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The evolution of the hot hatchback

Hot hatchbacks or hatches are the supercar of the every man making the ordinary extraordinary.

The term originated from Britain in the early 1980s and has become a standard term to describe performance versions of ordinary hatchbacks generally on a front-wheel-drive layout and small capacity engines.

However, before the hat hatch term was coined there were a few examples produced such as the AMC Gremlin in the US launched in 1970, with Fiat producing the first European version in the Autobianchi A112 Abarth a year later.

Alfa Romeo, Simca and Renault all had a crack, but Volkswagen with its Golf GTI is credited for bringing the hot hatch to the mainstream.

Revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1975 and released a year later it launched a revolution of hot hatches. The differences to the standard Golf included a more powerful engine, better handling, styling accents such as the red outline on the grill and GTI branding, with alloy wheels completing the package.

Ford, Lancia, Vauxhall and Sunbeam all released potent hot hatches, the latter in collaboration with Lotus, which was rear-wheel-drive.

Locally, the Torana A9X proved a successful beast on the track and though it had a limited production run, it was somewhat of a hot hatch nonetheless.

Popularity of hot hatches exploded in the 1980s as Group B rallying and homologation specials took development levels to the limit.

Leading the charge was the Nissan Pulsar ET, Peugeot’s 205 GTI, the Ford Fiesta XR2, Renault 5 GT Turbo, Ford Escort RS Turbo, MG Metro 6R and many more.

Lancia enjoyed incredible success with hot hatches in rallying from the introduction of the Delta S4 in 1985 to the Integrale when Group A regulations took over from 1987.

Japanese manufacturers specialised in smaller, turbo options such as the Honda City Turbo, Suzuki Cultus GTI, Nissan March Super Turbo, Daihatsu Charade GTti and the Toyota Starlet GT Turbo.

For the 1990s, Japan came to the fore as Suzuki’s giant killing Swift GTI dominated the Bathurst 12 Hour and the showroom during the early part of the decade.

Nissan with its GTI-R, Mazda’s Familia GT-R and the Honda Civic Type R further expanded the oriental influence to compete against the best from Ford, Peugeot, SEAT, Renault and Volkswagen, albeit the hotness was now more mild.

A resurgence came in the next decade as every nearly every major manufacturer offered a hot hatch as part of its line up.

Volkswagen can again be credited for bringing this wave on courtesy of the Mk V Golf GTI.

This proved a hit leading to Renault’s Megane RS variants, Audi RS3, BMW 130i, Alfa Romeo 147 GTA, Mini Cooper S/JCW, Peugeot 206 GTI, Ford Focus XR5, HSV Astra VXR, Fiat Punto Abarth and many more.

Asia also lifted its game courtesy of Honda’s futuristic Civic Type R, the Mazda 3 MPS, Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart and Proton entered early in the 2000s with its Mitsubishi-based Satria GTi tuned by Lotus.

Current day, the stakes have been raised in this sector as the direction of consumer’s choices are towards SUVs and electrical options, but hot hatches still remain relevant.

All-wheel-drive powertrains were becoming more common following Volkswagen and Audi’s introduction of this in the early 2000s through the Golf R32 and S3 nameplates, respectively.

Volkswagen’s Golf R, the Audi RS3, Mercedes-AMG A45 AMG, Ford Focus RS, with the latest being Toyota’s Corolla and Yaris GR examples utilising all-wheel-drive.

The death of the hot hatch might not be close, but with Ford ending production of the Fiesta and the Focus, will other manufacturers follow in this same direction by discontinuing B or C-Class segment vehicles?

Let’s hope not because hot hatches are awesome.