“I studied the Civic and wondered how Honda had managed to make it uglier”
What is a hot hatch in the year 2017? I’m sure, like me, you consider this one of the great questions of our time. Honda has just unveiled an even faster version of the Civic Type R, which I thought was brand-new until I saw this even newer one. I looked at it and thought: “That’s a hot hatch because it’s front-drive.” Don’t ask me why my brain decided upon that defnition of a hot hatch, it just did.
So why does FWD make a car a hot hatch according to my addled mind? I suppose historical precedent is the reason. Back in the late Eighties/early Nineties when the hot hatch wasn’t just a thing, but the thing, there was a kind of unspoken set of rules that specifed the boundaries of the hot-hatch genre. And being 2WD was one of them. That’s why a Peugeot 205GTi was considered one and a Lancia Delta Integrale, even the early 8v version, wasn’t. And that’s why I can’t bring myself to call the latest Ford Focus RS a hot hatchback. The previous-gen car? Front-driven, so that’s fne. This newfangled all-drifty-thing? Nah. Rear driveshafts preclude membership.
Still with me? Good. Suspect I’ll lose you now, though. As I stood and studied the new Civic and wondered how on earth Honda had managed to make it even uglier than the last one, it dawned on me that thirty-two-thousand pounds is an awful lot of money for a two-box lift-back with a spicy motor. Yes, I’m struggling to fnd ways of not repeating the phrase hot hatchback, but back to the point at hand – the very essence of the hot hatchback was to cock a snook at expensive machinery. They were blue collar and, as anyone who ever sat inside a Citroen AX GT will attest, they faunted their cheapness with pride.
In 1991, you could buy a new Renault 19 16V – now that was a brilliant car – for £12,000. According to the Bank of England’s infation calculator, that equates to a present-day £23,000. So a Civic that costs north of £30k is perhaps just too pricey to be a member of the club?
I think it might be. But at least it’s still a Honda. A Honda can be a hot hatch because it’s an ordinary car. A BMW cannot be a hot hatch. I remember thinking this when it plonked a 2.5-litre 6cyl into the E36/5 Compact and every car magazine cover shouted, “BMW makes a hot hatch!”, and I thought: “No it hasn’t. A BMW can’t be a hot hatch because BMW is a prestige brand and not some Mediterranean rust-bucket in waiting that couldn’t withstand a 10mph ofset impact with an acorn.” I might have slightly embellished the exact wording of that memory, but I hope you get my gist.
The 323ti wasn’t a hot hatch. It wasn’t actually sold in the UK, but the current M140i is sold here, and despite being very much a hatchback and hot in the performance department, it most certainly isn’t a hot hatch. It also has six cylinders, and a hot hatch should have fewer than six. Not necessarily only four; just fewer than six. Five is acceptable. Don’t ask me why. It’s the rules.
And it should be FWD. That’s the other reason for the M140i being blackballed. It’s RWD, and if that nugget has people mewling about the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus, then I’m afraid I’ll have to just say that the Sunbeam is an amazing thing. But it can’t be a hot hatch. And I don’t really know of any other club/ designation/genre it can belong to. For which I’m truly sorry.
So a real hot hatch in 2017 has to be FWD, £23k and dash about with a faint whif of ASBO about it. I give you the Ford Fiesta ST. The only true hot hatch on sale in 2017. All the others are pretenders.