Small hot hatches are the cars of the moment, packing compact dimensions, big power – and smiles by the bucket-load. That's the idea, anyway – but can the Fiesta ST, Peugeot 208 GTi and Citroen DS3 Racing deliver in that regard? And which does so the most proficiently? We've brought all three together with the aim of finding out. There may be a bit of an argument along the way...
Baggott: Hot hatchery is in British motorists' DNA. We love little cars with big BHP. I know I do. They offer accessible performance, tons of fun and don't cost the earth to run or buy. And the good news is they're having somewhat of a renaissance at the moment. Manufacturers are back injecting some passion (saucy) into their ranges again so for this test we got as many of them together as we could.
ng>Leon: And we were lucky enough have a troupe of the most talked-about mini performance cars on the forecourts: Peugeot's feisty 208 GTi, Citroen's fashionable little DS3 Racing and Ford's accomplished Fiesta ST. That's 583bhp in total, all wrapped up in fairly unassuming exteriors - well, apart from the DS3 Racing that looks like someone has gone mad with an Airfix model and some neon spray paint. The cars were brimmed with the most potent unleaded we could find at a local Shell garage, we had filled up on sweaty egg sandwiches, and so we pointed the potent motors towards Rockingham's famous raceway for a long day of thrashing, sliding and general hatchback tomfoolery.
Baggott: Woah there Sir Quiffalot, I thought you were the editor of an esteemed motoring publication? Surely you, of all people, can tell the difference between the fuel-injected XR2i and the classic XR2? Anyway, yes, the new ST. I agree it's an absolute corker. The sound is brilliant with Ford channelling the noise from one bank of cylinders up into the cabin. It handles superbly and on the track is masterfully rapid. I'm not a fan of the complicated dash with buttons spread across it like hundreds and thousands, and the electric steering is too light for me, but I love the gear change and the looks are growing on me. Future classic in the making, I think.
Leon: I will have to agree. Simply hopping into the Fiesta and experiencing it for just a few seconds is enough to let the driver know this is one taut, focused track day machine. The gear change in the Peugeot could be condemned for being too slack and the clutch typically French and loose, while the DS3 Racing's steering is a little numb and lifeless. Not the Fiesta. It's like a tightly-wound rubber band that springs into life every time the apex beckons. I may be getting ahead of myself here but the old spider senses say the Fiesta will be the cheeky chappy to beat in this test...
Batch: No I can't agree with that. While the GTi's gearchange is nowhere near as crisp as the Fiesta's, the little Pug has a lovely changing action, made all the more pleasurable with the weighty aluminium gearknob. Couple that with the dinky steering wheel coated in luscious leather (which I couldn't stop fondling all day... but that's another story and not for this magazine) and the 208 likes being grabbed by the scruff of the neck. The 208 GTi is certainly a very commendable effort and if treated in isolation it's a gem. But up against the Fiesta I start to question a few things. Is that engine note a little too polite? Is the styling a little too reclusive? Again, Baggott, what with your current mid-life crisis and desperate need to relive your youth, you've recently bagged a 205 GTi haven't you? Regale us, won't you, while I go and make a cup of tea.
Baggott: Well Mr Floppy Head, you know me, an expert in PROPER classic cars (not TR7s), so obviously I pounced on a 205 1.9 when I could. Having driven it quite a bit lately I was interested in how the 208 GTi would compare. Well, honest answer is it doesn't. There's an honesty to the 205 that the fussy 208 doesn't have. Plus I like to be able to see the dials in cars I drive. Granted the 208 has a decent engine - I agree (hard to believe, I know) that it sounds pretty good and it's quick too. But it just doesn't excite me like the 205 does, or in the case of this test, the ST manages to. One thing in the 208's favour though is its looks - they've certainly nailed that. I love the little chrome badge flicking off the rear windows.
Leon: Sorry, but maybe I'm just not as fond of fondling leather steering wheels as Mr Batchelor is because I don't think Peugeot has done enough with this car. When the GTi was parked up next to our standard 208 long-termer, it became apparent that the styling department had clearly decided to slap on a bit of chunkier trim around the doors and wheels, bolt on a lip spoiler (everything has a lip spoiler these days) and pop a bit of chrome effect plastic on the mirrors and rear windows. It's obviously enough to impress Mr Baggott, the tallest magpie in the south, but I feel that evoking the raw, unadulterated driving thrills of the iconic 205 GTi requires a bit more than simple exterior chintz. Plus, it's the best part of £20,000 and the drive just isn't good enough for that sort of money. Apologies, in all of this Peugeot-bashing I've completely forgotten about the other Frenchman in the room, the Citroen DS3 Racing, a car I guarantee Mr Batchelor will like because it looks like one of the the Airfix models he spends many a lonely hour painting in his bedroom.
Batch: Airfix? No Meccano, Leon. I absolutely adore the DS3 Racing. Oh sure it drives pretty abysmally - what with steering that's so light it does nothing for your confidence during fast cornering, and a clutch that has a biting point so high it does quite ruinous things to your calf muscles – but it looks wonderfully jolly. This is how a hot hatch should be in my opinion. Totally mad to look at and quite loudly shouting about its intentions, the DS3 Racing may have the class and panache of shell suit but it has a sense of drama about it. With 200bhp it shifts too but, strangely, in a drag race between the three protagonists here it routinely came last. Perhaps its real carbon-fibre addenda are not as lightweight as we thought...?
