Seven used hot hatches for less than £10k – that aren’t the usual suspects | Top Gear
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Saturday 25th March
Top Gear Advice

Seven used hot hatches for less than £10k – that aren’t the usual suspects

Hot hatches are the obvious choice, but that doesn’t mean you need to pick the obvious one

Volkswagen Corrado
  1. BMW 135i

    BMW 135i

    The hot hatch formula is, like many of the best things in life, actually a rather simple recipe. Take a useful, cleverly packaged hatchback from a mainstream manufacturer, add power and performance to taste. That’s it. 

    So then, when the BMW 135i first came along, you can see how it rather messed with the programme. It’s rear-drive, which means packaging and therefore usefulness suffer. It’s from one of Germany’s big three ‘executive’ carmakers. And the amount of power and performance it added was, if we’re going to persist with the recipe analogy, is like hucking handfuls of horseradish in the mix. But we’d be lying if we said it still wasn’t a tasty result. 

    Just price up a new set of fuel injectors before you buy, OK?

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  2. Vauxhall Astra VXR

    Vauxhall Astra VXR

    Call it the hometown curse. Vauxhall had it in England, Holden in Australia and Buick in the US. If your country has (or had) a local offshoot of General Motors, chances are that it’s been maligned for one reason or another. Yes, in each case there was a bit of blame that should rest with the manufacturer, but we’re wondering if there wasn’t also quite a bit of grass-is-greener going on. 

    Take the Astra VXR. Like its French and German competition, it had a two-litre engine with a great deal of horsepower – 280-odd, in the Vauxhall. Like the others, it was a decently handsome thing to look at, despite its origins as a sensible hatchback. It even had a massive boot, many amenities and enough lashings of leather to sell it to your own self or significant other as both ‘practical’ and ‘premium’.

    But perhaps we all felt that if we bought something with a more continental badge, we’d be a bit more erudite, more considered in our choices and more likely to get through a conversation without having to defend why we’d bought a Vauxhall. 

    Maybe, like Holden, they’ll become desirable soon?

  3. Mazda3 MPS

    Mazda3 MPS

    Ah, the old MPS: as subtle and nuanced as the programming on Channel 5, and as powerful and gentle as a Long Island Iced Tea. And, it must be said, every bit as good at getting you in the mood to be rather silly. 

    And, like the... let’s be generous and call it a ‘cocktail’, the MPS feels like a knowingly bad decision, chosen purely for the entertainment value of seeing where it goes. In the case of both, it’s a very fast, very straight line to the scene of the accident. 

    But, like most things that are hilarious in a ‘Hi, I’m Johnny Knoxville’ kind of way, there will always be someone who has ideas on how to bring things back on a more even keel. Like not necking the cocktail version of rocket fuel, for instance. Or a few well-chosen mods – a big rear sway bar, super-sticky modern tyres and a front strut brace – for the MPS to better handle its tower of power. A tower that can then be doubled in height, should you want to bring that MPS insanity back to the table.

    MPS: taking the ‘steer’ out of ‘understeer’. Which leaves... ‘under’. Um. Hm.

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  4. Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1750 Cloverleaf

    Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1750 Cloverleaf

    It had the name. Well, it actually had every name – and indeed number – one could possibly put in a single car. Alfa Romeo, obviously, but then also the Giulietta – the car where Alfa’s twin-cam four-cylinder debuted and the world got its first glimpse of Alfa as a small sporting saloon supremo. Then 1750 – the ‘Nord’ engine’s displacement in such hits as the Spider Veloce, GTV and... well, Giulietta. The second-gen one, that is. Finally, the Cloverleaf; the four-leaf clover that Alfa racing driver Ugo Sivocci chose as his good-luck totem before winning the Targa Florio. So what, then, did the Giulietta 1750 Cloverleaf lack? 

    Well, as much power as the 147 GTA it ostensibly replaced, for one. Or anywhere near the same kind of soundtrack. Also the looks were, uh... possibly not the way we would have gone. But the big gap between expectation and reality came from its on-road behaviour. It was, let’s be honest, off the mark compared to the Renaultsport Megane and Golf GTI. And it wasn’t off the mark in a fun way, like the brutish, hard-charging 147 GTA (a better candidate for a limited-slip diff does not exist), but rather in the way that sent buyers off to VW and Renault dealerships. 

