Vehicles of this class are based on family-orientated automobiles, and are equipped with an uprated more powerful internal combustion engine, improved suspension, and may also include additional 'aerodynamic' body parts and larger wheels and tyres. Front-mounted petrol engines, together with front-wheel drive, is the most common powertrain layout, although some can be specified as diesel-powered, and rear or four-wheel drive hot hatches are also available.
Origination of the term
The term hot hatch gained widespread use during the 1980s in the UK, first as 'hot hatchback' by 1983 and then shortened to 'hot hatch' in the motoring press in 1984, and first appeared in The Times in 1985, and is now commonly and widely accepted as a mainstream, if still informal term. It is retrospectively applied to cars from the late 1970s but was not a phrase used at the time.
Within the United States, hot hatches are classified along with saloons and small coupes as sport compacts and elsewhere the term sport sedan is often used. The term is not in wide use in Australia and Oceania despite the popularity of the hatchback in this region.
Some sports cars are hatchback in form, but as they are not upgraded small family cars, they are not classified as hot hatches. Cars such as the Porsche 928, Porsche Panamera, Reliant Scimitar GTE and Ferrari FF have not been classified in print as hot hatches.
Development of the hot hatch
The car that popularised the concept of the hot hatch is the 1976 Volkswagen Golf GTI, announced at the 1975 Frankfurt Motor Show. However, the Golf GTI was not the first hot hatch with several cars from the early seventies starting the trend of sportier versions of mainstream hatchbacks such as the Simca 1100 Ti which was available on sale Europe-wide by 1974. Another early hot hatch was the Renault 5 Alpine which first went on sale in May 1976 and also pre-dated sales of the Volkswagen Golf GTi, by two months.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI, with the addition of a higher performance 1.6 litre fuel injected engine, sharper handling, and sports-focused marketing, helped create the birth of a huge market for small, practical cars that still had excellent performance. The Golf GTI enjoyed a short run of unparalleled sales success, but by the early 1980s, car manufacturers worldwide were racing to market with their own alternatives.
Until the early 1980s, the Volkswagen Golf Mk1 GTI and the Renault 5 Alpine/Gordini dominated the retrospectively named hot hatch market segment in many European markets. However, competition was not entirely limited to non-hatchbacks, the various sports versions of the Mini, Alfa Romeo Alfasud and race-inspired enthusiasts' vehicles such as the 135 bhp (101 kW) Vauxhall Chevette HS providing sporting performance in a non-coupe body. Other hatchbacks which conformed to the new hatchback format included the 1978 Chrysler/Talbot Sunbeam Ti with 99 bhp (74 kW; 100 PS) and brisker acceleration than the Golf and followed a year later by the 2.2 litre Talbot Lotus Sunbeam offered a then astonishing 150 bhp (112 kW) and a 0-60 mph time of around 6.8 seconds, the Peugeot 104 ZS.
The Eighties and Nineties
From the coining of the term hot hatch in 1984, the market for small and family hatchbacks with sportier performance grew, and nearly all manufacturers included a hot hatch variant to their range. There was great variation in how the performance modifications were developed, with manufacturers selecting improving the carburettor such as the 1981 Ford Fiesta XR2, fuel injection as with the Peugeot 205 GTI and 309 GTI, turbocharging by Renault in the 5 GT Turbo and 11 Turbo or inserting larger engines such as the 2.0 litre Fiat Ritmo/Fiat Strada Abarth 130 TC. Volkswagen also experimented with supercharging in the Polo G40 and Golf G60.
Other mid 1980s hot hatches included the Citroën AX Sport / GT, Daihatsu Charade GTti, Fiat Uno Turbo i.e (European) / SR 1.6 (Brazil), Ford Escort XR3 and XR3i, Mitsubishi Colt 1600 Turbo, MG Metro, MG Maestro, Opel Corsa/Vauxhall Nova SR / GT / GSi / GTE, Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra GT / SRi / GSi / 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 vehicles represented a brief, extreme branch of the hot hatch, and included such notable vehicles as the Lancia Delta S4, MG Metro 6R4 and Peugeot 205 T16.
