HOT HATCHBACKS - HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
February 13, 2013 3:50 PM  |  Posted By: Stephen Dobie
Rated 4.0 out of 5.0 by 4 members  |  17 Comments  |  9350 Views
Related Categories: Hot hatchbacks

How much is too much? I’m talking about hot hatchbacks. Today Mercedes pulled the wraps off its A45 AMG, which sounds like it will be extremely exciting to drive as well as spacious, practical and a doddle to live with. All the hot hatch boxes ticked with a nice indelible Sharpie, it would seem.  

Yet it has 355bhp. More than a Lotus Evora S. Its 2-litre turbo engine is the most powerful four-cylinder on sale, and delivers a 178bhp/litre specific output. More than any production car (apparently). With the help of four-wheel drive and a swift twin-clutch gearbox, it’ll embarrass many very expensive sports cars in a straight line.

 

If AMG’s recent purple patch continues, this will be a very, very good car to drive. But to extract most from it will likely require some antisocial speeds, and most probably an open circuit. Does this lift it into another genre entirely? Hot hatches of old were about extracting enormous amounts of fun at sane, sensible and (quite importantly) non-scary speeds.

It’s not just the Mercedes, either. Last week I had my first go in BMW’s new M135i, a rear-drive hot hatch with a sensible price tag and a 316bhp straight-six. It sounds fantastic, goes like the proverbial off a stick and is cracking to drive. Yet in our current cold and wintry weather, I had nearly as much fun driving a Toyota Auris 1.6 close to its limits as I did more gingerly exploring the brawnier BMW’s.

 

Do we need to rewrite what a hot hatchback should actually provide? Or is the ability to call anything from a 99bhp Fiat Panda to a 355bhp Mercedes A-class a hot hatch what makes this particular marketplace so exciting? I’d love to hear your thoughts (and which hot hatch you drive…)

 
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markmctavish at 4:39 PM February 24, 2013

Just because a quick car isn't a saloon does not make it a hot hatch. The hatchback Impreza was not a hot hatch back. A Porsche Panamera is not a hot hatch back. Generally speaking and ignoring some exceptions the criteria for a hot hatch back would be: front wheel drive, min 4 seats, min 3 door, max displacement circa 2000cc, max bhp/tonne 200bhp? Golf R32's and Lotus Sunbeams ruin these criteria though...the Panda is too slow to be hot...it's just warm.

Bezza at 8:34 AM February 23, 2013

None of the current hot hatches do anything for me. The new merc is a prime example, it looks horrible, has five doors and is too big and powerful. Hot hatches were always about fun, agility, bad boy attitude and something most people could aspire to affording. Only the Suzuki Swift and Twingo cup fill the brief for me, now that the Clio 200 has gone. I wouldnt trade any of them for our 205 GTI, which is fun, fun, fun and engenders so much respect and love from people you meet when you're with it!!

dbm at 10:04 AM February 20, 2013

I currently drive an RS3, which has copped some flak from the motoring press but in the real world is a very impressive car. It's not about driving on your door handles, it's about being able to overtake that codger in his Toyota in the relatively small gaps you get in modern driving conditions. So yes, these are GT cars, not 'sports cars' whatever that means.

CCC4U at 5:14 PM February 15, 2013

I have an 03 reg Fiesta Zetec 1.6, not even an S version. It has 100bhp and to be honest I get a lot of fun out of it and it suprises me the vehicles it can hold on to. Roundabouts are its forte. The thing grips like the proverbial too and I can get the arse out if there is no one around. Having said all that I still want a car with double that power. I have had cosworths in the not so distant past and it was huge fun too. Still only 200bhp mind. I would really like one of the new Fiesta STs if only they would bring the 5 door one over to the UK.

iisthelaw at 1:09 AM February 15, 2013

I have seen a golf R with the traction control off with its wheel in the air like the panda. it was on a track but what the panda is doing is not even legal in Australia anyway. so to have fun in most cars you will be breaking some law just more in a car like the Mercedes.

dominik025 at 9:07 PM February 14, 2013

Sport hatchback power in years:1980's 115-150 bhp ;1990's 150-200 bhp ;2000's 200-300 bhp ;2010's 300+What will be next?

fusion01 at 4:02 PM February 14, 2013

And the point that to really push this car at speed requires an open circuit really does hold true. I've taken my GTI MK5, 135i and Focus ST to many track sessions. You run a huge risk of failure to various parts. Under motorplan I suppose you're ok if you limp off of the track elsewhere or have specific insurance towards parts failure (Merc would cover you in this event? unlikely). My 135i went into limp mode many times, blew a high pressure fuel pump, my ST fried many clutch parts including the gear selector mechanism and cost to fix has hit me hard. Enough so that it's all over for me for now. So where and how do you work this sort of power? It's tough. Best have deep(er) pockets after your aquisition if you're really into seeing what these machines are cacable of!

