The 205 GTI, Golf GTI Mk2 and Renault 5 GT Turbo were some of the best hot hatches to come out of the 1980s. Here all ten of our favourites
Peugeot 205 GTI
VW Golf GTI Mk2
When Volkswagen launched the Mk2 GTI, it moved the Golf firmly into the 1980s. Despite losing the delicate Giugiaro lines of the Mk1, it bettered it in most other ways. It was more substantially built, but the extra weight blunted the 1.8-litre 8-valve engine’s performance somewhat. A solution was on the cards, thanks to the introduction of a 16-valve 136bhp version in 1986.
Renault 5 GT Turbo
Vauxhall Astra GTE 16v
There‘s one truly great thing about the Astra GTE 16v, and that’s the engine. Its twin-cam 16-valve C20XE engine (known as the Redtop in Vauxhall circles) became so widely recognised thanks to the Cosworth-designed cylinder head, which made this one of the fastest naturally aspirated cars around at the time. The only problem was that Astra’s underpinnings couldn’t quite harness those 156 horses.
Thanks to the pedigree of that engine though, the Astra was a bit motorsport hit. As well as winning various touring car races in the BTCC, it was a major force (in Opel Kadett form) in Germany’s DTM series. Ultimately, the car’s true motorsport potential was unleashed in South Africa, where the Kadett ‘Superboss’ took performance to new heights. It wasn’t a bad rally car either.
> Browse the classifieds for a Vauxhall Astra GTE here
Fiat Strada Abarth 130TC
Appearing in 1984, Fiat decided to launch a hotted up version of the Strada (or Ritmo as it was known in Europe). Not following every other manufacturer’s lead, fuel injection or forced induction wasn’t the answer. The 2.0-litre Fiat twin-cam engine was a versatile lump, and when fitted with a pair of juicy Weber carburettors gave the Strada some serious performance.
In 1984 it was probably the fastest hatch out there, and was a relative hit with the road testers. It was temperamental, of course, but when on song the mid-range punch and tuneful rasp was rather addictive. Only a handful were ever sold in the UK, and corrosion has taken most of those. Shame.
> Read the buying guide and browse the classifieds for a Fiat Strada Abarth for sale
Fiat Uno Turbo ie
Our second turbocharged entry, this time from Fiat. In a straight-up fight with the 205 GTI, the Uno has the straight-line speed – and once tweaked would leave one in its tracks. The only problem, like the Astra above, it lacked the overall finesse and polish of its French rivals.
Fiat did a lot better with the Uno Turbo in the UK than the Strada, but few remain on the road today for very similar reasons...
> Read the buying guide and browse the classifieds for a Fiat Uno Turbo for sale
Ford Escort XR3i
With the introduction of the Golf-rivalling front-wheel drive Escort XR3 of 1981 Ford was onto a winner. When it was given fuel injection in ’83, that all-important ‘I’ badge meant that Ford’s hot hatch sold in droves. The simple, and somewhat unimpressive CVH engine was never going to set the world alight, but the sporty alloy wheels and spoilers made this a boy racer favourite. Handling was fun, and most owners seeking more performance could always upgrade to the RS Turbo...
> Browse the classifieds for classic Ford Escorts for sale
Lancia Delta HF Turbo
Citroen AX GT
Weighing in at just 720kg, the Citroen AX GT makes the most of its 85bhp. Drive one today, and you can feel that there is absolutely no flab. Citroen considered every last kilo when it developed the normal AX, making use of three-stud wheels, thinner steel in non structural areas of the body, and even composite panels to make the car as efficient as possible. This of course brought serious benefits when producing a hotter version. Finding a nice Mk1 is getting difficult today, and it’s these early cars that are really sought after today.
> Take a look at Citroen AXs for sale in the classifieds
Peugeot 309 GTI
Having started the list with a hot Peugeot, ending with another should reinforce just how far ahead of the competition they were in the late 1980s. The 309 shared a large amount of its mechanicals with the smaller 205, but the slightly longer wheelbase and wider rear track made the dynamics ever so slightly better resolved. Left-hand drive markets also got the ultimate 160bhp 16v version.
> Take a look at Peugeot 309 GTIs for sale in the classifieds