I had a startling realisation recently.
Normally, I’m a rear-drive man. Don’t care where the engine is, but give me as many cylinders and cubic centimetres as you can (within reason). A gearbox that needs to be told what to do, ideally with a lever and third pedal. And a limited slip differential between the rear wheels that doesn’t like full-lock u-turns.
But just as I was wondering if this is how I’d always be, I drove a car with an east-west engine, not many cylinders (four) and not many litres (two), with a turbocharger and the front axle doing the work. We drive these cars regularly at MOTOR, of course. But this was the first time I caught myself thinking, I could own a hot hatch.
There’s a problem, though – and it’s a good problem. If you are brand agnostic, and have about $55K to spend, there is a dizzying variety of hot-hatch options. And the ‘problem’ is getting ‘worse’. By all accounts, when the Hyundai i30 N arrives early next year, you’d be silly not to put it on your short list.
On that same list should be the new Honda Civic Type R which, sounds like a weapon. Or you could wait for the all-new Renault Megane RS, although we’ve not driven that yet. If hardcore is more your thing, there’s the Ford Focus RS.
And at the other end of the spectrum, there’s the ballistic all-rounder, the newly updated VW Golf R. If you have thought to yourself, nah, not interested in any of these, I would counter that you’re potentially ruling yourself out of some truly excellent performance cars.
A Golf R, or a Focus RS, will dip into the fives to 100km/h – rabidly quick. And while none of these cars will ever drive like a 300-kilowatt Falcon or Commodore, they deliver equivalent, if different, thrills. Sheer ability being one, but pedal a hot hatch with a rear-end in competition with the front for who gets to go first, and tell me your heart rate isn’t as high as it is in a tyre-frying rear-driver.
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Exciting, but different. All of these cars, too, have interiors that would impress anyone who’s owned an Australian car. And with just as much space, in the front at least. While we come to terms with great change in a familiar genre – and the continued need for a car – there’s incredible excitement in the world of hot hatches. You should get in on it. Just ask those who are.