Golf GTI, Fiesta ST, 205 GTI, Focus RS, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda. The world’s best hot hatches get their fair share of airtime, but what of the forgotten gems? We took a virtual tour of Auto Trader and set ourselves a challenge to find 20 unsung heroes of the British B-road. Here’s what we discovered.
Peugeot 205 Rallye
The Peugeot 205 GTI is regarded as the best hot hatch of all time, but prices are spiralling out of control. But there is another way to enjoy a 205 and it’s called the Rallye. Pug purists will tell you that the real 205 Rallye was a lightweight left-hooker, armed with a twin-carb 1294cc engine and enough pace to keep a GTI on its toes. What we have here is a UK-spec Rallye – essentially a rebadged XT with a single-carb 1360cc engine. But don’t let that put you off, because this will deliver the purest of B-road thrills.
Nissan Sunny ZX Twin Cam 16v
Before you scoff at the price, as the advert says, try finding another one. The Nissan Sunny ZX Twin Cam 16v is a Nissan Sunny GTI in all but name. With a 1.8-litre 16v engine, this is a decidedly 90s take on the hot hatch formula. The yellow fog lights are good for an extra 5hp. Probably.
Fiat Stilo Schumacher
The Fiat Stilo was never a big seller in the UK, which makes the Schumacher special edition a rare sight. Designed to take on the Focus ST170 and Astra SRI, a mere 200 right-hand drive cars were produced, each one finished in Ferrari Red. OK, so ideally we’d want the optional GP pack, but the 2.4-litre five-cylinder engine still appeals. We also think the styling is ageing rather well.
Lancia Delta HF
When it comes to affordable Lancia Delta Integrales, the ship has well and truly sailed. The standard Delta was a fine car – good enough to scoop the European Car of the Year award in 1980. And in Delta HF and HF Turbo guise, you’ve got the forerunner to the all-conquering Integrale. We adore this car’s understated styling and Recaro interior.
Rover Metro GTI
To paraphrase Robin Thicke: the Rover Metro GTI – you know you want it. This tiny tearaway has covered just 18,760 miles since new and, according to the description, has just been through its first MOT. The British car industry bible, AROnline, says the Metro GTI is “a cracking car, fast [and] nimble on its feet”. We’re sold, but would you pay over £4,000 for the privilege?
Talbot Sunbeam TI
When the Performance Car Show named the top ten hot hatches of all time, the list was dominated by French and German cars. The Talbot Lotus Sunbeam flew the flag for Britain, but while we can’t offer the Lotus position, we can deliver the next best thing. This Talbot Sunbeam TI looks like an absolute peach and features a few well-chosen modifications. Just two owners from new and 78,000 miles on the clock.
Ford Escort GTI
OK, we admit the Ford Escort GTI isn’t a true hot hatch. But that RS200-style body kit ensures it looks the part and the 1.8-litre Zetec engine will deliver some old school thrills. Dare we say the Escort GTI is ageing rather well? Consider this: in 2001 there were around 14,000 on the road. Today, that number has dropped below 500.
Nissan Almera GTI
The Nissan Almera GTI captures the very essence of an underrated hot hatch. Sure, the standard Almera is about as exciting as a rice cake, but that simply makes the transformation all the more remarkable. A mere 140hp from its 2.0-litre 16v engine will deliver little in the way of fireworks, but we’re turned on by what is, relatively speaking, an untouched example of this forgotten gem* from the 90s. *might be a tad enthusiastic.
Alfa Romeo 146 TI
Being picky, we’d prefer the ‘breadvan’ styling of the 145 to the plain-Jane look of the 146, but in 2016 beggars can’t be choosers. The 2.0-litre engine is an absolute peach, while the handling is a match for any hot hatch of the same era. We don’t like the Lexus-style rear lights or the aftermarket alloys, but the seller states the originals are available.
Volvo C30 T5 Polestar
At the opposite end of the market you’ll find this 2008 Volvo C30 T5 R-Design. The pre-facelift C30 is arguably more attractive than the later cars, while this car benefits from the all-important R-Design trim. Furthermore, its 2.5-litre five-cylinder — which is the same as you’ll find in the Focus ST — has been boosted by a Polestar performance chip. We’re a little bit in love with this one.
