Cooking with Avgas
The versatile players in the small car segment make it an entertaining game
“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