We take a look at ten of the most extreme hot hatchbacks to ever hit the road, plus some of the modern-day alternatives
What do you get when you apply supercar levels of engineering and focus and drama to a humble hatchback? Something very special. It might seem like a daft idea, but some of most iconic and effective performance cars of the last 40 years have been born out of this single-minded approach.
Compact dimensions and low weight are two of the key attributes that make a hatchback cheap, practical and easy to live with. They’re also the makings of a fantastic performance car with some power and stiff suspension thrown into the mix...
But we’re not here to talk about how much of a great all-rounder the Golf GTI is. These are the hot hatches with the dial turned up to 11…
Renault 5 Turbo
Renault’s small city car was a truly great basis for a front-wheel drive hot hatch, especially in the form of the Gordini and Gordini Turbo models. Later Renault 5 GT Turbos were rather good too, but Renault also had us covered at the more extreme end of the spectrum…
As the basis for a monster rally car to rival the likes of the Lancia Stratos, the French company mounted a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine mid-ship, driving some very wide rear wheels. It looked mad, and cornered like it was on rails, but also had a well-deserved reputation for being tricky to handle thanks to its short wheelbase.
The original Turbo 1 is was the most exotic, using lightweight parts to homologate the rally car as well as a unique and outlandish interior design. The later Turbo 2 toned things down just a bit, making for a slightly better road car.
Lancia Delta Integrale Evo
Continuing on the rallying theme, we have another hot hatch born out of a desire to win on the rally stage – and that is exactly what the Integrale did. A total of 46 times in fact. It was – and still is to this day – the most successful rally car of all time, helping Lancia take a total of six WRC constructor championships.
After Lancia emerged from the Group B era, it found the perfect basis for a rally winner in the four-wheel drive Delta HF Turbo. Regulations meant that as the car evolved, the company had to build a certain number of road-going variants, from the early 8 valve cars to the more extreme Evos. The last-of-the-line Evo 2 models were the most extreme at the time, but the best thing about any Integrale is the way it drives. They’re not especially quick in modern terms, but the steering is up there with the best, while the overall chassis set-up makes for a beautifully balanced point A-to-B weapon.
Vauxhall Chevette HSR
Spot the theme developing? Yet another hot hatch rally homologation car, the Chevette HS and HSR was a rear-wheel drive hatch with some serious attitude. Built to satisfy Group 4 regulations, the Chevette featured a 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine with a 16-valve cylinder head, ditching the solid rear axle for a more sophisticated rear suspension set-up from the Opel Kadett. If you like tartan interiors, wide wheel arches and going sideways, then this car fits the bill nicely.
Peugeot 205 T16
We might be stretching even out own warped definition of hot hatch here, but if you thought the Renault 5 Turbo was extreme, then the 205 T16 was on a whole new level. Group B regulations and massive popularity in rallying caused manufacturers to pour huge amounts of money into developing these hugely complicated, advanced and monstrously fast rally cars.
The T16 shared barely anything with the regular 205, featuring a spaceframe chassis, mid-engined turbocharged engine and four-wheel drive. In road going form, the car was de-tuned to around 200bhp, although in rally tune it could easily push over 500bhp, with the later Pikes Peak cars squeezing even more out of the powertrain. We should also mention that the Delta S4 and Metro 6R4 also fit this category of off-the-scale hot hatches.
Renault Clio V6
The first of our non-rally car entries is the second (but not final) Renault. In 2001, the French manufacturer was looking to inject a bit of life into the Clio range. What better way is there than introducing a new high-performance version to take track racing. Inspired by the legendary 5 Turbo, TWR was employed to slot a Laguna V6 into the back of a new wide-hipped Clio body.
