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Hot hatches: old vs new

By raccars Published

Ford

The new breed of hot hatches are more sophisticated, but are they as thrilling as the old guard?

The Eighties were the glory days of the hot hatch, and as with so many fashions, the hot hatch has come round again. There a new breed available, offering thoroughly exciting performance in a relatively affordable package. They are faster and more powerful, economical and usually more comfortable than the earlier models. But are they in fact too sophisticated to give the kind of visceral thrills that made the hot hatches of the Eighties so popular?

Ford Focus RS

One of the best of the new gang is the latest Ford Focus RS. Its performance challenges many a more expensive car but with a bargainous £31,000 price tag. It's heavily electronically controlled and combines the most up-to-date turbo and four wheel drive systems to stunning effect. While this all helps to keep you safe as you enjoy the pleasures of the great British B road, does the digital trickery disengage the driver from the experience?

Lancia Delta Integrale

So for maximum driving thrills, would you be wiser to spend that £31,000 on an older version of the hot hatch, with six World Rally Championship constructors' title wins under its analogue belt? The Lancia Delta Integrale is seriously old school and has been voted the world's best ever hot hatch. It's a legend and prices have risen accordingly over the last few years. You're looking at a minimum of £25,000 for a decent model and £100,000 plus for the very best.

A story of two hot hatches

The Ford is loaded with sensors which help its dual clutches to deliver torque in the fastest, most efficient and most appropriate manner for the driving conditions, with a default 70 per cent rear wheel torque bias. The Lancia has a rather more cumbersome mechanical system with a Torsen diff handing out 83 per cent of torque between the rear wheels.

The Ford achieves maximum stability on the road with the help of ESC, adaptive damping and electromechanical steering. In the Lancia you have to rely upon your driving skills to keep the car under control.

It's not often that Ford wins the honours when interiors are compared, and while the Focus RS lacks panache from the inside compared to modern rivals, it's certainly a more comfortable and stylish place to be than the Lancia. Clunky old plastics and vinyl, chunky knobs, unsupportive seats and an inconveniently placed and rake-only adjustable steering wheel feel incredibly outdated next to the newer car. The Lancia's retro charm simply cannot compete with the likes of DAB radio, dual zone climate control, automatic wipers, adaptive headlights and Bluetooth connectivity.

The Lancia is also about a third less powerful than the Focus RS, although it's also a little lighter. However, even with the assistance of launch control, the Ford is only 0.7 seconds faster to reach 60mph. Yes, the new car is faster but the Lancia is no slouch.

Importantly, it feels faster than it really is. You've got to put in a bit of effort and throw that pedal to the floor - be patient with the comically lagging turbo - and wait until about 3750rpm before you get a serious spurt. But it feels really good when the moment comes. By contrast the Ford's sharper response to a heavy right foot feels strangely sanitised.

Throw them round the track and the Lancia is easily outclassed, but Britain's interesting back roads are a more comfortable environment for the old timer and really bring its character to the fore, whereas the pristine Focus RS gets stroppy and bored on such banal terrain.

Realistically, the RS is the sensible if less original choice. The left hand drive only Italian stallion is unlikely to cope well with the corrosive British climate but there's still something about it...

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