Take, for example, the Peugeot 205 GTi. In its heyday Peugeot’s numero sacre was regarded by many as the holy grail of hot hatchdom. It was light, unusually powerful in 1.9-litre guise and, if you believed what some people wrote at the time, more fun to drive than most supercars.
Who was right? Who knows?
What we do know is that before and, predominantly, since then there have been countless hot hatches that have split opinion. And only one or two which have hit the bullseye on all fronts.
Most car hacks would agree, for example, that the Mk II Golf GTi was A Very Good Car, especially in 16v guise. Similarly, we’re all reasonably united in declaring the latest Mk V Golf GTi to be a welcome return to form from VW. But that’s just about where praise of the unanimous variety ends.
All these are cars that tend to be stamped with the label “not for the faint-hearted.” And that’s why, probably, they divide opinion more than most. Truth is, they are simply too manic for some writers to get on with. Which is why in one magazine or paper you’ll read that a car like the Focus RS suffers from wild torque-steer and is the four-wheeled equivalent of a rabid dog, while in another you might be told it’s one of the fastest, most exciting hot hatches ever created.
And in a way both sets of opinions are valid. Why? Because some drivers get a kick out of trying to master a car that’s fast but furious on the limit while others think life is too short to bother. In such specific instances a horses for courses verdict is the only one that’s sensible to deliver.
Yet in the same week Autocar’s testers put the Megane R26 top in a 14-car test of hot hatches. Autocar’s team was blown away by the Renault’s pure pace around a track and over winding B-roads, but they were also impressed by how civilised it was at the same time. And in the same month Evo magazine compared the R26 with all its key rivals and, once again, placed the Renault top of the crop.
“In the end” wrote Evo “ it comes down to a straight fight between the Volkswagen (Golf GTI) and Renault, and which one wins is decided simply by how feisty you want your hot hatch to be.”
Believe what they say in Evo and even within the pages of the same magazine there is clearly consternation. In a group test that contained the Megane R26 the Civic was deemed by Evo’s testers to fall “a long way short of the mark” on account of its “peculiar steering and inert balance.” It came last out of six cars.
Yet in the drive story that preceded Evo’s group test the writer claimed the Type R was “still properly hardcore.” And of the handling he wrote “…but the balance appears to be safe enough to allow you to tramp on without fear. And tramp on you will.”
Autocar is no less guilty of such apparent inconsistency. In its road test Autocar wrote of the Civic TR; “Like the manic Astra VXR, the Type R will have its fans, but we are not among them.” A couple of weeks later, though, Autocar group tested the Civic and claimed its steering and handling “seemed to click whenever the conditions underfoot got really tricky.” Overall they gave it a lukewarm thumbs up.
And in the same month as the above Car magazine also group tested the Type R against several key rivals and wrote “To drive the new Civic Type R is to find petrolhead nirvana. It will be remembered as one of the true greats.”
Always has been, always will be.
Forever and ever A-men.