Hot hatch (shortened from hot hatchback) is a high-performance derivative of a car body style consisting of a three- or five-door hatchback automobile. The performance upgrades of a hot hatch are sometimes available for the estate variant of the car, often called sportwagons.
Vehicles of this class are based on family-oriented 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. Rear and all-wheel drive hot hatches are also available.
Origin 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.
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 Mini was one of the first cars to present a front-engine/front-drive (FF) layout that became commonplace in the automotive industry but didn't gain a hatchback until the BMW version came out many decades later. Compared to the relatively small size of the exterior dimensions, the FF mechanical layout created a packaging efficiency that gave the Mini quite a lot of usable interior space while providing an excellent platform of performance driving. The Mini Cooper S was a performance version of the Mini that was successfully campaigned in races throughout the 1960s winning the Monte Carlo Rally through 1964-1967 so pioneered small performance cars but was not a "hot hatch".
It is often cited in the Press that the car that popularised the concept of the hot hatch is the 1976 Volkswagen Golf GTI, announced at the 1975 Frankfurt Motor Show. but the Golf GTI was not the first hot hatch of the 1970s with several cars starting the trend of sportier versions of mainstream hatchbacks such as the Autobianchi A112 Abarth in 1971 which was a little "warmer" than the standard hatch and got "hotter" in 1975 when the engine was uprated to 70 hp with a five-speed gearbox giving a top speed of 160kph (99.4 mph) together with the Simca 1100 range introduced from 1967. Other "sport" trim FF cars were available in the mid '70s like the Fiat 127 Sport, Renault 5 TS and Peugeot 104ZS but were mildly modified and non could top 100 mph so were "warm hatches" at best.
The car with the strongest claim to be the first "hot hatch" based on a smaller lower-range model with the front engine/front drive layout that was to become the norm and a top speed of over 100 mph, was the Simca 1100 Ti which was available on sale in 1974 with 82 hp (up over 40% from 58 hp of the standard models) which dramatically improved performance and sent the top speed over 100 mph for the first time to 105 mph and a 0-60 mph time of under 12 seconds. Based on the 1100 Special introduced in 1970, distinguishing features of this performance version were its six-headlamp and foglight arrangement, front disk brakes, front and rear spoilers, alloy wheels, matte black grille and single colour paint scheme (red), items which would be adopted by the many Hot Hatches that would follow. Based on the Simca 1100 range introduced in 1967, the front wheel drive hatchback was a top seller throughout Europe and said to have inspired VW to replace its rear-engined range with a new front-engine product range including the Polo and Golf. Another early hot hatch was the Renault 5 Alpine (called Gordini in the UK due to Chrysler owning the Alpine model name there) which first went on sale in May 1976 and also pre-dated sales of the Volkswagen Golf GTi, by two months. The 5 and Golf were the first to have top speeds of at least 110 mph and reach 60 mph from 0 in less than 10 seconds.
The Golf GTI was originally designated to be sold on its native West German market, but from 1977 Volkswagen exported it, including to the UK market, although it was only available in left-hand drive. By 1979, British demand for the Golf GTI was so high that Volkswagen finally decided to produce a right-hand drive version. Such was its success in Britain that by 1983, more than 25% of Golfs sold in Britain (some 7,000 cars) were the GTI version, by now available as a cabriolet as well as a hatchback.
The Renault 5 Alpine/Gordini and Volkswagen Golf GTI, with the addition of a higher performance engine, sharper handling, distinctive body styling with additional spoilers and alloy wheels, helped create the birth of a huge market for small, practical hatchback cars with excellent performance to match contemporary coupes like the Ford Capri 2.0, Lancia Beta Coupe 2000 and Renault 17TS. With top speeds above 110 mph (177.0 km/h) at a time when most cars of this size were not even capable of 100 mph (160.9 km/h), the 5 Alpine/Gordini and 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 rear wheel drive 135 bhp (101 kW) Vauxhall Chevette HS, of which 400 were built for Rally homologation, providing sporting performance in a non-coupe body. Other hatchbacks which conformed to the new hatchback format included the 1979 Chrysler/Talbot Sunbeam Ti with 99 bhp (74 kW; 100 PS) and followed a year later by the 2.2 litre Talbot Sunbeam Lotus offered a then astonishing 150 bhp (112 kW) and a 0-60 mph time of 6.6 seconds.
The 1980s and 1990s
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 -crowned "The Greatest Ever Hot Hatch" at the Birmingham Performance Car Show- 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 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, Volvo 480 Turbo. The fastest hot hatch of the 1980s was the Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra GTE, which had a top speed of 134 mph (215.7 km/h).
The hot hatch was a particularly popular choice of car in Britain. By 1983, more than a quarter of Volkswagen Golf sales (some 6,000 to 7,000 cars) were of the GTI, while sales of the Escort XR3i accounted for around 10% (approximately 17,000) of total Escort sales. The XR3i was a fuel-injected, faster replacement for the carburettor XR3, which was produced from 1980 to 1982.
Austin Rover had retained the MG brand, having originally abandoned it with the end of sports car production in 1980, for the "badge engineering" of its Austin-badged hatchback and saloons with higher performance. However, this was discontinued in the early 1990s under the Rover Group, with badge-engineering being discontinued and the MG marque only being used on subsequent sports cars like the MG F.
By the end of the 1980s, the hot hatch was hugely popular in 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 MK2 Escort RS2000 saloon. The XR3i was discontinued in 1994. The final fast version of the Escort was the GTI.
Volkswagen built on the success of its GTI models by launching an even faster VR6 version of the Golf in 1991, with a 2.8 V6 engine and a top speed of 138 mph (222.1 km/h), which overtook the Astra GTE 16v as Europe's fastest hot hatch at the time.
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 Impreza Cosworth (350 PS (257 kW; 345 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 Fiesta ST, Focus ST and Focus RS, Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG, MG ZR and ZS, Mazdaspeed 3, 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.
Post 2000 also saw the introduction of the first ever Korean Hot Hatch, the 3-door Pro_Cee'd GT and 5-door Cee'd GT from Kia Motors. Kia originally intended this car to be a Warm Hatch, however the motoring press and now Kia themselves refer to it as a Hot Hatch. Hyundai Motors released their Korean Hot Hatch in 2012, with a turbo variant of their Hyundai Veloster, as well as a Elantra GT hatchback in 2001, both achieving 200 bhp.
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.
More recent American hot hatches include the 2002 Ford Focus SVT with 170 bhp (127 kW), the 2013 and newer Ford Focus and Fiesta ST, 2003 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT, 2007 Dodge Caliber SRT-4, 2012 Chevrolet Sonic RS and 2017 Chevrolet Bolt. Today, there are several options in the US hot hatch market such as the: Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R, Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Hyundai Veloster N, Fiat 500 Abarth, Mini Cooper S and Mini Cooper JCW, Ford Focus ST, Ford Fiesta ST and the Ford Focus RS
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 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 was discontinued for the 2014 model year. The Subaru WRX was no longer offered in hatchback form for the 2015 model year, but continues as a sedan and thus not a hot hatch. Unveiled in 2016, Honda offered the Honda Civic Type R to the 2017 model year for the USDM.
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 Proton Satria GTi and Suzuki Swift GTi/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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