'Add power and reduce weight' was the formula for the AX Sport
Renault 5 Turbo was a homologation special, which is now rare and expensive
Renault Clio Williams took full advantage of the Williams Renault F1 success
205 GTi is considered to be one the finest hot hatches ever made
The Renault Clio 182 Trophy proves hot hatches can be sharp to drive and comfy too
Razor-sharp handling made the 306 GTI-6 the natural successor to the 205 GTi
Citroen Saxo VTS was loved by modifiers, which makes finding one now a bit tricky
For many young drivers, their first taste of performance motoring comes behind the wheel of a hot hatch.
Some of the finest of the breed have harked from across the channel, ranging from warmed-up lightweights to full on homologation specials. Here are some of our favourites, starting from less than £1000.
1 - Citroen AX Sport (1985-1988) - From £800
There are two ways to get a hot hatch. One is to throw loads of power at a regular hatch, while the other is to not have much power, but to not have much weight either. That is very much the route taken with the Citroen AX Sport. Weighing in at less than 700kg, the AX was made very a spritely indeed when it was given 95bhp 1300cc twin-carburettor engine. It was an exercise in minimalism, with a simple interior and white steel wheels which marked it apart from the rest of the range. Such lightweight build means relatively few survive, but it’s a pure and simple a hot hatch experience as you could wish to have.
For Cheap and fun
2 - Renault 5 Turbo and Turbo II (1980-1984) - From £30000
Created as a homologation special, the Turbo was a fundamental re-engineering of the lightweight hatch. The 1300cc turbo engine was relocated from the front to the rear, sitting between the rear wheels, flanked by a bespoke suspension set-up for the car. In order to accommodate the wider track, huge flared wheel arches were required, which give the Turbo comic book looks and immediately distinguished it from the various other hot Renault 5s.
The original homologation cars made extensive use of aluminium components with some versions packing a scarcely believable 240bhp punch. The standard Turbo II came with 160bhp. Plenty for a short wheelbase hatch weighing less than 1000kg.
For Looks like a superhero’s car
Against Rare, expensive and all are left-hookers
3 - Renault Clio Williams (1993-1995) - From £3000
With Nigel Mansell laying waste to his Formula 1 opposition around the world, Renault decided to build something that cashed in on that success. The Clio Williams was more than decals and gold wheels however. Modified front suspension, wider tyres, firmer dampers and an uprated gearbox combined with big-valve 2.0-litre engine all conspired to make a finely poised small hatch which quickly sold out the near 5000 production run.
One common misconception, however, is that Williams had some engineering input to the car. They didn’t. All the development was completed in-house by Renaultsport. Follow-up models arrived, but enthusiasts revere the original above all others.
For A good one is an investment
Against Watch out for dodgy repairs
4 - Peugeot 205 1.9 GTi (1986-1993) - From £2500
For many, this is the pinnacle of French hot hatchery, and this isn’t lost on Peugeot either, who use it in the campaign for the current 208 GTi to reflect a bit of that glory. Fans are split on whether the revvy 1.6-litre car, or the lazier but ultimately faster and better equipped 1.9-litre is the preferred choice. Ultimately, either car has tremendous balance, agility and usable performance that Peugeot has struggled to achieve with any of the small GTis it has produced since.
For Still great to drive and easy to love
Against Loads of bad ones about
5 - Peugeot 306 GTi-6 (1996-2001) - From £1200
If anything from the Peugeot stable can be said to get close to the poise and performance of the 205 GTi, it is the 306 GTi-6. Many rate it among the all-time greats, helped no end by humdrum looks which make the drive all the more surprising. The 167bhp 2.0-litre engine was mated to a supremely good six-speed gearbox, which made wringing that power from the four-cylinder lump something of a pleasure.
A lean 1200kg weight and supremely sorted chassis marked the GTi-6 out as the driver’s choice of hot hatch when it emerged in 1996. Beware, however. Push one too far and it will bite. A lot ended up backwards through hedge, which means they are rarer than you might imagine.
For Great fun and very affordable
Against Razor-edge handling can catch out the unwary
6 - Renault Clio 182 Trophy (2005-2007) - From £6000
While the Clio Williams might be the most sought-after hot Renault hatches, in truth, the 182 Trophy is the best. Renaultsport produced loads of hot Clios, but this was made exceptional by the addition of a suspension setup lifted from a Tarmac rally car.
At the time, Autocar declared it so far ahead of the competition as to make comparison ridiculous. Some rivals were faster, some were better made, but nothing could steer and ride as well as the 182 Trophy - and with a list price of less than £16k, it wasn’t even expensive. With only 500 made, tracking one down today is likely to be a tough task, but that should not put you off trying.
For One of the best ever hot hatches to drive
Against Needs to be bought with care
7 - Citroen Saxo VTS (1995-2002) - From £900 (for an original one)
The Citroen Saxo was a perfectly pleasant, if unremarkable little hatchback. Where it became remarkable was with the VTS version which, courtesy of suspension and braking tweaks and a 16v engine, was a very potent little car. The biggest challenge now is finding one which has not been crudely modified by misguided owners. No car was more beloved by modifiers in the early 2000s than the Saxo, and as such many that remain are festooned with all manner of aftermarket jewellery.
Find an unmolested car, however, and you’ll have a well-sorted, surprisingly rapid little hatch for a three-figure price tag. Keep it nice and rarity should have it appreciating in value.
For Hot hatches don’t get much cheaper
Against Most have been mucked about with
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