The hot hatch market has never been so competitive, and with the arrival of VW’s Golf GTI Clubsport S, the competition has a real fight on its hands
Just as there has to be a winner, there must also be a loser. The hot hatch sector has never been stronger than it is right now, but that point is actually better demonstrated by the car that loses this group test rather than the one that wins it. The machine that comes home in fourth position will be rampantly fast; hugely exciting to drive on road and track, and perfectly useable every day, too. But it will also be presented with the wooden spoon. The winner, by extension, will be a car of such radiant quality that it deserves to be recognised alongside the best performance cars of the moment at any price point.
Our search for the world’s greatest hot hatch will take us to the spectacular and revealing moorland roads of the Yorkshire Dales, to Brunting thorpe’s 3200m runway and to the Bedford Autodrome’s West Circuit. Over three days, we’ll learn which is the most enjoyable hot hatch on the road, which is the fastest in a straight line, and which is the quickest on circuit.
After all of that, the victor will still have much to prove. The Renaultsport Mégane 275 Trophy-R is the most thrilling car of its type of the last few years – of all time, perhaps – and the winner of this test will square up against it in a meeting of giants. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets, please.
Few real-world performance cars have ever garnered more column inches and YouTube minutes than the new Ford Focus RS. It has been described by some as the best car on the planet, full stop, and by others as a let-down. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, but at least on one point we can reach a consensus: the RS is a more intriguing car for driving all four wheels. With a centre diff and a rear drive unit that juggles torque between the rear wheels via a pair of clutch packs, the RS has the sophisticated all-wheel-drive system Blue Oval devotees have been crying out for.
The Ford’s 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine develops 257kW, with 470Nm from 2000rpm, making it comfortably the most powerful car in this line-up. At $50,990 it looks like strong value in this company, too.
The recently updated SEAT Leon Cupra 290, along with this generation Honda Civic Type R, isn’t available in Australia, but in the UK undercuts the Focus by around $4K. Its 2-litre engine is good for 213kW and 3S0Nm – the latter from just 1700rpm. In our experience, however, these Leon Cupras always feel stronger than their claimed power and torque figures suggest. It’s also the only car here that can be specified with two pedals, though today we have the full complement.