For Top Gear magazine’s 300th issue, we celebrated the best 50 cars over 299 issues: here’s our pick of the best hot hatches
Fist-clenching power ballad at the ready. The hot hatchback’s journey since 1993 hasn’t been without drama, and makes for an inspiring story fit for an X-Factor style montage. It all started so well: Top Gear magazine launched in the era of the Ford Escort Cosworth, Lancia Delta Integrale and Renault Clio Williams, some of the genre’s absolute icons. Heck, we even gave away Clarkson’s Cossie with issue one.
But the Nineties were the hot hatch’s weakest decade. Insurance companies had got wise to their nickability and crashability, and their power outputs were wound right down as buyers flocked to cheap sports cars and the decade’s most notable newcomer: the Subaru Impreza Turbo. Fast practicality arrived in a new shape, the rally-bred saloon. The hot hatch was properly on the ropes.
Happily, the French saved the day. Peugeot was the one manufacturer who still knew how to have fun, and a series of quick hatches included the 306 GTI-6, which famously brought six-speed gearboxes to mainstream cars. A memorable magazine ad of the time lined it alongside a Ferrari, Aston and Porsche lauding it as the “slowest car in its class”. Peugeot sharpened its neighbours’ game to great effect. Citroen launched the Saxo VTR and VTS, whose free insurance deals helped catalyse the hot hatch’s return to affordability, just as the Impreza’s rise to fame attracted the money-grabbing insurers. But it was Renault who provided our montage’s proverbial key-change; 1999 saw the launch of the Clio 172, the first hot hatch to come with proper RenaultSport branding. Here was proof hot hatches knew how to have fun again. The Noughties began in fine, wheel-cocking style, and the hot-hatch market has been on a breathtaking ascendancy ever since.