Never Stop Driving #44: The hot hatch returns
Passionate enthusiasts, rather than just computer coders, still hold sway at mainstream car companies. Why else would Toyota build the Corolla GR and Honda the Civic Type R? Both are souped-up economy cars with manual transmissions and starchy suspensions. My colleague Sam Smith penned an encouraging report on the “hot hatches.”
The term was coined nearly 50 years ago when Volkswagen developed the original GTI, based on the Golf, which replaced the Beetle and was called the Rabbit in the U.S. The thrifty Golf had a rear liftgate called a “hatchback” that provided ample cargo space. When VW installed a higher-horsepower engine, a stiffer suspension, and thickly bolstered seats, the GTI was born.
The GTI’s parts gelled perfectly, adding up to a drivers car that was as quick as a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. It was “hot,” as car geeks might say, and launched the hot hatch segment. A steady stream of new hot hatches is vital to passionate car folks because they’re so often gateway drugs for young enthusiasts. The used hot hatch is typically the fun-to-drive solution for young people who frequently move from home to college to first apartment. Two of our youngest staffers at Hagerty Media own hot-hatch Fords, ST versions of the Focus and Fiesta. I’m also a disciple of the hot hatch because the used 1983 GTI I bought for $2300 in 1991 set me on the path that put me here, typing this newsletter.
It’s not just power or stiff suspension, but a careful integration of the parts, artful chassis tuning by the right engineers, that makes a compelling hot hatch. My GTI was crisply styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign firm with tight edges and pleasing proportions. I felt good every time I saw it, because it was far more than just a car I had to buy because it fit my price range. The original GTI still looks compelling.
The new Honda and Toyotas have lost that design restraint, but they’re incredibly capable and I bet one of my kids buys a used one in the next 10 years. If you’re an adult, I recommend the Honda Civic Si, which although only offered as a sedan, is nearly as entertaining as the Type R but more comfortable and far less attention-grabbing. The Civic Sport Touring hatchback is even better appointed.
I’m grateful that both Toyota and Honda continue to build sporty cars because Chevy just killed one, the Camaro. The company announced that 2024 will be the last model year, though GM promises this “isn’t the end of the Camaro’s story.” Sigh.
Meanwhile, Cruise, the General Motors division that’s developing autonomous cars, is having to adapt to hit-and-run incidents with its robotaxis. In one event, a driver doing middle-of-the-night donuts ran into a Cruise taxi and then bolted. I’ve long wondered how autonomous cars will survive among human drivers who think the robots have to be submissive drivers.
This being the first week of spring, I imagine that you, like me, are preparing for the driving season. Here’s a guide to clean the winter crud off your carpet and another helpful article with inspection tips before you hit the road.
If money is not a concern for you—lucky bastard!—allow me to suggest the car I’d most like to drive this year, the $2 million Gordon Murray T.33 Spider.
Have a great weekend!
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