Hard charging, front-wheel drive hot hatches have never been so rapid. Engineering progress has seen driveline hardware components interact near seamlessly with their electronic masters, and the sorts that we have gathered here are serious performance cars. These three all output more than 200kW and post pretty damn quick numbers.
Add in tricky differentials and suspension bits, and they are rapid around corners too. We reckon the hot hatch is a good fit for New Zealand roads where you can tap more of the potential without going ape crazy. That said, these readily romp into licence-losing territory. While fast and entertaining, they are also practical conveyances, and don’t require an arm and a leg to purchase; a mere hand will do.
With the arrival of Renault’s Megane RS a few months back, it was time we gathered a few rapid hatches to sort the front driver pecking order. So cue said Renault, the Civic Type R and the recently updated Seat Cupra. This is a quick trio, but which thrills more through the bends, and are they tolerable for everyday life?
These three aren’t strangers to our pages but are worth a quick recap to refresh the grey matter. The Civic Type R employs a 2.0-litre turbocharged four to deliver 228kW with 400Nm of torque. It’s only available with a six-speed manual, complete with an auto blipper to smooth the downshifts, and there’s a helical-type mechanical front diff. The Type R benefits from ‘dual axis’ Mac struts up front. Like those fitted to the Renault, the design helps separate the functions of bumping and steering. This results in a more stable front end geometry for improved grip and a reduction in torque steer. There are adaptive dampers and three drive modes, Sport the default along with Comfort and R modes. All up it costs $59,990.
The Seat Leon Cupra packs 221kW from its 2.0-litre four, and 380Nm. While available with a manual overseas, it’s only offered here with the twin-clutcher which now incorporates seven gears. Helping it stick the power is an electromechanical diff lock similar to that used in a Haldex type on-demand system. Here, however, the clutch packs are on either side of the transmission, the wheel speed sensors working out which one needs more stick and the system working to deliver the torque appropriately. It too has adaptive dampers, and various drive modes, including Cupra and Individual, letting you set your preferences. It goes for $57,990, while there are a few options to tick.
The Renault Megane RS employs just 1800cc to develop 205kW with a healthy serve of torque too at 390Nm. This silver beastie is packing the $1800 Cup pack with 10 per cent stiffer suspension and revised roll bars. It also brings a Torsen LSD to the party, and dual cast brakes with an alloy hub. While the others operate multilink rears, the Renualt sticks with the torsion beam but adds four-wheel steer, the rears turning either in the opposite direction to the fronts (to improve turn-in) or in the same direction (to improve stability). Like the others here, it has a quick steering rack with just over two turns between the stops. The dampers are passive but have ‘hydraulic bump stops’, the valving arranged to create additional damping forces near the top of the piston stroke which has the effect of minimising harsh impacts. As a six-speed manual, the RS costs $59,990, and there is a six-speed dual-clutch version for $62,990.