After our original list, several readers suggested that the Sunny GTI was missing – but the Almera GTI is arguably even less well remembered.
One look will probably tell you why: Even in its day, the Almera was understated to the point of anonymity, and so few survive today that they’ve become a rare sight too.
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But underneath the bland styling was a cracking chassis and strong 2-litre engine, making the Almera GTI fantastic to drive. ‘A triumph of ability over appearance’ is how Performance Car described it in January 1998, praising its responsive, adjustable handling and talkative steering.
Peugeot 309 GTI
Several readers mentioned the 309 GTI after our original list. Its inclusion here is debatable – Peugeot’s 1980s hot hatchback output is widely known, even those not graced with the numerals ‘205’ on the boot lid.
But it’s all relative – ask someone to name a Peugeot hot hatchback and the 309 is likely to finish behind not just the 205, but also 106s, 306s and maybe even the talented new 208 GTIs.
The 309 packed the same 1.9-litre engine as the 205, has the same wheels, and the same red stripe encircling the car. But its cabin was more grown-up and so was its handling – an appealing attribute at the time, when 205s proved too snappy for some. Today they don’t command the same values but do provide similar levels of fun – so they’re something of a bargain.
Renault 11 Turbo
If you’ve even a hint of petrol in your veins then you’ll be aware of the Renault 5 Turbo models, in both front- and mid-engined formats. Much rarer, and less well-known, is the Renault 11 Turbo.
When was the last time you saw one on the road? If you’ve answered ‘never’ you’re probably in the majority – the number left on UK roads is in the single digits.
At the time though it was a compelling alternative to Escort XR3s and similar. Power came from a 1397cc turbocharged four-cylinder, like that found in the Renault 5. 113bhp doesn’t seem a lot now, but like the 5, the 11 had sweet handling and exciting turbocharged thrust. And like the 5, the 11’s turbo engine had a high rate of attrition, making them exceedingly rare today.
Rover 200 BRM
The ‘R3’ Rover 200 series spawned one of the more familiar hot hatches of the last few decades in the shape of the MG ZR – frequently seen in bright colours and often modified.
But before that, and before the facelift that saw 200 become 25 and ZR, there was the 200vi. Its 1.8-litre K-series engine developed 143bhp in VVT form, but it was the BRM model that really stood out.
On the outside, it was recognisable mostly for the orange trim around its grille, on British racing green paintwork. Inside was even more striking – red quilted leather and plenty of aluminium detailing. Of dubious taste perhaps, but with a Torsen diff the BRM was surprisingly capable in the corners.
SEAT Ibiza GTI
The Cupra tag is so familiar today it’s difficult to remember what came before, but as early as 1993 the Spanish manufacturer applied a different badge to the nose and tail of its compact Ibiza: GTI.
Frequently seen in bright colours – later aping SEAT’s F2-class rally warriors – Performance Car called the Ibiza ‘more like a Golf GTI thank VW’s own Mk4 Golf’ in its January 1998 issue.
First sold with 8-valve engines and later, 16 valves, the 1.8 and 2.0-litre models delivered an old-school, wheel-cocking driving experience in a sturdy, practical package – just like those original Golf GTIs.