From the 1990s, the choice of hot hatches widened, with most examples still from the European motor manufacturers, with the Japanese makers making an impact too, and were primarily destined for European markets. New entries to the market and higher performance versions included the Ford Fiesta RS Turbo, Ford Escort RS2000 and Escort RS Cosworth, Honda Civic Type R, Nissan Sunny GTi, GTi-R, Peugeot 106 Rallye / GTi and 306 GTi-6 / Rallye, Proton Satria GTi, Renault Clio Williams / 16V, SEAT Ibiza GTi / GT 16v / Cupra, Toyota Corolla GTi. Ford also revived its historic RS2000 designation for the Escort in 1991; it had last been used 11 years earlier on the demise of the old rear-wheel drive Escort RS2000 saloon. The XR3i was discontinued in 1994.
In the 2000s, a new hot hatch "class" was born, engine outputs grew up to well beyond 200 PS (147 kW; 197 bhp), and by 2010 Ford and Subaru challenged each other with the Ford Focus RS 500 (350 PS (257 kW; 345 bhp)) and Subaru Cosworth Impreza STI CS400 (400 PS (294 kW; 395 bhp)). Evo magazine called these extreme versions "superhatch" in the early 2000s but the phrase did not catch on.
Most hot hatches continued to still be of European origin, with competitive models principally from Britain, France, Italy and Germany. Outside of Europe, Japan is a major exporter of hot hatches. Several hot hatches are exported to Australia and North America where they compete with local sport compact models. During the 2000s manufacturers started to emphasise the sub-brand of their hot hatch derivatives such as Renault's Renault Sport, Opel's OPC, Vauxhall's VXR and Fiat's Abarth.
Examples of post-2000 hot hatches include the Audi A1 Quattro, Alfa Romeo 147 GTA, Citroën DS3 Racing, Abarth Grande Punto, Ford Focus ST and RS, MG ZR and ZS, Mini Cooper and John Cooper Works, Opel/Vauxhall Astra SRi Turbo, OPC and VXR, Peugeot 207 GTi, Renault Clio RS 2.0 / V6, Mégane Renault Sport, SEAT León Cupra and FR,Volkswagen Golf GTI and R models.
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 with 90 bhp (67 kW), American manufacturers already offered sporting versions of their own hatchbacks including the 1981 1/2 Dodge Charger 2.2 with 84 bhp (63 kW) and 107 bhp (80 kW) in the 1983 Shelby Charger, and the 1980 Chevrolet Citation X-11 originally with 115 bhp (86 kW). Ford offered the Escort GT and near-identical Mercury Lynx XR3. Chrysler first offered a 2.2 turbo in the Daytona and Laser in 1984 and also offered it in the Lancer/Lebaron GTS and Shadow/Sundance hatchbacks. Chrysler offered the Carroll Shelby prepared turbocharged Dodge Omni GLH in 1985 to 1986 with 146 bhp (109 kW) (which was reputed to stand for "Goes Like Hell"), and in 1986 the 175 bhp (130 kW) intercooled GLHS (Goes Like Hell Somemore). General Motors offered a few sports version of its J-car hatchbacks through 1987, including the V-6 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 and turbocharged Pontiac Sunbird and Buick Skyhawk.
Japanese manufacturers launched their own sports compacts to the American market including the Acura Integra, Toyota Corolla FX-GT and Corolla GT-S and the Honda Civic Si, and the Canadian built Toyota Matrix XRS.
The hot hatch in Australia and Asia
While the term is not widely used in Australia and Asia, there were locally developed models which provided performance and visual improvements to the regular family hatchback such as the Ford Laser TX3, Toyota Corolla Levin/Sprinter Trueno GT-APEX, Honda City Turbo/Turbo II and Suzuki Swift Sport. More recently hot hatches in Australia have included the Ford Focus XR5 and HSV Astra VXR.
As hot hatches gained more power and performance during the 1990s and 2000s, the term warm hatch started to be used to denote a junior version of a hot hatchback. Warm hatches still offer improved performance whilst retaining the practicality of the standard derivatives and attracting lower insurance premiums. Warm hatches can be expected to have more muted styling features than their hot hatch cousins, they will often lack items such as front splitters and racing style bucket seats.
Whilst having improved performance, warm hatches are less powerful than the hot hatch version of the car, typically more than 100 bhp (75 kW), but less than 150 bhp (112 kW) such as the Mini Cooper, Peugeot 207 GT Suzuki Swift Sport, and Toyota Yaris SR.
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