Aiming for the Austrian GP circuit via the roads spooling from the superbly named Obergurgl, just north of the alpine border with Italy, there’s plenty of time to get to know them. The Focus RS is immediately striking for being blooming fast. At launch, I was surprised Ford had given a Focus nearly 350bhp; now, I’d be surprised if this example has only that. Its lungs are huge and it thunders along the road, shrugging off large distances without a worry. It relishes passing the ‘Bundesrepublik Deutschland’ signs and hits the trip’s autobahn high score, 157mph being just 8mph shy of its claimed vmax.
The Golf is very nearly as quick, and its engine is rawer and notably more exciting at high revs. Yet it’s completely habitable too, as easy to use as any other GTI. There are even heated seats and a reversing camera, the particularly audible whirr of which is the only telltale sign some sound deadening has been ripped out. The Fiesta ST 200, meanwhile, feels the buzziest and most boisterous of our three-car convoy, and thus the least natural motorway car, though it’s still completely at ease cruising at 110mph. All of our cars have terrific Recaro seats, though each is different, with the Fiesta’s the most embracing here, if not the best positioned.
Our three takes on the hot hatch all prove capable at dispatching five countries in one day, proving practicality doesn’t necessarily come with seat count, nor speed with oversized engines. And their toughest challenge ought to be over, as we wake up the next day to the brain-mashing scenery of the Timmelsjoch Pass. Beginning just up the hill from Obergurgl, it heads to its 2,509m peak – and Italian soil – through an extremely sweet pick’n’mix of every corner type. It feels like hot-hatch heaven.
There’s a plot twist, though, one with a genuine spoiler. Awaiting us the other side of the road’s entry toll is a bright yellow cat, ready to maul our monochrome pigeons. The Clio RS16 is the wildest of wild cards, Renault Sport’s 40th birthday concept having had number plates tacked onto it just the day before in anticipation of this world-exclusive drive. It disgorges from its transporter, about to taste a public road for the first time.
It’s a car we’ve already driven, albeit incarcerated on a small French circuit. In short, it’s all the mechanicals from the mad Megane Trophy R – a Speed Week 2015 finalist and former ‘Ring record holder – squeezed beneath the smaller Clio body. That means a 271bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine, a 6spd manual ‘box, gargantuan brake discs and a mechanical differential on the driven front axle. Senior components, squeezed beneath a junior car. And no electronic safety nets in sight. It’s like we’ve stepped back to the hot hatchback’s conception.