13 October 2008

Beat the crunch: hot hatches

Feeling the credit squeeze but still want to have a laugh? Step this way…

Suzuki Swift Sport

As the credit crunch gets ever crunchier, it’s tempting to think that we’ll all have to trade in our cars and buy rusty second-hand bicycles. Or, worse still, a G-Wiz.

It doesn’t have to be this way. This week, as part of a concerted effort to be at least slightly topical, we’ll be bringing you a host of cars that’ll beat the credit crunch… and actually be a laugh at the same time. It’ll be like banking with the Clowns and Jesters Building Society. Or something.

First up, here’s a bunch of hot hatches that represent the best in back-road thrills without having to sell your family pets to the local kebab vendor for petrol money.

Ford Fiesta ST: There’s a new Fiesta out. Which means that the old Fiesta will be cheap – we reckon you can pick up a brand-new ST for under £11,000, which is a hell of a lot of sweet-handling Ford loveliness for your cash. If you’ve got an extra grand or so left over, go for the Mountune upgrade. And a set of ear plugs.

Renault Megane 175 DCi: There are plenty of quick diesels around, but not many that could genuinely be classed as hot hatches. The Megane 175 is one of them: chassis by RenaultSport, 0-60 in eight seconds and an eminently sensible 40-something miles to the gallon. What’s not to like?

Fiat Abarth Punto: Looks excellent, manages 40mpg and drives every bit as well as you’d expect from a finely tuned Italian hot hatch. Little turbocharged engines are the answer to most of life’s problems, we believe.

Seat Leon FR: We know, we know. The Leon Cupra has more power and it’ll get to 60mph a second quicker. But the FR is sweeter-handling, far more involving, two grand cheaper and it’ll save you a few quid on your fuel bills. And still Golf GTI quick, which should be plenty for you.

BMW 123d: Quite possibly the greatest real-world diesel engine in, er, the world, wedged into a tiny rear drive hatch. This is good news. Seven seconds to 60mph and 54mpg is even better news. The fact that you’ll have to cut off the legs of your rear passengers is worse news, but worth it we think.

Citroen C4 1.6 THP: A brand new engine from Citroen that’ll manage over 40mpg and an eight-second 0-60mph time – along with sensible CO2 emissions and the very slight outside chance that someone might mistake you for Seb Loeb. It’s a Citroen, so forecourt discounts should abound. Bargain hard.

Suzuki Swift Sport: Yes, it’s a bit of a clichéd choice, but we’ve just spent a week with the Swift Sport and have been happily reminded of just how very good it is. You can get one new for 10 grand. It’ll never break. You’ll feel like a hero every time you hit an empty B-road. You know it makes sense.

And, if all of those sound just a little bit sedate for you, how about a Toyota Aygo Crazy? OK, it’ll cost you 100-and-something grand, you’ll probably manage 20 miles to the gallon and you’ll inevitably crash it into a tree within a fortnight, but at least you can tell the neighbours that you’ve bought a sensible little city car.

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