Hot hatches

Hot hatch

A hot hatch is an informal or slang term for a high-performance derivative of a three (or sometimes five) -door automobile. The term is more popular in Europe because of the popularity of hatchback configuration. The United States also uses the term sport compacts, however, this deviates from the original meaning of the hot hatch terminology. Vehicles of this class are typically based on a budget, family-oriented automobile, and equipped with improved suspension and a more powerful engine. Front mounted petrol engines and front wheel drive is the most common powertrain layout.

Development of the hot hatch

The design most often considered to have started the hot hatch genre is the 1977 Volkswagen Golf GTI, (although some considers the first "true" hot hatch was the Simca 1100 dating from 1967/8 or Alfa Romeo Alfasud). The Renault 5 Alpine also pre-dated the Golf GTI, being launched in 1976.

The original 1974 version of the Golf was in mass production at this point, and the addition of a higher performance 1.6 litre fuel injected engine, sharper handling, and sports-focussed marketing found the birth a huge market for small, practical cars that still had excellent performance. The Golf GTI enjoyed a short run of unparalleled success, but by the early 1980s car manufacturers worldwide were racing to market with their own alternatives. Notable big-sellers in the early days were the Peugeot 205 GTI, Ford Escort XR3i, and Vauxhall Astra GTE.

By the end of the 1980s the hot hatch had taken its place across Europe, and was pushing into other worldwide markets. The brief heyday of Group B rallying pushed the hot hatch genre to its limits, and small numbers of ultra-high performance variants were manufactured to comply with the rally rules (often termed "homologation specials"). These enthusiasts vehicles represented a brief, extreme branch of the hot hatch, and included such notable vehicles as the Peugeot 205 T-16 and MG Metro 6R4.

The hot hatch in North America

Before the Volkswagen Rabbit (the North American version of the Golf) was introduced in GTI form in September 1982 as a 1983 model, sports versions of family hatchbacks were little more than cosmetic upgrades of the basic models, typified by magnesium wheels and body decals. The introduction of the GTI in the U.S. and Canada quickly led the American and Japanese manufacturers to produce models worthy of competing with VW. As in Europe, the GTI found several direct competitors in North America. Ford offered the Escort GT, and its Lincoln-Mercury division offered the identical Mercury Lynx XR3. Chrysler offered the turbocharged Dodge Omni GLH in 1985 to 1986 (which the Dodge division said stood for "Goes Like Hell") and in 1986 to 1987 the intercooled GLHS (Goes Like Hell Somemore). Both were prepared and named by Carroll Shelby. General Motors offered a few sports version of its J-car hatchbacks, including the Chevrolet Cavalier Z24. After 1995, however, the J-chassis Pontiac Sunfire GT and Chevrolet Z24 were offered only as two-door coupés. Toyota offered the Corolla FX-16, and Honda introduced the Civic S (later called the Si when that model gained fuel injection). Hot hatches maintained some popularity in North America throughout the 1990s, even as most small cars were designed with trunks. The Honda Civic was the benchmark for Japanese hot hatches in America, but when the Civic line was redesigned for 2006, the Si came in coupé form only; the Civic hatchback was no longer available in the U.S. in any form. Volkswagen remained committed to the market segment in North America, though, releasing a turbocharged, redesigned GTI in early 2006 with a notably successful advertising campaign. Mazda introduced its Mazdaspeed 3 in October of 2006, a turbocharged version of their popular 3, with .

Hot hatches and compacts before 1980

Until 1980 the VW Golf dominated the hot hatch market segment. Competition was limited to non-hatchbacks, the Mini, and race-inspired enthusiasts' vehicles such as the Vauxhall Chevette HS. However, sub-compacts and superminis had adopted a two-box design ever since the Mini, and, in spite of their small engines, had been adopted by young racing enthusiasts with little money because of their low weight. Thus, even though the Golf was one of the few cars with engines larger than 1.4 L and with more than 100 hp (75 kW), other hatches were on their way to becoming "hot". Also, cars such as the Hillman Imp or the Simca Rallye, while having sedan bodies, were small enough to be considered direct ancestors of the hot hatch.

1980–1990—The first generation

The first generation of hot hatches included the following notable models:

1990–2000—The second generation

With the Golf getting slower, heavier and more expensive to match its target market, space opened for a new breed of hot hatches in the 1990s:

Hot hatches since 2000

The late 1990s saw a gradual shift away from lightweight, economical small cars and the introduction of new market category-blurring vehicles. In the 2000s new hot hatch "class" was born, engine powers grew up to .

Recent hot hatches include the following models:

American hot hatches of the 1980s

See also

References

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