Hot hatches started to grow up in the 1990s, laying the groundwork for the serious performance hatchbacks of today. Here are ten of the best
Introduced in the ‘70s, improved on in the ‘80s and perfected in the 1990s? Not quite, but the hot hatch formula was definitely refined in the ‘90s, and continued to offer big performance in a small package. Before turbos and dual clutch transmissions became commonplace, the high-revving naturally aspirated engine reigned supreme.
Offering spectacular value for money, most of these ‘90s hot hatches have yet to see the increase in value that their forbears have enjoyed. With that in mind, buying one now could be a savvy decision. So take a read through our list of top ten hatches from this era to see which one you need most in your driveway.
And before you ask, while the 205 GTI did technically carry on into the 1990s – we’re counting it as a 1980s car. You can read about it, and other 1980s hot hatches here.
Renault Clio Williams
Renault has arguably stayed on form in the hot hatch sector longer than any other manufacturer; who can forget the blue paintwork/gold rim combo of the 150bhp Clio. Light and nimble, these fiery little hatches are still a real hoot down any stretch of undulating road. Prices are on the rise with good ones ranging between £3000 and £5000. The contemporary Megane could be had with the same engine so are also worth a look as these have yet to see any serious rises in values.
Honda Civic Type-R EK9
While the Japanese spec EK9 Civic came with a manic 1.6-litre 185bhp engine and a seriously aggressive track set-up, the UK market had to make do with the slightly more sensible EK4 VTI. Still, 158bhp and a sporty lightweight body meant impressive acceleration and a great VTEC soundtrack. If you wanted a bit of exclusivity one of the 500 limited edition Jordan (the F1 team not the model) cars in unique yellow paintwork was a popular choice. £1500 can net you a useable car but expect to pay considerably more (upwards of £6000) for EK9 imports.
Peugeot 306 GTI-6 and Rallye
Another rare but fantastic little French hot hatch, the 306 GTI-6 had 167bhp, a nimble chassis and looks that seem to get even better with age. For the purists, a limited run of 501 stripped out Rallye versions were built too. Good ones can be as much as £5000. These and the GTI-6 are getting tough to find, so you could extend your search to include the bargain Citroen Xsara VTS, featuring the same engine albeit with a five-speed gearbox. These quirky little cars were even lighter and can be found for not much more than £1000. Now that is a serious bargain.
Ford Escort RS2000
Basing a hot hatch on a car your gran would be embarrassed to be seen in? Seems like a bad idea, but as Ford often does, it turned lead into gold when it released the RS2000 in 1992. Built using the terminally dull, and hugely disappointing Mk5 Escort as a base, it was comprehensively re-engineered and featured a 148bhp 16v version of the 2.0-litre engine found in the Sierra Sapphire. A real revelation down a twisty stretch of road the RS set the scene for some truly exciting future fast Fords. It even got four wheel drive before being phased out in 1996. Rare and in demand these little gems can be found from £4000 up.
Volkswagen Golf VR6
The ‘90s were not a great period for the Golf GTI. Early 8 valve cars struggled to get the lardy MKIII body shell out of its own way, and while the better 16-valve versions actually a lot better, it was the VR6 models that really stole the show. Initially introduced with a 174bhp 2.8-litre V6, later cars featured a multivalve 190bhp 2.9-litre motor, giving it a sub-7 sec 0-60 time. Scrappy cars can be found for as little as £1500 but mint low mileage ones can command up to £6000. Look at the Corrado VR6 too as it shared the same mechanicals. Good ones can be over £10,000.
Seat Ibiza 2.0 GTI
Sharing the VW Polo platform meant that the Seat Ibiza was blessed with a well sorted, lightweight chassis. Unlike the Polo however, the Ibiza GTI was available with some spicy engine choices, the 150bhp 16v 2.0-litre models being the pick of the bunch. Light, nippy and all sorts of fun, these cars are a budget entry into ‘90s hot hatchery. They arguably have more in common with the original Golf GTI than the contemporary MK3 GTI ever did. Tricky to find a good one, but values are so low it’s worth keeping an eye out.
Citroen Saxo VTS
118bhp may not sound like much in this company, but then neither does 900kg. These numbers have could belong to a number of iconic 1980s hot hatches, but actually belong to the tiny 1.6-litre Saxo VTS. It could hit 60mph in less than 8.0sec, which made it a true pocket hot hatch. The much more insurance-friendly 8-valve VTR was also a hoot, making the most of its 98bhp. High mileage examples of either version cost around the same as a nice dinner out, while a neat VTS can still be found for under £2000. An icon to the Max Power generation, nice cars are almost certain to rise in value.
Fiat Punto GT
Our only forced induction choice, the Punto GT employed an uprated 134bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre engine from the Fiat Uno Turbo, allowing it to punch well above its weight category. A 120mph top end was achievable for the brave but it was the in-gear grunt that impressed the most. Later models were more balanced and it’s probably best to avoid modified ones. Prices start at around the cost of a Starbucks coffee... but for a good one you may need around £800.
Rover 200 BRM
As far as special editions go, the 795 units of the Rover 200 BRM are a real mixed bag. On the plus side it offered decent mechanical upgrades such as a 145bhp K-series power plant, close-ratio gearbox and torsen limited slip diff. Cosmetic changes started off well with a Brooklands green paint scheme and a 60’s F1 BRM inspired orange nose. Unwitting customers would then peer inside and see what could best be described as a red on red interior with red trim. An acquired taste, but rarity and eye-catching ability mean that prices start at £2500.
The only rear-wheel drive car in our list, the 323ti was a decent performer in its day, achieving 60mph in under 8 seconds from its under-stressed and highly modifiable 170bhp 2.5-litre inline six motor. It helped BMW gauge customer interest in this sector and soon they were offering a range of small hatchbacks culminating in the sporty little 1 series. Values for these smooth performers cannot get any lower, although a race series dedicated to the Compact means that cars are in demand. Finding one may prove a bit tricky, but budget £2000 for a good one.
Hey, you forgot about these ones…
What about the Lancia Delta HF Integrale or iconic Ford Escort RS Cosworth? While technically hot hatchbacks, forced induction motors and four-wheel drive transmissions engineered for motorsport, they raised the game to another level. Today’s equivalents such as the M135i (albeit in 2-wheel drive form) and RS3 carry on the fine tradition of supercar scaring super hatches.