There are few car enthusiasts throughout the world without at least a quiet respect for hot hatches. The combination of a powerful engine, boy-racer looks, increased arch width and real-life usability is always a good formula. Not to mention the fact that hot hatches often offer the a great bang for the buck ratio and are an affordable alternative to expensive sports cars. That explains the popularity and cool factor of hot hatches as well as the almost mythical status that some classic models have.
Realizing the potential of this market, most respectable manufacturers have or have had at least one hot hatch model in their lineup. Most of them are well-known models like the Ford Focus RS or Volkswagen Golf GTI, but over the years, there are many more cars than have somehow never achieved mainstream acceptance. Its not that there models aren’t fast or cool-looking; they simply were too obscure for the average enthusiast. Lets get started…
Number One – Ford Puma Racing
Once quite popular, the Ford Puma is now a rusty and old compact car most wouldn’t think twice about. However, in the early 2000s, Ford came up with the Puma Racing, a special model, available in only one color designed especially for fast Ford connoisseurs and collectors. The Puma Racing was intended to be a small rally monster with a turbocharged 1.7-liter engine and all-wheel-drive; however, due to enormous project cost, Ford decided to keep the car front-wheel-drive and naturally-aspirated.
The initial plan was to make 1000 examples, but in the end, Ford only produced 500 models, which are now sought-after collector`s items. Even though the Racing Puma was robbed of its turbocharged power and all wheel drive grip, it was still an entertaining and dynamic car to drive, mainly thanks to its 153 HP engine and fully revised suspension. It doesn’t seem like much today compared to modern cars, but you have to consider the Puma`s very lightweight bodyshell and compact dimensions.
Number Two – Sunbeam Lotus
The Sunbeam Lotus was a 1981 World Rally Championship winning car and a very fast hot hatch for its day. However, it is somehow totally forgotten today, and not many people even know about this magnificent machine. In 1977 Sunbeam introduced a modern looking compact hatchback designed to fight the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Escort, but they also needed a performance version. That is where the Lotus came and re-engineered the car, equipped it with a high-revving 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine, special ZF gearbox, and competition suspension. The interesting thing about the Sunbeam Lotus is the fact that this car was rear-wheel-drive when all of its competitors were front-wheel-drive.
Number Three – Volkswagen Sirocco R
One of the most popular hot hatches today is the Volkswagen Golf R. That said, Volkswagen has also produced some similar models, which have flown under the radar. In 2009, the Sirocco R debuted packing the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder and 265 HP. Instead of all wheel drive, it was front wheel drive only. The Sirocco R had a better driving position, slightly lower weight, and a much cooler design than the Golf, but for some reason, it wasn’t so popular.
Maybe it was the fact that Golf R with its four-door version and the bigger boot was more practical and usable; Possibly hot hatch buyers were simply too traditional to accept a different Volkswagen`s model? After a few years of slow sales, Volkswagen discontinued this model in 2017.
Number Four – Dodge Omni GLH
Americans don’t know how to make a hot hatch, right? Well, not entirely. In fact, the Dodge Omni GHL proves that they do know how to make such cars, they just don’t do it very often. Introduced in 1984, the Omni GLH was the performance version of the very dull and slow Omni compact. Engineered and designed with the help of legendary Carroll Shelby, the Omni GLH had a 2.2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 175 HP, which was a very high number for its day.
Weighing in at around 1000 kilos, the GLH was able to outrun almost any American car of the early `80s and even beat the legendary Shelby GT350 on a track test. However, the coolest thing about the Dodge Omni GLH wasn’t the fact it was only proper US-made hot hatch or that it was so fast. It was its name; GLH stands for “Goes Like Hell!”
Number Five – Fiat Grande Punto Abarth
Over the years, Italians have given us several accomplished hot hatches with the Fiat 500 Abarth being the most common in recent years. However, even though everybody likes and knows about 500 Abarth and all of its variants, we believe that the Fiat Grande Punto Abarth is, in fact, better hot hatch and terribly underrated addition to the segment. Introduced in 2008 and sold until 2015, Grande Punto Abarth has the same 1.4-liter turbocharged engine with up to 180 HP and the same performance as the smaller 500 Abarth. But what the 500 lacks in usability, comfort or ride quality, the Grande Punto has it covered as a bigger, roomier and more practical car. The good thing is that the prices for Grande Punto Abarth are low, and if you want a thoroughbred Italian hot hatch on a budget. Its not perfect but barely anyone ever even talks about it!
So there you are. Let me know if you’ve got any suggestions in the comments.