vivianLJ at 3:56 PM February 14, 2013

we've also had this debate on the RForum.co.uk (VW Golf & Roc R) where some of us have increased our standard 265bhp cars to 330+bhp (others to well over 400bhp!). Whilst some go drag racing and do track days etc, most are just happy being able to have fun showing their superior power and grip (esp in the wet!) to otherwise unsuspecting contenders. However it has to be said that this will invariably mean breaking the speed limit. There is therefore a fully justified argument for a small car which is fun, frugal and imminently chuck-able. I'd love a Panda or Twinair as a 2nd car, although I'm frightened to actually get one as I'd probably end up selling the R!

fusion01 at 3:51 PM February 14, 2013

Anyone who honestly says they would prefer a Panda either (a) simply hasn't driven an M135i ever, or (b) is applying only theory to this debate, and nothing practical! And those with M135i's, please stop justifying why your car is better and rather spend the time taking your car for a drive instead :)

fusion01 at 3:48 PM February 14, 2013

Tough to get a lot of thrills out of this Merc even at high speeds on a track due to AWD and a myriad of safety features that frankly owners in 99% probability won't want to switch off to protect their very expensive investment. So where's the fun? Expensive, powerful cars such as these often become an excercise in posing by those who can afford them. I've owned some fairly powerful cars (most powerful a 135i with ECU tune) and frankly there's so much weight that they simply don't FEEL fast. Power + torque numbers are all to be seen in relation to the sum of the parts... this Panda probably weighs under a ton, and has a very simple rear suspension (no multi-link) so you can cock it's rear leg quite easily! Fun indeed.

einago at 3:33 PM February 14, 2013

Couldn't disagree with you more. I own a M135i, and have just had one of my most enjoyable drives along a very narrow windy B road on cold, wet and greasy roads. I have been very impressed with how much grip the M135i has. The challenge for me is judging just how much power that I can use given the current conditions and road. Sure I could have had fun in the Panda but then I would have just been keeping the throttle pinned as it does not have enough power to really make me think about it. In the M135i I had to think about how much throttle to use, use a higher gear to make sure I didn't overwhelm the tires and keep the car perfectly balanced. Given a wider road with faster bends I could really have pushed the car and ended up in license losing territory but on smaller B roads it is not about the outright speed but more about the balance, grip and effort required for the perfect drive with the added bonus if I came across slower traffic I could easily pass them.

EmDee420 at 2:12 PM February 14, 2013

Panda for me all day long. Brilliant car. The Mercedes might be better to live with year round, but even compared to the Panda it's ugly as sin and far too vulgar. How much does the Merc cost? If it comes in at 40k you could get 8 used Pandas instead!

John G at 12:55 PM February 14, 2013

With such a broad brief there's always going to be huge variety, and sub-categories in the hot hatch marketplace. Vive la difference I say. Running (and damage) costs, legislation, and enforcement all make the light weight, low grip, low cost, low power hot hatch argument more compelling as time passes. Slippy handling, ragging it out fun was always far more accessible in my old Saxo VTR (at up to 3 figures) than the big speed, big consequences fun on offer from my current 330i (which has it's place none the less).

elises.co.uk at 9:51 AM February 14, 2013

This seems a bit pointless to me. It's going to be fast but, it is too heavy to be a properly involving car to drive. It's too much of a compromise. For the same money you could buy a cheaper, light-weight hot hatch with decent performance AND a much faster and lighter track day / sports car. This car was built for pub talk.

JBGTIV at 9:45 AM February 14, 2013

I was lucky enough to own a Panda 100HP for 18 months or so a few years back and i can't say i've had more fun in a car since. Yes, the ride was too hard on a daily basis and it was tiring on long trips but throwing the stick round the delightful gearbox and thrashing the engine down a narrow B-Road made it all wonderful! I upgraded to a MK5 Golf GTI which was much nicer to live with, more comfortable and of course, twice as powerful. Miles better to live with, but not quite as much fun!

carlos at 11:19 PM February 13, 2013

That is an awesome pic of the Fiat. How much power do we need for fun ?

Formerly M135i at 7:07 PM February 13, 2013

Sort of had this debate on the forum a while ago. Owning the M135 is great but as you point out it so quick you are into license losing by just stretching its legs. Perhaps they are better thought of as hyper hatchbacks that are better GT cars rather than B road blasters. Give me back my old mark two 16v any day of the week....

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