2016 has yielded a bumper crop of extra hot hatches. We take the long way to the Red Bull Ring in the RS16, GTI Clubsport S, Fiesta ST200 and Focus RS
Putting together a hot hatchback. Easy, right? Take something small and sensible, and an engine that’s a bit too big and powerful for it. One ginormous shoehorn later, you have a pent-up little performance car that’s able to bloody the noses of things rarer and more exotic on a tight piece of road.
At least that’s how it used to be, back when VW was first signing off the original Golf GTI in the Seventies. But things have changed, and each of the diverse bunch that’s qualified for Speed Week – three of which we’re driving down to Austria’s Red Bull Ring the elongated, 1,200-mile way – goes about its business quite differently. The fourth? We’ll get to that in a bit.
Our newest contender is a modern-day GTI. This Clubsport S is the hardest, fastest, most powerful factory Golf yet, which should help place it among the seven versions of fast Golf you can currently buy. Its 306bhp peak may be almost 90bhp more than a basic GTI’s, yet it’s still channelled through the front wheels only.
So far, so traditional, but VW hasn’t just given it a power boost. On top of tuned suspension and there’s been vast weight-saving (down to just 1,285kg), with the rear seats the most practical things to be thrown into the bins behind Wolfsburg HQ.
Each tweak has been in the name of securing a 7m49s Nürburgring lap time. That’s a record for FWD cars, and an achievement that’s helped sell all 150 of the UK’s intake almost immediately.
A couple of grand cheaper, is the Ford Focus RS, our most familiar, yet complex contender. Its 2.3-litre 4cyl engine seems especially oversized, and it sends 345bhp to all four wheels via a plethora of electronics that favour flinging power at the rear, especially when you’ve cycled through its increasingly yobbish driving modes. The antithesis to all of that is its near-1.6-tonne kerbweight and plush seating for five.
Far simpler to process is its little brother, the Fiesta ST200. Effectively an end-of-line special, it sees the ST at its shaypest and most powerful, with its turbo four wound up to 197bhp (or 212bhp on overboost). With three doors, a full complement of seats and simple FWD, it appears to follow ye olde hot hatch recipe perfectly, until you find its engine, a peskily downsized 1.6-litre that’s lounging with room to spare.