Going off the motoring news, you’d think that manufacturers were only interested in SUVs and electric cars. Of course, it’s easy to understand why there’s such a penchant for these types of cars; people are snapping them up across the country thick and fast, while interest in battery-powered cars is ever-increasing.
But that’s not to say traditionally popular types of vehicle, such as the hot hatch, are dead and buried – far from it. In fact, in recent months some exceptionally good models have hit the scene to take on long-standing rivals.
We’ve got four examples here today. Up first, the Ford Focus ST. One of the latest arrivals to the scene, it reclaims an iconic name which has long been held in high esteem by motoring enthusiasts. This latest one, with more power than before and featuring some clever chassis tech, is a serious competitor.
Honda’s Civic Type R may be the oldtimer of the group, but this is one hot hatch that doesn’t need to be put out to pasture just yet. It remains one of the very sharpest in the business while those wild looks epitomise what people think of when they imagine hot hatches.
Up next is Hyundai’s i30N. Many laughed at the thought of the South Korean brand creating a Golf GTI competitor, but when the design entered reality people stopped laughing and took notice. We’ll see how the N gets on in this competition.
And finally, there’s the Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR. Technically the ‘old’ Golf now, since the new MK8 has arrived, the TCR is a last-hurrah in celebration of the MK 7.5 GTI. Taking inspiration from the firm’s involvement in motorsport, it’s packed with dynamic features. But can it cope here? That’s what we’re finding out.
The tight, winding roads of south Wales are perfectly matched to the cars we have here. The Hyundai i30N feels particularly alive here; we’ve got the Performance Pack version today, which means 271bhp from a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is fired to the front wheels, while a sports exhaust means the accompanying soundtrack is noticeably fruity. It’s one of the most antisocial sounding cars here, in fact.
In contrast, the GTI TCR is a more muted affair. Volkswagen’s performance Golf has always been an understated affair and, despite its black decals and look-at-me red paint, it’s largely the same here. The exhaust note can’t match the i30N’s for character, but thanks to 286bhp from the Golf’s 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol it can out-punch in terms of outright power. It’s electric to drive in the dry and – in typical fashion – when the Welsh roads turn wet it’s downright amazing.
But then so is the Focus ST. Wherever the Hyundai and Golf go, the plucky Ford is right behind, snapping at their heels and urging them on to go faster. We’ve got more engine capacity than the others here – up to 2.3 litres – and effectively a de-tuned version of the unit packed into the previous-generation Focus RS. Yet outright power clips in underneath both the Hyundai and the Volkswagen at 276bhp. However, a clever differential and grippy tyres mean that, even in the wet, the Focus ST is an absolute riot.
But when it comes to connection, both the Type R and the i30N are top of the list. Both feature a snappy gearshift (the Honda edges it in this department) and both have a genuine sense of connection between driver and machine – as corny as it sounds. The 2.0-litre petrol in the Honda feels beyond punchy, singing to the rev line and longing to be held in a gear for as much time as possible. The Hyundai matches it for engine capacity, though its 271 horses lag somewhat behind the Type R’s 315.
We’d argue that the Hyundai sounds the best of the two here, with an exhaust note which never fails to raise a smile. The crackles and pops it gives out are as childish as you like, but for a car like this, they’re on the money.
But an outright winner? Now that’s a tricky thing. In truth, you wouldn’t be upset with the keys to any of the cars here; the Golf is arguably the best day-to-day hot hatch, while the Civic and i30N both feel the most focused of the bunch. But, if you want a combination of all of those things, then it’s got to be the Ford.
The Focus manages to be useable, approachable and practical too yet, when the mood takes, it can switch into all-out attack mode at a moment’s notice. It’s very accomplished, not just in terms of hot hatches but performance cars in general. Well done, Ford.