The high-water mark of many a great model often occurs just before the line-up is about to be replaced. MOTOR picks five run-out hot hatches that are destined to beckon collectors’ money for years to come
There’s a long-standing debate among enthusiasts: Is it better to get the first of the new or last of the old generation? Pros and cons abound for both. The new one will certainly pack more power, lap the Nürburgring point-one-three-two seconds faster and be fitted with some miracle tech that revolutionises the way it drives, the manufacturer will claim. But it’s going to cost you more, and, nowadays, come with a hipster-friendly downsized engine that has more torque and lower theoretical fuel consumption, but at the cost of noise, throttle response and good ol’ driver involvement. The last of the old, in comparison, should be a bit old-tech, adorned in go-faster appendices, with a limited-edition plaque, most likely, and if unmodified, could be worth lots of money in the future. Later in its model cycle, there will be a greater chance of any production deficiencies being ironed out. That’s why we recommend these five: The last of the bestsellers.
1. Ford Fiesta ST200
It’s like a Fiesta ST, just more, and grey. Ever since the pint-sized pocket rocket tripodded into frame in 2013, it has been the supermini daddy, a car that gave more driving fizz than stuff costing three times as much. The Clio RS and 208 GTi simply didn’t get the memo, and the Polo GTI was too benign and serious, but the little Fiesta kept the flag soaring high for fast Fords. Now as a swansong before (ahem) a three-cylinder EcoBoost is called into duty in the upcoming ST version, the very fun ST200 gets a power bump from 134 to 147 kW and an additional 30 Nm extra on overboost. It’s so smooth and linear you can barely tell it’s turbocharged, though, and its overboost function is a bit of a Blue Oval specialty in that it allows the car to run economically in daily traffic, but really gives you a kick in the backside when you go all Ken Block on it. Obligatory Recaro bucket seats and a flat-bottomed steering wheel lift an interior that felt a bit dated at the start of its life cycle. The ST200 is not about toys and gadgets – well, until the new one arrives – it is about arcing through turns flat out and cocking a rear wheel… It’s an absolute riot.
2. Renault Sport Megane 275 Finale
This 3rd-gen Renault Sport Megane has dominated the hot-hatch realm like no other. Since its introduction in 2011, there have been countless limited-edition models, most notably the 275 Trophy and Red Bull Racing, built to commemorate Formula 1 Constructors’ Championships. The new Megane R.S. gets a downsized 1.8-litre turbo and fancy new four-wheel steering, and by all accounts, it’s pretty darn amazing. But can it really beat the no-compromise, high-intensity thrills of the 275 Finale’s 201 kW 2.0-litre turbo and fluid chassis? The tall-sided Recaro buckets, faux-carbon-fibre dash and liberal smattering of Alcantara are the only things to lift an otherwise dated cabin, but it doesn’t matter when you fire that ignition and start carving up the bends like you’re Nelson Piquet. The smiles-per-mile king may have lost its front-wheel-drive Nürburgring lap record in the intervening years of the hot-hatch civil war, but it still pulls rank in the driver involvement department thanks to its unparalleled dynamics.
3. Honda Civic Type R
Iknow what you’re thinking: ‘Hey, didn’t they just release the new Type R Turbo?’ Yes, Van Wilder Part 2, the be-winged cousin of Civic sensibleness with multiple-exhaust-pipe disorder, is now among us, but we’re talking about the short-lived 2015 model. Compared with the new-new one, this looks about as modest as a school librarian, but stills packs a wallop thanks to the first JDM turbocharged VTEC. It won’t sing to an 8 000 rpm-plus redline like the previous naturally aspirated Type Rs used to, but you’ll be singing at the other side of a quarter-mile drag strip when you’ve unleashed 228 kW/400 Nm. It is hard and fast, and it battered its way to a Nürburgring record too, before a limited-edition Veedub took away its FWD lap-record crown. The red detailing on the inside makes it feel like some crazy one off, as do the race-spec bucket seats and aero-spec wing. It’s a special car: rare, fierce and likely to be sought after in the future.
4. Abarth 595 Competizione
Like any Atlantic Seaboard mainstay, the oldest car here has had enough Botox for you never to notice. With a nameplate that is 60 years old, two million having found teeny-tiny parking bays in happy homes all around the world, the current Fiat 500 has been with us since 2008. Except, the Abarth 595 Competizione is nothing like any of those – or called a Fiat at all, for that matter; the Fiat badge does not even appear anywhere on its wide-bottomed body. Notwithstanding, the Abarth is a 500 that’s had too much absinthe and is spoiling to bust up a few heads. Its turbo 1 400 is Fiesta ST strong, the lowered suspension on KONI shocks with extra anti-roll bars give it Scalextric handling, and Brembo brakes stop it on a dime. And Sabelt seat belts complete the clubman’s racer look and feel on the 595’s inside. How can you not like this thing? It’s a crazy-wonderful limited edition, almost as crazy-wonderful as the sticker price.
5. Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce
Traditionally, committing yourself to buying an Alfa Romeo was tantamount to committing yourself to Weskoppies, but then, the sensible front-wheel drive Giulietta came along in 2010 and made it easy and actually kinda cool to want an Alfa again. The firm’s hot version of that hatch, the Quadrifoglio Verde model, was handsome, but not quite good – it couldn’t put its power down, had a notchy manual gearbox and wooden handling – but this late-model Veloce seems to have finally hit on a winning formula. Courtesy of a six-speed TCT auto, the drive is smooth, almost Grand Tourer-like, and the newly reworked motor finally feels as powerful as 177 kW/340 Nm suggests. Where the Alfa cannot hide its age, however, is on the inside, with an infotainment system from a Fiat Tipo and plastics that are shinier than a low-level Mafioso’s suit. Still, to Alfisti, it makes a comparable Golf, Audi or Merc look like they’re made from cement bags. As you were.
By virtue of their nature, limited-edition hot-hatches don’t purport to have a well-rounded nature and neither should they strive for a practical middle ground. That’s why the Alfa Romeo bows out first. It’s the best Giulietta yet, and is unlikely to be replaced for many years, but it’s what the base car should always have been. In contrast, the Abarth is as mad as a hatter, and that’s actually a lot of money to spend on a small car. As is R600K for a Civic, but the Type R is fast and focused; best you wait a few years for the second-hand prices to go down. Or you can save yourself R200k and grab the Megane 275 Finale, the very last of one of the all-time greats – much like the Fiesta ST200, which offers comparable speed and thrills, but for even less. Don’t delay with those last two, though: Cars that good have a habit of appreciating with time. Strike while the iron is hot!