Baggott: Tres bien monsieur Le Quiffe. An interesting summary of a car I feel has no right to be here whatsoever. Firstly, yes people might be buying the DS3 in their droves, but I really can't understand why. It's ugly, adorned with more trinkets than a gypsy and in this R form looks like it's been driven into a can of orange paint and sat on by an elephant. OK, it's vaguely fun to drive, but so is a 1.2-litre Corsa, and I'd rather poke my eyes out with a fork than buy either. The Citroen badge holds no sway with me these days - I loved the honesty of the Saxo VTR and VTS (I even bought one of the former new), but the DS3 is trying too hard. And for that reason I dislike it greatly. Anyway, rant over. Leon what order do you think these should be in?
Leon: The Man with the Golden Quiff is correct on this one. Hot hatches should be a bit mad, that's the whole point of them. Remember when Renault made proper lairy machines with Liquid Yellow paint jobs and contrasting red brake calipers? Those were the days and I think Citroen has at least tried (very hard, in fact) to make this model look as bonkers as possible. It never fails to draw gawps from passers-by and fist-pumps of adoration from track-suited youths. Unfortunately the DS3 Racing doesn't perform as well as its Tango wheels make out, it's a bit of a sheep in wolves' clothing. It tackles corners with aplomb, remaining flat and under control but it needs to be quicker. The fruity parp from the exhausts is intoxicating but the good old-fashioned drag race showed it up. It's just not as quick in a straight line as the other cars we have here. I'd be very interested in seeing its timed laps, though. I have a hunch it could be faster than the roly-poly Peugeot...
Batch: Tres drole... I do not think. I will not rise to these quiff-based jokes. Instead, I want to hear where you're placing these three cars. Me first: A surprising third is the 208 GTi for me. It's surprising because while it's faster and drives far better than the DS3 Racing, its looks let it down and it lacks the wow factor – something that's so important for a hot hatch. Second goes to the DS3 Racing. Like Baggott I'm a fan of hot Citroens, having owned two in the past, and the best of which was a C2 VTS Code with leather seats trimmed in choice cuts of Dale Winton. I am, therefore, hugely accepting of Citroen's mad approach to its spicy DS3. And the winner by a clear mile is the Fiesta ST. I'm in two minds about the looks – are those wheels too small? – and it's down in the power stakes, but it doesn't matter. It's one of the finest driving small cars in many a long year. Over to you Baggott, you greying so-and-so.
Baggott: Greying? Look, at least I don't need to resort to follicle topiary to cover my thinning head threads... Anyway, less of the hair chat, back to the hot hatches. In third for me is that ridiculous DS3R. I can't get past the looks and there's absolutely no way I'd ever consider buying one. Considering I've never seen one on the road I'm pretty sure most buyers agree. In second is the rather impressive 208 GTi. I like the looks, like the driving dynamics and love the way it sounds. It's an impressive all-rounder, if a little pricey. The Ford wins by a country mile, though, in my mind. It sounds great, handles brilliantly and I like the looks too. No wonder Ford has already sold out this year's allocation.
Leon: I know I'm going to sound like a sheep here, and not because I have just thought up a stonking quiff-related joke, but because I also gave plentiful points to the fast Ford. It handles majestically, with light but direct steering that just begs to be pushed into corners. The exhaust note is fruity and I don't think anyone would tire of the intoxicating whoosh of the turbo as it spools up. It isn't the prettiest thing in the world and I think it could take a leaf out of Ken Block's book and really push the boat out in the styling stakes, but as an affordable all-rounder it's unbeatable. The DS3 Racing scored well for me as it handled and rode brilliantly even if it was a little underpowered and was covered in daft stickers. Finally, the portly Pug with its spongey suspension settings and unimaginative styling limped over the finish line for me. Forget what you see on the adverts, the GTi definitely isn't back in my books.
Batch: Well that's clear then isn't it? With two votes to one the 208 GTi grabs second spot while the Citroen DS3 Racing has to be content with third. But the overwhelming favourite out of these three is the Blue Oval's Fiesta ST. For once we are all in agreement on something. The Fiesta ST is a masterclass in how to do a small, fast and practical little hot hatch. And it seems its fantastic mix of fun and affordability has won three
Well there we have it then. A hot hatch knockout with winners and losers. Taking last place is the DS3 with our testers saying it doesn't handle as well as the others. Second is the 208 GTi – the best GTi since the 205, but not the best hot hatch here. Instead, it's the Fiesta that seals the deal. Everyone's favourite, it seems the Blue Oval has created a real cracker. Future classic? We definitely think so.
Model: Citroen DS3 Racing THP 207
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Power: 204bhp, 275Nm
Max speed: 146mph
MPG (comb'd): 44.1
Model: Peugeot 208 GTi 1.6 THP
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Max speed: 143mph
MPG (comb'd): 47.9
Model: Ford Fiesta ST-2 EcoBoost
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Power: 178bhp, 290Nm
Max speed: 139mph
MPG (comb'd): 47.9
Check out our gallery of these three hot hatches below.