RAC Cars News


How The French Rule The Hot Hatch Market

By raccars Published

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French car makers have a rather ambiguous reputation in the UK. Often deemed dull, unreliable and expensive, they are also grudgingly acknowledged to have built some very beautiful cars, although admittedly some of the more avant garde efforts have left UK buyers scratching their heads in bemusement - see the Renault Avantime. Nonetheless, it's hard to argue with the brilliance of the Citroen 2CV, the original Citroen DS, the new Citroen C4 Cactus and a number of MPVs. However, where the French really excel is hot hatches.

The high performance Gallic trend was set in the Eighties by the likes of the Renault 5 Turbo, a sparkling little hot hatch boasting very little self-control and supercar levels of acceleration. A turbocharged 1.4 litre engine sat in the middle of the rear wheel drive car, bulging aggressively from the rear wheel arches and eliciting screeches of delight every time you put your foot down. The Turbo 2 was even more bonkers...

One of its successors was the punchy Renault Clio Williams, named to highlight Renault's Formula One successes with the Williams team. With a 2.0 litre 16v engine in a hot hatch body, it not only went like the proverbial bat out of hell, it handled beautifully and it looked smart too. It was a boy racer's dream come true. Later on, the clumsily named Renault Clio Renault sport 182 Trophy flew the French hot hatch flag for the Noughties with 182bhp, the Clio's universally acknowledged good looks and plenty of attitude.

The later Megane 275 Trophy and Trophy-R displayed similar fighting spirit and are arguably more fun to play with, thanks to manual transmissions. They follow the hard to challenge formula of a big engine in a smaller car, sitting on a super supple chassis. It's this combination of features which had led the French to so much success in the hot hatch field.

Citroen was in on the act, too, by the mid-Eighties. The Citroen AX GT and GTi were often overlooked in favour of higher profile entries into the French hot hatch pantheon, but history has proven the brilliance of this sporting tin can on wheels. It's a modern classic, thanks to its economical running costs and hilariously entertaining performance.

Arguably the best of the lot. however was the Peugeot 205 GTi. It wasn't by any means the most technologically advanced car in its class, nor the most robust or the most luxurious, but in the Eighties, it was probably the most fun on four wheels that could be had outside the supercar sector. It was aggressively powered for such a compact machine with such a nimble chassis and has become one of the most desirable retro hot hatch classics of the lot. Nostalgia inevitably lends a rosy glow but the 205 GTi really was rather brilliant and wonderfully democratic in its affordability.

The much missed 205 Tti was followed later by the Peugeot 106 GTi and 306 Gti-6. The 306 was one of the first cars in its class to be fitted with a close ratio six speed transmission and was possibly an even better drive than the earlier, rawer car. Both could be bought enhanced by a few luxury features or in stripped back, even faster guise, called the Rallye. Tenacious grip paired with the eagerness of a Greyhound spotting a hare, made for some serious driving enjoyment.

The latest effort is the Renault sport Megane Cup-S, a back to basics, track focused model with 271bhp, a lightweight frame, the agility of a mountain goat and little in the way of creature comforts. This kind of Spartan décor also means the Cup-S is surprisingly affordable compared to the standard Megane at £23,935.

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