car and each one lost money. They also produced only 153 bhp and came replete with a garish blue interior
Despite this, they look fantastic with flared arches, bigger wheels and a larger single exhaust pipe. The chassis also had plenty to build upon, as the standard car provides entertainment in spades and the Puma Racing didn’t disappoint here either, even if the ride is a touch on the harsh side.
The fact that they still look good today and command healthy price tags seals the Puma Racing’s place just inside the top 10.
Putting a Skoda Fabia in this list can be construed as controversial, and it may well be, but it is justifiable. The Mini Cooper S is more fun and ultimately faster and more desirable, but it didn’t break a hot hatch taboo. The Skoda did.
By bolting VW’s venerable PD130 diesel engine into the Fabia Skoda built a hot hatch that did 50 mpg and had all of the accessible performance you could ever realistically want. To my eyes, at least, it also looks good in a quietly aggressive way. The downside was a slow-ish 0-60 mph time of 9.6 seconds the lack of a decent exhaust note.
At a time when fuel consumption and low Co2 emissions are high on manufacturers priority lists it is difficult not to think that others will also be looking at alternative fuels to petrol. Skoda should be congratulated for taking the plunge first.
VW had produced some fairly uninspiring Golf GTI’s before the R32 came out. It would have been easy to think that this iteration was going to continue the trend of the luxurious V6 4-motion, which was fast and secure but fell short on excitement.
The R32 was the first step back in the right direction; it looked the part and sounded fantastic. However, the chassis still left something to be desired, it wasn’t truly hard-core, nor was it an effortless cruiser. Despite this, the 240 bhp 3.2 litre V6 went well and was susceptible to a bit of after-market tuning.
The R32 gains its position in this list because of the following it gained, because for the first time in a decade VW made a Golf that could adorn a teenage bedroom wall. It also signified good things to come with the Mk 5 GTI.
It is a challenge to know which Grale’ to pick. The final ‘EVO’ editions were without doubt the most exciting and would be easy to pick, however, I am going to pin my colours on the 16v.
The 47-53 (front-rear) torque split made the car better on the road and excellent response from the Garrett T3 turbocharger made 200bhp and 220lb ft usable. With these upgrades Lancia turned the Integrale from a Porsche 911 chaser into its tormentor over twisty country roads.
The Lancia deserves its place in hot hatch history as it defined rallying in the late 1980’s for many, and brought that performance to a side-street near you.
Renault released the 5 Turbo on an unsuspecting public in 1985, with only 1.4 litres churning out 115 bhp and 121 lb/ft the little Renault was a pocket rocket. It weighed only 853 kg meaning performance was electric, especially when compared against its contemporaries.
Renault dressed it up as well; wider grilles, yellow fog lights, aggressive arches and even fake cooling slats ahead of the rear wheels made the 5 Turbo an 80’s icon and a favourite of boy-racers and hot hatch fans alike.
The final piece of the jig-saw and one where you may think it might fall down is the handling. Fortunately it feels pointy, alert and bolted to the road, much like the later Clio. It only finishes behind the Clio on points, and that is testament to it.
The Clio has been ‘the’ small hot hatch of the last decade. It is the car against which all the others have been measured against and the formula has been refined to great effect. The difficulty here is not to decide whether it deserves a place in this list, but deciding which variant was the most significant, not necessarily the zenith, but the Clio that defined the rest.
In 2005 Renault unveiled the Clio 182 Trophy, which built upon the superior looks of the 2001 facelift and some experimentation with the ‘first time round’ Clio 172 and 182 Cups. All of this fiddling refined the experience, making this a defining hot hatch. Some expensive dampers completed the transformation; they cost 10 times as much as their counterparts on the standard 182 Cup and are worth every penny. With 182bhp and only 1060 kg to lug around the Clio Trophy was fast as well.
Just 4501 Focus RS were built and they split opinion straight away. There was some argument over the issue of torque-steer. Road-testers complained about the car’s tendency to ‘buck and weave’ over bumpy surfaces and the decision to put 212 bhp (conservatively) through the front wheels was questioned.
On smooth the Focus was sensational though, it deployed its prodigious power effectively and it still looks sensational, building on the standard Focus’s mould-breaking looks. Colin McRae’s antics in the Focus WRC car further cemented the icon, and gave credence to Ford’s performance programme after the lacklustre Mk 4 Escort.
The good news is Ford introduced a second phase of upgrades for the RS after the initial press reports. ‘Phase two’ cars came with extra stitching around the seat base and a new engine map, the latter being the most important. The ‘AF’ engine map improved fuel economy and ‘smoothed’ power delivery. The changes were minor, but significant, and they transformed the car.
Just occasionally a car surprises you. The R26 was that car for me. We had been playing with some seriously tasty metal, yet, at 6pm when it came to choosing car keys it was the Megane I went for. Not only did it keep a very handy road tester in an RS6 honest, but it kept me grinning from ear to ear.
The Megane 225 was not universally liked, and for good reason, it was pretty dull and it faced stiff competition from the Ford Focus RS. So, why does the R26 warrant third place, ahead of the iconic Ford? The Renault’s mechanical LSD harnessed 227 bhp with aplomb, allowing committed cornering with pin-point accuracy without much torque-steer. The beefed-up exhaust system merely served to put icing on the cake.
Whether you go for the sweet 1.6 litre engine or the lazier but more powerful 1.9 litre the 205 GTI was a revelation. It is the 205 GTI that is most fondly remembered by the Peugeot faithful, especially after a spate of tepid, uninspiring ‘hot’ models throughout the last decade.
The 1.6 litre engine produces only 104 bhp, but with a kerb weight of only 909kg the 205 dispatches 0-60mph in 8.6 seconds and forges on to 116 mph. The 205 is also blessed with prodigious front-end grip and a slick gearbox, making it a hoot to drive.
The 205 GTI finishes second on this list, but for many it is the archetypal ‘hot hatch’. It deserves its place in the hall of fame for its ability to entertain handier wheelmen with lift-off over-steer alone.
Volkswagen never intended to add a range topping GTI to the Golf line-up. A small team of engineers in Wolfsburg can be credited with the idea and the execution. Fortunately for us the management approved the GTI for production and the rest is history.
Increased power is a given when it comes to the GTI fraternity, and the Golf is no different. It may not sound like a lot, but with 110 bhp from its 1.6-litre four cylinder powerplant it could accelerate past 60 mph in under 10 seconds and propel the hatchback into territory it hadn’t dreamt about previously.
Of course, the performance was important; however it wouldn’t have meant much if the Golf hadn’t been engineered to handle well, but stiffer springs and dampers took care of that issue. The Golf GTI was a revelation in an era when even the biggest, brashest Italian supercars were terrifying at the limit.
Honourable mention: Mini Cooper S (1964-1971)
Surely the Mini Cooper S deserves a mention here? OK, when it came out it only had 55 bhp when it was released in 1961 and by 1971 when production finished it only had 76 bhp but was there more fun to be had on 4 wheels? The Mini also has a great rally and race heritage to draw upon, but that’s a story for another day.
EncyclopediaVolkswagenGolfGolf Gen.1Golf GTi
97 cu in
112 hp @ 6100 rpm
Fuel consumption (combined)
21 US MPG
annual ownership cost