    Which isn’t to say the Giulietta 1750 was bad; just that it arrived in a purple patch for Vee-Dub and Reh-noo (yeah, trapped ourselves in that one a bit) that they’ve since wandered out of. And it’s also a deficit that one can surmount with a bolt-on turbo kit, new injectors and a remap – unless the prospect of a 340bhp Alfa hot hatch doesn’t appeal to you. That said – you will create a new best candidate for a limited-slip diff. 

    OK, we’d buy a GTA, but they’ve shot up above 10 grand now

  5. Subaru WRX

    Subaru WRX

    ‘Wait a minute,’ you might be thinking, ‘this is very clearly an estate car.’ And you’d find any number of people who’d agree, including past and present Top Gear staffers. Just not this one. 

    Nor a few others outside the realms of Top Gear – judging by how often the five-door WRX is called a hatch. But in arguments, having strength in numbers is really just a shortcut to more people being wrong, so let’s explain ourselves. 

    Guess how much longer the five-door WRX is over the four-door. Nope. Not a single millimetre. The overall length and wheelbase are the same, as are the doors, cabin and broadly everything else. The extra space in the boot comes from the can’t-see-backwards-now option a hatchback affords if you’re in a bind. Not recommending it, just mentioning it. 

    And given an estate is about adding space at the expense of adding length, the five-door WRX doesn’t count. Which then means it’s a hatchback. And as for the ‘hot’ part? Well, that’s rather easier to argue...

    Prove me wrong, kids! Prove me wrong

  6. DS 3 THP

    DS 3 THP

    Remember when hot hatches were small, reasonably powered, resolutely front-drive and resoundingly French? Yeah, us too. But that was a simpler time, long ago, a different age with different ideals and different ideas about how to achieve those ideals. It was, dear friends, a full eight years ago. 

    See, the French never stopped making hot hatches. Well, Peugeot tried its hand at building basking sharks, which was an odd move, but that still left quite a few Frenchmen building fantastic hot hatches. Like the DS 3 1.6 THP, for instance. 

    It was small, agile and comfortable. It was remarkably easy to drive, from its featherweight clutch to its forgiving steering. The design forged a path directly away from twee nostalgia (looking at you, Mini) and the interior brought back the understated class that was sorely missing in other small hot hatches (looking at you, Corsa, but we wish we weren’t). The DS 3 is about as close as we’ve seen hot hatches come to that duality that’s been the Golf GTI’s true stock-in-trade for generations. 

    So why isn’t the old DS 3 a beloved hot hatch, if it gave us pretty much everything we’ve loved about hot hatches for decades? Well, it’s simple: what really changed was us. Take one look at what we call hot hatches these days, and try to conceive where a small, 160bhp, front-drive French hatchback sits among three and four hundred horsepower, distance-dismissing devices. So now the DS 3 is an SUV, and we all get to play ‘remember when’.

    Yeah, we unconsciously make a ‘thhhhhhppp’ sound when we read it, too

  7. Volkswagen Corrado VR6

    Volkswagen Corrado VR6

    Well, we’ve already argued that an estate is a hatchback, so let’s press our luck and try it on for a car that even we’re not sure qualifies. Sure, it was based on a Golf, which tends to qualify as a hatchback, and the rear door does open up in a hatch-like arrangement, which does let you into the cabin. 

    OK, what we’re describing is a liftback. We know. But there are liftbacks of the Aston Vantage variety and there are liftbacks of the Corrado variety. There are also liftbacks of the 5 Series GT variety, as much as we really wish there weren’t. But that seems beside the point. 

    We think that because the Corrado is based so heavily on the Golf – and arguably offers no fewer practicalities than most other three-door hatches – it qualifies as at least an honorary hatchback. Add in a 190bhp, narrow-angle VR6 – as well as the fact that the Corrado’s handling was gushed over at its launch, gushed over again when the VR6 arrived and still managed to earn a retrospective gush years after it went off sale – and we reckon it earns the ‘hot’ appellation as well. 

    Hatchback... liftback... does it really matter?

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