Suzuki Ignis Sport
The Suzuki Ignis Sport was introduced in 2003 – a high performance version of the three-door Ignis celebrating Suzuki’s entry in the Junior World Rally Championship. Indeed, the 1.5-litre engine was based on the Super 1600 JWRC cars and helped to deliver a 0-62 time of 8.9 seconds. We’re big fans of the Ignis Sport, but you might want to check the list of MOT advisories before you take the plunge..
Skoda Octavia vRS
Today, the vRS badge is a fully paid up member of the fast club, but this wasn’t always the case. Fifteen years ago, when the vRS badge first appeared, the idea of a performance Skoda was a hard sell. Think of the original Octavia vRS as a more practical and slightly softer Golf GTI, with the same 1.8-litre turbocharged engine. We like the fact that this example has had just one owner from new and boasts a full Skoda service history.
Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart
Draw up a list of junior hot hatches of the past decade and it will be a while before you get to the Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart. And that’s a shame because, bonkers though it is, the little Colt has a lot going for it. A punchy 1.5-litre turbocharged engine, stiffer chassis and uprated springs are the highlights. Furthermore, that Ralliart badge will give earn you some kudos points in Japanese performance car circles.
Rover 200 VI
We wanted to bring you a Rover 200 BRM or 25 GTI, but there are none for sale on Auto Trader. So while it would be easy to switch badges to showcase the MG ZR, that seems a tad obvious. Instead, consider the Rover 200 VI. Not convinced? Here’s a snippet from the PistonHeads forum: “Had one of these for three years and loved it. Surprisingly quick, you have to use the gears more than usual and keep the revs up, but that’s all part of the fun.” We’re sold.
Daihatsu Cuore Avanzato TR-XX R4
We ran one of these for six months and can report that they are every bit as good as the reviews make out. Nicknaming it the ‘box of frogs’ tells you all you need to know – the Cuore Avanzato TR-XX R4 is bonkers and brilliant. The CAT C classification and modifications might put some folk off, while it’s also worth noting that, as a Mira, this is likely to be a Japanese import rather than the UK-spec Cuore.
Before you say it, we’re fully aware that the ZS180 is superior to the 120, not least because of its 2.5-litre V6 engine. But the 1.8-litre ZS120 will be cheaper to run and we rather like this demo-plus-one-owner example. With only 49,287 miles on the clock, the K-Series engine has a great deal of life left yet. And the dealer warranty should provide some peace of mind when thinking about the head gasket. Just make sure this is covered.
Fiat Seicento Michael Schumacher
Face it, Michael Schumacher wouldn’t have put his name to any old city car. Well, not without some encouragement from his Ferrari F1 team. Cynicism aside, we’ve always liked the idea of the Seicento Michael Schumacher edition, which was based on the Sporting and offered ABS brakes, an Abarth styling kit and a set of Schumacher decals.
Given the choice between a Ford Puma 1.7 and the 1.6-litre Ford SportKa, we’d take Steve McQueen’s advice and opt for the Puma. But as a coupe it doesn’t meet the hatchback criteria, so a SportKa it is. Most are suffering from rot and they’re not especially cheap to run, but the SportKa is a bundle of joy to drive. And it takes us back to a time when the Ford Ka was an object of desire.
Smart Forfour Brabus
Fancy something oddball? The Smart Forfour Brabus was based on the Mitsubishi Colt and shared the same 1.5-litre turbocharged engine, albeit with close to 180hp on tap. The Brabus makeover also managed to turn a rather cutesy car into something a little more aggressive. It’s not the sharpest hot hatch you can buy, but that Brabus badge is seriously cool.
Daewoo Kalos Blue
Our final car is very much the joker in the pack – the red herring, if you like. Only it’s not red, it’s blue. The Daewoo Kalos Blue isn’t a hot hatch at all. OK, so it wears a hot hatch style body kit, but everything else about it is stone cold. When Evo magazine tested it in 2003, it was awarded a single star. Some ‘hot’ hatches are forgotten for a reason…