EVERYBODY KNOWS THE Golf GTI and the Focus RS, but there are plenty of great hot hatches that often get overlooked. Here’s our top 10.
10. Alfa Romeo 145 Cloverleaf
The Alfa 145 Cloverleaf will break down, its electrics will go haywire and its interior will fall apart. If you are not a petrolhead then you should avoid it like the plague. If you are a petrolhead though, you’ll know all of this already, and you’ll still want one. This is because it is a sweet handling, great sounding and good looking 153bhp hot hatch that despite its many faults, will worm its way into your affections. And you’ll absolutely love it.
9. Volkswagen Polo GTI
The Polo GTI might not set your trousers on fire like some others on this list but with 123bhp, a low weight and tiny dimensions it’s no slouch either. It certainly looks the part, with its BBS alloys, honeycomb mesh grille, front splitter and rear spoiler, while inside you’ll find all the usual VW refinements such as air-con, CD autochanger and sports seats. All of which makes this baby GTI a very nice ownership proposition indeed.
8. Nissan Almera GTi
The Almera GTi wasn’t the most exciting car to look at and the optional bodykit, featuring slightly deeper bumpers, side skirts and a little roof spoiler, didn’t do much to enhance those looks. But the well-informed know that its 140bhp 2.0-litre engine combined with a fantastic chassis to make one of the fastest and best handling hatches of its era. Plus, it’s a Nissan, so you know that it’s basically bulletproof.
7. Ford Focus ST170
Put in the shade somewhat by subsequent RS and ST models, the ST170 was our first glimpse of a hot Focus, and it was a tantalising taste of what was to come. Road testers immediately recognised the abilities of the standard Focus’ chassis and the ST170 expoited it to the full with a 168bhp 2.0-litre engine and stiffened suspension. The only visual clues as to the talent underneath though are 17-inch alloys, foglamps and subtle ST170 badging.
6. Ford Fiesta Zetec-S
Another hot Ford, overlooked because of a more famous sibling. The much praised Puma was actually based on the fourth generation Fiesta, itself a fine handling hatchback. The Zetec-S benefitted from a 101bhp 1.6-litre engine, stiffened suspension and uprated brakes. The Zetec-S was one of the finest handling junior hot-hatches of its day and still makes a very good buy. So good in fact, that I actually bought the one in the picture above!
5. SEAT Leon Cupra R
With up to 221bhp (depending on exact model) available, the Cupra R is one of the most potent cars on this list. The VW Golf’s ‘sporty and stylish’ cousin was exactly that, offering the kind of performance the MK4 GTI could never dream of. The speed and handling are there, along with agressive styling to match, but being a VAG product it still has the refinement, equipment and reliability to make the Leon a very well rounded car.
4. Renaultsport Megane 225
The 225 was Renault’s first attempt at a hot version of the MK2 Megane, and although it was a fine effort it would later be overshadowed by the spectacularly brilliant R26 and bonkers R26.R. The 225 uses a 222bhp, turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and, thanks to clever suspension set-ups, (would we expect any less from Renaultsport?) handles superbly, even more so in Cup trim. It’s still a looker too.
3. Peugeot 309 GTI
Despite sharing many components you can’t see, and some you can (recognise those Speedline alloys?), and being just as good to drive, it’s the 205 GTI that gets all the fame in the Peugeot family. It may not have the timeless good looks of it’s smaller sibling but the 309 GTI still has a certain charm, and with 129bhp on offer it has plenty of poke too. It’s not a classic like the 205 GTI, but surely it’s only a matter of time?
2. Renaultsport Clio 172
The later 182 and 182 Cup may have stolen all the glory, but the MK2 Clio’s sporting credentials all started with the pre-facelift 172. The 2.0-litre engine puts out 167bhp, all of which can be fully utilised by the Clio’s Renaultsport fettled chassis. Visual changes include big fog lights, redesigned bumpers, multi-spoke alloy wheels and special silver paint. Pre-facelift 172s go very cheap now and as such, are remarkably good value.
1. Fiat Panda 100hp
100bhp isn’t very much by today’s standards, especially so for a performance oriented car. This is precisely the reason why many would ignore the little Panda, but they would be foolish to do so. Regarded by many as one of the most fun cars money can buy, the Panda makes use of low weight and low power from its 1.4-litre engine to provide old-school hot hatch fun in a thouroughly modern package. It looks the business too!