Hot Hatches: Are They Facing An Impending Death?

Hot Hatches: Are They Facing An Impending Death?

When I was growing up, car culture seemed very vibrant. There were so many people that seemed to really be into their motors. People would buy magazines like Evo to read about exciting supercars, Auto Express to see the newest car appearing at the end of your road a month early or Max Power for how many speakers and screens you could fit into a Peugeot 106.

Hammond drives the icons: Honda Civic Type R
Honda Civic Type R EP3 – A once ubiquitous hot hatch from a time where the hot hatch was king.

A car that was really quite popular though was the Civic Type R. You’d always see a black one somewhere going way too fast into a corner with one wheel slightly airborne. 8,000rpm, fully independent rear suspension, and very practical. Speaking of which, the Golf GTI had fired back into form with the 5th generation. My favourite of all, the Alfa 147. Then there’s the Clio 182, the Seat Leon Cupra, the Mini Cooper S, The Focus RS… there were so many cars that would give you a small but practical shape for running about from place to place in with a fiery engine that wouldn’t break the bank.

Used buying guide: Alfa Romeo 147 GTA | Autocar
The Alfa Romeo 147 GTA didn’t have a differential yet was equipped with a 3.2 Busso V6 which captured the hearts of many.

But to me, it looks like the time of hot hatches might have run its course. Everyone and their mother seem to have or want a crossover, an SUV or an EV. The manufacturers that used to be rinsing out these big smile machines seem to have looked at their budgets and gone with where the profits were, as any sound business would. Now, I’m not saying there are not hatchbacks out there which aren’t fast. The A45s goes from 0-100kmh in about 4 seconds, the RS3 is a slither ahead with 3.8 but the point here is these to me are not traditional hot hatches because you could give up your kidney and still not have enough to afford either one of these cars.

Hyundai i30N Review 2023 | Top Gear
Hyundai i30N – An expensive rare gem, but not the shiniest of stones.

The Honda Civic Type R of today is a much bigger, wider, heavier car. It’s brilliant yes, but it’s not that portable and practical car that it once was. Hyundai serve the fantastic i30N but it is a bit costly and doesn’t have that same magic to hot hatches of the past. The newest Golf GTI is arguably not as good as its predecessor and has those horrible touch sensitive buttons instead of ones for normal people, and costs a fortune. The final nail in the coffin for me was the death of Renault Sport. The last Renault Sport Meganè appeared a month ago and now Alpine is going to fill this space with electric hatchbacks that the regular person cannot afford.

Nissan Juke Review (2023) | Autocar
Nissan Juke – Even after a facelift, it still seems like a car where the designers couldn’t figure out what they were designing.

We can partially blame ourselves for this. We are moving away from hot hatchbacks, in the same way our estate cars are being replaced by crossovers and SUVs for entitled mothers who double park everywhere available to them and ex-5 series middle aged men who now see a chiropractor for their bad backs and want a car that seems large so they can continue tailgating to show how masculine they are. The proposition of an exciting small fast hatchback that is affordable doesn’t quite capture the hearts of people now as it once did as people either want the same white boring base spec BMW 1 series as their neighbour or yet another T-Roc or Juke.

Of course, the environment too is a massive factor here. With ever-tightening regulations for emissions seemingly getting tighter ever year like a pair of jeans after New Years, it’s becoming more and more difficult and expensive for manufacturers to develop engines for us petrolheads that would meet the criteria of being fast, but efficient with little CO2 emissions.

Toyota GR Yaris Review 2023 | Top Gear
Toyota GR Yaris – Fast, pocked-sized and quite special.

I do wonder what the future will hold for us. We’ve seen a homologation special in the shape of the GR Yaris recently and even if limited in number and costly, it was a new hot hatch that has come in recent times. Will there ever be an electric car that suits the needs of the motoring enthusiast in the same way as it did for the generation fortune enough to live in the golden age of hot hatches? Will there even be a hydrogen car, or a very efficient petrol car that could fill that space that is being created by so many manufacturers withdrawing their interest in this sector?

Well, as Charles Dickens once said, “never say never”.