2013 has been a bumper year for hot hatches. It could go down in the annals of history as a bit of a vintage year.
We’ve seen the likes of Renault, Peugeot and Ford introduce their latest contenders and it turned out to be a very closely fought scrap. They’re evenly matched and exciting to drive and yet still have their own distinctive characters.
Kia have made their debut into a tough market and managed to cause a stir with their Proceed GT, while Hyundai have been busy testing their exciting new i20 WRC. This World Rally Championship contender could lead to a ‘N’ branded performance range, so the hot hatch market could soon see a double-pronged attack from Korea.
Meanwhile the Germans have continued to show how good they are at making fast hatchbacks. Mercedes-Benz have raised the bar with their 360bhp A45 AMG, leaving the new Audi S3 trailing in its wake with ‘only’ 297bhp. Crazy really, it’s not that long ago that 200bhp was considered enough for a top-ranking hot hatch. We’ve also seen the perennial Golf GTI return in its seventh generation and is, arguably, better than ever.
Time To Pick A Favourite
As the new year rapidly approaches it’s time to look back and decide which is the best car I’ve driven in the last 12 months. I’ve been lucky enough to get behind the wheel of quite a few cars this year but there have definitely been some standout models.
The Jaguar F-Type, for example, is everything the hype suggests. Stunning to look at, fast, and exciting, even in its most humble V6 form. The F-Type is a great car and I would desperately love to own one but it rules itself out of contention for Driving Spirit’s COTY simply because it’s too expensive.
The Renault Zoe stood out because it was so normal. Here is a vehicle that finally makes the electric car an affordable and usable prospect (despite the battery lease) and, along with the BMW i3, marks a turning point for electric vehicles. However, while the Zoe may be very good at what it does, it’s not really a car that tickles my fancy.
One car that has always had my fancy well and truly tickled is the Golf GTI. At a driving event in Leicestershire I was able to put the new GTI through its paces on some familiar roads. It may be more civilised than ever but that doesn’t make the GTI any less capable. There are few cars that can cover ground as quickly and effectively as the GTI without resorting to bone-shattering suspension setups. It’s neither the fastest nor the best handling car in its class but it is such a capable all-rounder that I’m still trying to work out how I can buy one.
Honourable mentions must also go to the Peugeot 208 GTI and Skoda Citigo Sport. The former proves that Peugeot have finally remembered how to make fun cars and that can only be A Good Thing. The latter proves the point that you don’t need huge amounts of power and torque to enjoy driving. The Citigo demonstrates that sometimes less really is more.
And The Winner Is…
Which brings me to my winner. It’s one of the cheapest cars in its class but that doesn’t mean corners were cut in its development. It has a perfect blend of performance, grip and handling. It’s exciting to drive quickly and yet remains easy to live with on British roads. It is the very definition of a hot hatch and shows its rivals that too much technology is a bad thing. Fancy dual-clutch gearboxes, adjustable steering weight, throttle mappings and adaptive suspension just aren’t necessary if you get the basic ingredients right in the first place.
The Driving Spirit Car of the Year for 2013 is the Ford Fiesta ST. From the mountains around Nice to the back roads of North Yorkshire, the Fiesta couldn’t help but put a smile on my face. It’s a truly great hot hatch that’s going to be remembered fondly for a long time. If you want to read more about what I though of the ST follow this link to the full review.