“I stud­ied the Civic and won­dered how Honda had man­aged to make it uglier”

Top Gear (UK) - - CONTENTS -

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.

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