Chris Harris Video: Hot Hatch Showdown

Mucky weather, Wales and hot hatches. These are good times.

Vauxhall has been the underdog in this category for so long now that it's hard to remember when a hot Astra bettered its Ford equivalent. In fact, I'm not sure it ever has. Judged on looks alone, this new VXR has to stand a decent chance. Factor in a set of power and torque figures that make you wonder if a front-driven hatch can handle such numbers, and you have a car that, on UK roads, might be very handy.

The last Focus ST was a pretty remarkable machine: pass a warm towel over the ECU and it would give 260hp, all the while sounding decidedly quattro-like. Sadly, this new car loses a cylinder, and it can only be ordered as a five-door or an estate. The gamble here by Ford is on whether, by taking the ST to a more sensible place, they render it less appealing to the thousands of people who loved the old car for its tuneability.

Can the Astra finally break its jinx?
Can the Astra finally break its jinx?
That hardcore faction probably already adores the Megane Renaultsport 265. I freely admit to being a huge fan of this car - every aspect of it feels precisely developed, and it offers a driving experience that not much else at the price can match. In many ways, it's the strongest argument against the Toyota GT86. Yes, it's front-wheel drive, but you wouldn't believe how much fun you can have in one.

On the road, the Megane can be harsh; on a circuit an ST can feel like a small boat in a force nine. So we drove them in all conditions, on road and a small track. And we did some little jumps in them too.

Not wishing to give the game away, these are three fantastic cars.

Enjoy the vid, as much as I enjoyed my exposure to the type of performance car best suited to UK roads.


Comments (265) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Crafty_ 03 Dec 2012

    Now this should cause some confusion, the end of an article and the new A Class in the Sunday Times, 4th November, written by a certain Mr J Clarkson:

    ETA: Another review of these 3 :

    Edited by Crafty_ on Friday 7th December 18:05

  • Clivey 03 Dec 2012

    At £22.5k, I'd definitely have the Astra out of those 3. It's easily the best looking, with the best interior and judging by the cooking models feels better built too. A nice place to spend time at the end of a long day but still capable of being a hooligan on demand.

    The Megane, whilst appearing to be scalpel sharp, needs to prove it's not as fragile as other Renaults. - I like to own my cars for years, look after them and keep them immaculate. Rattles, bits falling off and wearing prematurely would ruin the whole thing for me.

    The Focus looks like cheap '90s Hi-Fi inside and just plain horrendous from outside. A shame, as Ford can do much better. Will sell by the boat load to to chavs though, so what do I know?

    If they really did go for list price, the M135i is the obvious choice...with good reason. Just...why can't they make it look more like this:


  • Msportman 28 Nov 2012

    Grovsie26 said:
    Yeah i agree, but blame inflation? or dumb people shelling out well over 25k for hatchbacks. The golfs are still a bit bland though whatever you do to em, and then you can modify the other as well. People are right, golf's are the jack of all trades, but masters of none.
    Yeap I agree....I so wished VW built a proper hardcore model as their powertrain is pretty's the absence of a diff, proper brakes (6 pots or similar) and a better front end suspension similar to the Renault would help alleviate it's critics.
    The interiors are of a nice quality but again some proper Recaro's wouldn't go amiss.

    Haldex isn't ideal for track....the Haldex controllers go some way to alleviate some extra rear end fun. I went out in a DSG Golf R (TSI) developed by APR VW Motorsport with this set up but it was a huge investment and yes it was extremely quick and capable but at what cost. 460bhp+AP brakes KW's equated to 1.16 around Combe!!
    What we need is a nice lightweight 250-300bhp Golf / Scirocco sporting a proper diff and track orientated suspension.

    Edited by Msportman on Wednesday 28th November 22:56

  • Grovsie26 27 Nov 2012

    Msportman said:
    It seems to be a very fine line beyween all three...I suspect badge loyalty will apply to some buyers. My point is that these new breed are sooo expensive and that models I referred to are not duffers my any stretch and some seem to elude. The ED 30/35 models often get overlooked as a package which can easily be turned into great track weapons on a relative small budget on intitial purchase plus a few mods. The VW brand need something hardcore IMO but as with most VAG decisions seem to be made by the marketing dpt.
    I've never bought into Renaults but I've owned a few 205 GTI's in the late 80's early 90's.
    I'm sure the Renault is great on track. It will be interesting to see the new RS models when launched.
    Yeah i agree, but blame inflation? or dumb people shelling out well over 25k for hatchbacks. The golfs are still a bit bland though whatever you do to em, and then you can modify the other as well. People are right, golf's are the jack of all trades, but masters of none.

  • MidnightRunner 26 Nov 2012

    Msportman said:
    Trouble is the Golf GTI was the bench when launched (MK1)a good few years back and as time moved on to the current crop companies like Renault went hardcore putting diffs and the like into their hottest versions.
    VW never went down this road which was a shame....the Haldex system is a great marketing incentive but is useless for track work.They should have gone down the RS or Megane route with a proper diff.
    The Megane is no doubt a great package and perhaps VW should take stock and make a similar hardcore GTI. They seem to cater for the mass market but provide a rounded capable package for most.
    My point with the Edition 30 and 35 models is that they can be a great track package on a smaller budget with some additional track orientated items such as the aforementioned parts. I went APR Stage 2 mapping with their HPFP fuel pump exhaist system a quaiffe and AP brakes together with KW Clubsports. All in all much cheaper than the asking price of these new models.I couldn't justify 30k on a hatch ....that's a nice E92 M3 money.

    For me I use an old school 2 litre 16V Golf pushing over 200bhp in a light weight shell and diff. It looks OE and gives me the craving I need for track and in it's current spec is very quick for the money....and for my daily / family drive I have a derv Audi which does what is says on the tin.

    I sure all three of these hatches are very good in their own ways but the price of them is balooning to even higher unaffordable levels for most!! They will make great buys on the second hand market in a few years.

    Edited by Msportman on Monday 26th November 18:30
    It's hard to disagree with anything you've said particularly about prices ballooning. It seems like only yesterday you could buy the hottest hatch for 18k!

    VW seem to plonk their product right in the middle of the road and it's hard to really say who they are aiming at. It's a shame though because they have got all the fundamentals there. Perhaps keep the normal GTI but also make an R26R equivalent.... the Scirocco R (golf underneath) seemed pretty competent when I had a ride in it but it could do with unshackling the beast underneath and aid it in the manner you've said with the diff and possibly reworked steering feel.

    The Golf probably still is the benchmark, but more as an investment proposition. In terms of the driving I think the benchmark is with the 265 and RS.....but then Ford and Renault probably want the residual value, brand image and other things that come with a VW.

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