The UK favourite hot hatch has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, and 2013 is shaping up to be a good year for fans of practical performance. From newcomers like the Mercedes A45 AMG to the seventh generation of the genre defining Volkswagen Golf GTI, there are no less than eight new hatches on the horizon. Here is our guide.
The performance Clio has been the benchmark for small hot hatches virtually since its inception (or certainly since Renault attached the word ‘Cup’ to it). As such, the new Clio RS would be worthy of our rapt attention even if it proved to be just a mild update of its predecessor. But the fact that the French car maker has opted to comprehensively adjust the segment-topping formula for this year makes this car’s impact as seismic as anything else appearing here.
Superficially, the news isn’t good. First, the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine has gone, which means the zingy throttle response and climactic 7200rpm performance has gone with it. Second, the six-speed manual gearbox, whose action was as cutely incisive as a three-punch knockout combo, has also been binned in favour of a dual-clutch automatic ’box. Third, the new generation Clio comes as a five-door only, so the proportions have gone awry.
Okay, so forced induction and a dual-clutch ’box don’t necessarily spell diminishment of our impish hero. The 1.6-litre turbocharged motor may only equal its predecessor’s 197bhp, but it adds 19lb ft of torque at just 1750rpm. Partly as a result, the 0-62mph time is expected to tumble by at least half a second from its current 6.9sec. This will be helped along by the Renaultsport-developed Efficient Dual Clutch (EDC) transmission, which will also include a launch control system. Any hot hatch capable of performing faultless, flat-out traffic light starts is likely to be popular with the target audience.
Renault has also confirmed that the fabled Cup chassis will remain an option. By ticking the right box, you’ll get a 15 per cent stiffer chassis and five per cent lower ride height than with the standard Sport set-up. There are also bigger brakes, and more tech is on offer in a superior cabin.
But the real reason to keep the faith is Renaultsport’s track record. The Dieppe-based magicians have an almost faultless habit of turning spectacularly mundane products (in other words, Renault’s mainstream offerings) into virtual masterstrokes. And as we’ve already given the new Clio 4 a thumbs up, it seems like a decent bet that the superheated version will follow suit.
Volkswagen Up GT, Winter
Although not as extreme as its spiritual predecessor, the Lupo GTI, the Up GT marks Volkswagen’s first entry into the performance city car since the hot Lupo.
One thing is obvious from driving the standard Up: its chassis can handle far more than the 74bhp offered by its 1.0-litre three-pot engine. The GT will get 109bhp and 120lb ft, as well as a warmed-over chassis and styling. Skoda and Seat versions are sure to follow, too.
Mini JCW GP, January
The Mini is being given one last swansong before the all-new model is launched next year. The eye-watering £28,790 price might put off most, but as we discovered when we drove it last November, the 215bhp JCW GP is the best Mini yet to pilot aggressively.
It’s a serious bit of kit, with new motorsport-derived coil-over suspension, plus front and rear braces, bespoke tyres and a pared-out interior. If you’re a Mini devotee, act now before the 2000 units sell out.
Mercedes A45 AMG, Summer
The all-wheel-drive A45 AMG may be the smallest model yet from Mercedes’ performance offshoot, but don’t expect it to be any tamer than AMG’s larger machines. The key stat being pushed by AMG is the horsepower per litre figure; with around 350bhp from its turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, it will have the highest specific output of any regular production engine.
Official figures have yet to be confirmed ahead of the A45 AMG’s Geneva show launch in March, but it should be good for 0-62mph in 5.1sec and a top speed of 155mph, or 168mph with the optional performance pack. It will also return 40mpg, although probably not during those timed acceleration runs.
The A45 AMG looks to be a lot of car for the estimated £36,000 asking price.
Volkswagen Golf GTI, July
You can probably already guess what the new, seventh-generation Golf GTI is going to be like to drive, although this doesn’t make its arrival in the middle of the year anything less than eagerly anticipated. There’s slightly more power than before from the new 2.0 turbo engine (it produces 217bhp), while subtle performance and economy gains are partly gleaned from a reduction in weight.
The big new addition to the Golf GTI is an optional performance pack, a first for the iconic hot hatch. This not only liberates — at extra cost, of course — a further 10bhp from the forced-induction engine but, more significantly, also adds an extra 52lb ftof torque, which should alter the GTI’s driving characteristics. Throw in larger brakes and a new differential and you’ve got the most extreme Golf GTI yet — and one we can’t wait to try.
Peugeot RCZ R, December
The 260bhp RCZ R will be the most powerful production Peugeot ever when it arrives in December. From our experience, the faster and more focused RCZs have always been the best in the line-up, so it’s hoped this trend will continue with the R.
The launch of the R coincides with a facelift for the rest of the RCZ range that includes a less bulbous front end and an improved interior.
Peugeot 208 GTI, June
Peugeot has said the 208 GTI is the car to “regenerate the legend” of the 205 GTI. The 208’s dynamics have us worried whether the GTI can live up to what’s widely regarded as the finest hot hatch ever, but we’ll find out in a few months’ time.
At least the spec is impressive. The 208 GTI’s 1.6 turbo engine produces 197bhp and 203lb ft, and it’s good for 0-62mph is less than 7.0sec.
Ford Fiesta ST, March
Can the best supermini in the world turn into the best small hot hatch? The new Clio RS will have something to say about that, but with the Clio heading down a more extreme route than ever, the Fiesta ST might step neatly into its place as a usable everyday hot hatch — provided the standard Fiesta’s fine blend of ride and handling is transferred to the more potent version.
Power for the 136mph ST will come from a 1.6-litre Ecoboost petrol engine with 177bhp and 178lb ft, with prices set to start from around £18,000.
Kia Cee’d GT, June
Kia’s first foray into performance models arrives this year with GT versions of the Cee’d three and five-door hatchbacks. The firm’s familiar 1.6 GDi petrol engine has been turbocharged to produce 201bhp and 195lb ft in the GT, which means the warm hatch should be good for 0-62mph in 7.9sec. Chassis upgrades are also promised, while the styling is given a harder edge. Should the GT be well received, expect more performance-focused Kias to follow.
One for 2014: Volkswagen Golf R
The most potent Golf is likely to be shown this year before sales start early next year. The Golf R will switch to VW’s latest 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine, tuned to make 276bhp. Expect four-wheel drive and the option of a seven-speed auto gearbox in place of today’s six-speeder.