Hot hatches

The Advertiser - Motoring - - Front Page -

SMALLER CARS PACK­ING A PUNCH

PER­FOR­MANCE ver­sions of reg­u­lar small cars have been part of the mo­tor­ing menu for 35 years, sat­is­fy­ing the driver who wants a bit more zip. But now these ma­chines are not all noise and hard ride. They are far more safe, com­fort­able con­sid­er­ing their han­dling prow­ess, still snug and sat­is­fy­ing to sit be­hind the wheel – and yet they go bet­ter than ever.

These hot hatch­backs are pop­u­lar enough through­out the world that man­u­fac­tur­ers can build them at a very good unit price. Yet in Aus­tralia they are still only a small por­tion of sales com­pared with the gar­den­va­ri­ety show­room mates on which they are based, so a hot hatch buyer does have a car of some stand-out.

Putting a more pow­er­ful en­gine into a reg­u­lar hatch­back, firm­ing the sus­pen­sion, up­grad­ing the brakes, adding ap­pro­pri­ate wheels and tyres and per­haps putting in sports seats are log­i­cal moves.

It is be­ing done by a va­ri­ety of car­mak­ers: we quickly found 20 ex­am­ples of hot hatches for our list, draw­ing the line at at least 120kW power. Sure, hot hatches rely on power-toweight ra­tio for their per­for­mance – but you still want to boast more power than a Camry.

To many en­thu­si­asts, the daddy of all hot hatches is the Volk­swa­gen Golf GTI. Af­ter all, it is cred­ited with cre­at­ing the seg­ment.

In the early 1970s when the first Golf, a hatch­back, was be­ing de­vel­oped, some VW en­gi­neers de­vel­oped a sporty ver­sion. That first GTI sold like hot­cakes as driv­ing thrill at an af­ford­able price in a prac­ti­cal, easy-topark pack­age was em­braced.

The prin­ci­pal is the same to­day. Small hatch­backs are prac­ti­cal cars – many own­ers lik­ing the lug­gageload­ing abil­ity of the lift-up hatch­back door.

The main­stream best-sell­ing hot

hatch­backs cost not much more than your av­er­age Com­modore, yet give the re­quired per­for­mance at very good fuel econ­omy from en­gines that are less than 2.6 litres in size. Most have tur­bocharg­ers to get more oomph out of a small­ish en­gine, al­though Honda’s ex­per­tise in wring­ing power out of a small en­gine with­out a turbo is ev­i­denced in the Civic Type R, in which high revs and clever en­gine valve en­gi­neer­ing bring enough power.

Golf GTI clocks 0-100km/h in 6.9 sec­onds yet can av­er­age 7.7 litres/ 100km fuel econ­omy.

An­other iconic per­for­mance small car has de­vel­oped – the Subaru Im­preza WRX, hav­ing ex­tra au­then­tic­ity as a sporty car due to its suc­cess in rally cham­pi­onships.

Here’s an un­der-$40,000 car yet with 195kW power and the grip of all­wheel drive.

Subaru dealer Eblen, at Brighton Rd, Glenelg, says the hatch­back ver­sion of Im­preza WRX has long been pop­u­lar.

‘‘The WRX has now come of age,’’ says dealer prin­ci­pal Peter Eblen. ‘‘The ve­hi­cle is so re­fined, so well bal­anced, has ex­cel­lent poise, great man­ners and has in­cred­i­ble safety.’’

He refers to the ac­tive safety of all­wheel-drive grip, ABS brakes and sta­bil­ity con­trol and the pas­sive safety in oc­cu­pant pro­tec­tion (rated of­fi­cially at a top five stars).

‘‘We’ve had a buyer who has al­ways had big per­for­mance cars, a V8 man. He traded to WRX STi (an even more pow­er­ful ver­sion of the WRX). He is happy and amazed at its per­for­mance.’’

The ‘‘stan­dard’’ WRX sees off 0-100km/h in 5.3 sec­onds yet is a car that is easy to live with as a daily driver and com­mut­ing.

The WRX, the Mit­subishi Lancer Ral­liart and the Audi A3 quat­tro have all-wheel drive, a par­tic­u­lar ad­van­tage on twisty, wet roads, such as in the Ade­laide Hills.

Most of the other hot hatches are front-wheel drive, where the high amounts of power are now dealt with by such technology as trac­tion con­trol, sta­bil­ity con­trol and, in the case of the Golf GTI, an ex­cel­lent front dif­fer­en­tial that all but wipes out any ef­fect of un­der­steer and shoots the car out of cor­ners.

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