Looking something like a junior supercar, the Clio V6 was an instant classic. The cars were used in a one make racing series too, but the road cars have since grown a small but dedicated following. Later Phase 2 versions were built by RenaultSport in Dieppe, and brought more power and far superior handling. In all honesty, the V6 is barely any quicker than the (admittedly very talented) Clio 182, but is infinitely more special – and is the definition of extreme. > Take a look at Renault Clios for sale in the classifieds
Mini Cooper S JCW GP
When Mini first announced that it was producing a hardcore track-oriented Mini Cooper S, expectations were high. This was a car that had been honed at the Nurburgring, and featured some serious aerodynamic modifications, weight saving measures as well as a huge carbon fibre rear spoiler. Thanks to the very stiff adjustable suspension, and a limited slip differential, this Mini was a serious performance machine with some seriously addictive supercharger whine.
Mini followed up the original GP with a similarly focused R56-based GP2. It wasn’t a huge step up from the standard JCW on paper, but the fully adjustable suspension and super grippy Kumho track tyres made for a seriously entertaining track toy.> Take a look at Mini Coopers for sale in the classifieds
Ford Focus RS500
Launched back in 2010, the Focus RS500 still stands out as the most powerful front-wheel hatches ever produced. For this numbered special edition, Ford harked back to the original Sierra Cosworth RS500, building a total of 500. While the new model didn’t have any motorsport pretenses, it was fettled to a frankly outrageous 345bhp – 44bhp over the standard RS.
Audi A1 Quattro
Before the more mass produced 228bhp S1 came along, Audi Sport produced a high performance version of the A1 in very limited numbers – the 250bhp A1 Quattro. This was a very expensive exercise for Audi, which had to substantially modify the floorpan of the car to accept the S3’s four-wheel drive running gear. With just 333 produced though, it had no trouble selling them all, even with the faintly ridiculous list price of £40k.
Nissan Sunny GTI-R
Often described as the Japanese Delta Integrale, the Nissan Sunny GTI-R (known as the Pulsar overseas) combined a powerful turbocharged engine with a rugged four-wheel drive transmission. Like the Lancia, it was designed to win on the rally stages, but after an uncompetitive first season, Nissan pulled the plug on the whole program. It made a great road car, and was very popular among tuners for its strong and easily tweaked engine. Most have disappeared today, due to rust.
Modern hyper-hatches – Keeping the flame alive
The significance of the ten cars above will never diminish, but as is the speed of development in the automotive world, their performance has been eclipsed by the latest breed of hyper hatchbacks. These cars are all extremely talented, and can still happily take a boot full of shopping, after dropping the kids off at school. Well, almost all...
Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG
The A45 AMG has a particular skill, which is really rather impressive. Attack any road, in the best or worst conditions, and you will get out at the end of the journey completely unflustered, having covered ground with the sort of ferocity that 911 Turbo drivers would consider brisk. It’s not emotional or particularly engaging, nor is it unpleasant. This is a 375bhp car that transports you from A to B as quickly and trouble-free as you can expect and car to do.
With 362bhp on tap, this is currently the fastest hatchback on the market. 0-62mph comes in 4.3 seconds, and if you specify the optional performance package it’ll soldier onto a top speed of 174mph. Pretty quick then. The new RS3 retains Audi’s characterful five-cylinder engine, but there’s a new version of the Haldex four-wheel drive system that makes the car much more interesting to drive than previous versions.
Renaultsport Megane 275 Trophy-R
Do Nurburgring lap times really matter? To some they do, and Renault has been battling recently to retain its crown of the fastest front-drive car to lap the Green Hell. A lap time sitting firmly below 8-minutes gave this stripped out Megane plenty of bragging rights, although some still rate its predecessor – the plastic-windowed R26.R – as the better car. And what of the practicality? If you need a rear seat, then the standard 275 is 95 percent as special for considerably less money.
Volkswagen Golf Clubsport S
Here’s another example of ditching the rear seats in the pursuit of Nurburgring times. Volkswagen created the most powerful and focused front-wheel drive Golf ever with the 306bhp Clubsport S. It’s blisteringly quick, reputedly managing a 7m 47s lap of the Ring, thanks mainly to a revised aero and chassis set-up. 400 were built, with all sold ahead of the car’s launch.