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2018 Hot Hatch Megatest: Introduction

By The Wheels team, 12 May 2018 Reviews

2018 Hot Hatch Megatest: Introduction

A dozen of the best performance hatches hit the road and tack in this quest to find where the heat really lies in this iconic segment

THE GENIUS of hot hatches isn’t always easy to pin down. In some ways it’s the ability of a car manufacturer to cost-effectively transform something utterly banal, automotive white goods if you like, into something infused with magic.

Stay tuned over the next week as we count down through the field and arrive at the Hot Hatch Megatest winner.

Volkswagen’s Golf GTI has defined this class for four decades, and has provided a durable benchmark of excellence. Yes, there have been a couple of dud vintages of the hot Golf, but it’s been on a roll since the Mk5 launched in 2003. Despite this test containing more overt claims on your attention, the Golf GTI remains the fulcrum; the standard by which the rest are measured. Additional terms of reference?

We’ve limited the upper price bracket to $52K, which lets a few very spicy entrants sneak in, but unfortunately omits the Ford Focus RS, which is now only offered in LE guise at $56,990. Before you ask, Renault was unable to get the new Megane RS280 to these shores in time.

Read next: Opinion: The new hot hatch golden age

With a front-wheel-drive record of the Nurburgring under its belt, the Honda Civic Type-R represents the most extreme end of our collection, with BMW’s 125i offering a suave rear-drive outlier at the other. Between those two bookends are ten mouthwatering choices, including a couple of Subarus that, if you’re being picky, aren’t hot hatches at all.

We included them because we know that if you’re choosing cars like these, you’re likely to cross-shop an all-wheel drive, flat-four sedan.

The car that spawned this test was Hyundai’s i30N, the marque’s first attempt at a genuine top-end hot hatch. Despite poaching the cream of BMW’s M Division engineering and product development nous, the odds of the Koreans getting it right first time seem pretty long. Getting within arm’s reach of the Mk7.5 Golf GTI would be a heck of an achievement for Namyang.

Peugeot’s 308 GTI 270 also had us intrigued, and we were also keen to pitch the aggressively priced Golf R Grid into the fray. In short, this test was one that was almost impossible to call, so we devoted a week to an exhaustive road and track evaluation, in order to deliver a definitive verdict on the current state of the hot-hatch art.

Haunted Hills - The track

Bryant Park in Gippsland, more widely known as Haunted Hills, almost seems purpose-built for hot hatches. There’s not a flat section on the track, it packs 15 corners into its 1400m length and throws all manner of malign cambers, blind apexes and fiendish radius corners into a crazily immersive lap of little over a minute.

The lap starts at its highest point and then disappears into ‘Oh Shit’, an aptly named corner that loses camber and elevation with your runoff zone being an unyielding earth bund. In the track’s usual hillclimb configuration, this corner is taken from a standing start. We’d be running flying laps, so it turned into a heart-in-mouth, maximum attack scrabble.

From there, the track snakes downhill to a fierce compression, that leads into a series of clockwise mainly right handers that make up the bottom loop, before hitting a sharp ramp onto the back ‘straight.’ Then it’s into three gradually tightening, beautifully cambered hairpins that lead onto the short incline back to the start/finish line.

Read next: VW Golf hot hatch rivals gain popularity

There are any number of places where missing the braking point, putting a tyre onto polished kerb paint or getting greedy with the throttle will result in bent sheetmetal. Or worse. The key to a fast lap of Haunted Hills is precision, steely car control, aggression in the right places and a vehicle with strong front end grip, on-demand torque and classy damping.

In short, it’s a track that rapidly separates the makeweights from the masterworks.

Renato Loberto

He’s proven his worth in any number of Wheels tyre tests, so it was natural we’d turn to Renato Loberto when we required metronomic precision of evaluation lap times at Haunted Hills. A Ferrari Corsa Pilota instructor and GT3 racer who’s stood on the podium at the Bathurst 12 Hour, Loberto also runs MotoKinetic, offering driver coaching, car set-up and automotive event management services.

Delivering control laps within a tenth of each other around the Haunted Hills circuit, Ren also offered feedback on each car’s track performance, contributing to the final judging process. His early-morning familiarisation laps on the first day were performed in a hired VFII Commodore, which gained in provenance what it lost in tread depth.

Stay tuned over the next week as we count down through the field and arrive at the Hot Hatch Megatest winner.

Hot Hatch Megatest Contenders

12th, Score 6/10: Mini Cooper S JCW

11th, Score 6.5/10: BMW 125i 

10th, Score 6.5/10: Subaru WRX Premium

9th, Score 7/10: Subaru WRX STI 

8th, Score 7/10: Skoda Octavia RS245

7th, Score: 7.5/10: Ford Focus ST

6th, Score: 7.5/10: Renault Clio RS220 Trophy

5th, Score: 8/10: Volkswagen Golf GTI Original

4th, Score: 8.5/10: Volkswagen Golf R Grid

3rd, Score: 8.5/10: Peugeot 308 GTi 270

2nd, Score: 9/10: Honda Civic Type R

Winner, Score: 9/10: Hyundai i30 N