Cook­ing with Av­gas

The ver­sa­tile play­ers in the small car seg­ment make it an en­ter­tain­ing game

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Showroom -

“YOU need to be able to pick up the kids.” “We can’t have a sports car, it’s not prac­ti­cal.”

If that sounds fa­mil­iar, there’s clearly a need to pe­ruse the fun end of the small car seg­ment and find your­self a hot hatch. Now is a good time to have a look.

Com­pe­ti­tion among the brands — and we’ve more badges on sale here than any other mar­ket in the world — is fierce right now.

Sales of small cars in Aus­tralia have topped 220,000 this year and are up by more than 6 per cent. The vast ma­jor­ity of th­ese aren’t go­ing to pull the skin off a cus­tard but will be priced sharply in the heat of in­tense com­pe­ti­tion. It may be more cut­throat in the large-car seg­ment but the range of five-seater hatches be­low $50,000 is im­mense. The bulk of them have a pulse, just, but let’s look at per­for­mance as well as prac­ti­cal­ity.

Euro­pean and Ja­panese brands have long been the hot hatch sta­ples and lit­tle has changed since the VW Golf GTI or Peu­geot 205 GTi (the i can be up­per or lower case, go fig­ure) first tore some “sports” cars to shreds in the 1980s and 1990s.

But lately the Ja­panese have dropped the ball — Honda’s Civic Type R made the right noises but didn’t back it up in for­ward progress, ask­ing an aw­ful lot of cash for the priv­i­lege, while Nis­san let the Pul­sar SSS slum­ber un­til re­cently.

Mit­subishi sticks to the Evo­lu­tion sedan and doesn’t bother the hot-hatch scor­ers.

Subaru has the im­mi­nent but over­due Im­preza WRX. The Mazda3 MPS is tech­ni­cally still on the books but not in the new body style yet.

The Kore­ans have made some gen­tle in­roads — Kia Cer­ato Koup and Hyundai Veloster — but aren’t yet in the ballpark. That leaves the French and Ger­mans as the coun­tries to beat. Oh, and Ford of Europe.

Power out­puts be­yond 150kW and tur­bocharged torque peaks of 350Nm in (rel­a­tively) light hatch­backs mean sub-7-sec­ond sprints to 100km/h — but it’s the cor­ner­ing and con­ve­nience as much as the times that get th­ese cars over the line.

The car that started it all is back on top — the Golf GTI is into the sev­enth gen­er­a­tion — and the choice of two ped­als or three will win it fans. The three­door is miss­ing from the lo­cal line-up.

Re­nault has some so­phis­ti­cated and swift vari­ants at the top of the Me­gane range but you’ll need to re­mem­ber how to op­er­ate a clutch pedal. Three-doors dom­i­nate.

The Blue Oval might be king of the pick-ups in the US but its Euro­pean arm is

STUART MARTIN stuart.martin@carsguide.com.au

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