But that accessibility means hundreds of hot hatches have hit the market over the years. Inevitably, some have been pushed from the limelight as more popular GTIs, Renaultsports, Type Rs and others thrived.
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Below, we've selected ten cars that might have slipped your memory over the years - but are still well worth a look, with positive reviews from both ourselves or other magazines before evo's time.
Daihatsu Charade GTti
The hot hatch recipe was fairly simple in the early 1990s. You got a four-cylinder engine, a five-speed ‘box, occasionally fuel injection, and a kerb weight well under a metric ton.
While the Daihatsu Charade ticked most of those boxes, it dropped the usual four-pot in favour of one of the most sophisticated engines in its class – a 1-litre, three-cylinder with a turbocharger and 99bhp output.
evo’s predecessor, Performance Car, called it ‘One of the most entertaining internal combustion engines in production’ in May 1991, and described the car itself as ‘a unique little device [that] should be revered’. Indeed, it beat a Peugeot 205 XS and Citroen AX GT in its group test. They’re incredibly rare today, victims of the turbocharged engine’s easily-tunable nature and corresponding 1990s boom (an apt word, in the circumstances) in modified car culture.
Ford Fiesta Zetec-S
Ford was on a roll from the mid 90s until the early 2000s. Its chassis were among the best on the market – at any price – and among the beneficiaries was the Ford Fiesta Zetec-S.
Had the Zetec-S carried the XR2i badge – something it could have more than justified – it might be better remembered. As it is, most remember the Puma with which it shared a chassis and gearbox.
The handling was incredibly good – ‘You just can’t help but get totally engrossed, such is the level and quality of the information it gives you’, we said in evo 020. It’s just a shame the 1.6-litre engine never delivered on its promise. The Puma’s 1.7-litre Yamaha-tuned lump would have been more than welcome.
Honda Civic VTi
Type R models make the headlines, but Honda has a long back-catalogue of making performance hatchbacks that could shame many a European marque.
Of those, now often forgotten by all but those who happily put engineering over emotional appeal, the Honda Civic VTi was a highlight. Its 1.6-litre, VTEC-assisted engine developed 157bhp, nearly 100bhp/litre, and as we wrote of a vibrant Jordan-badged model in evo 020, ‘It revs more sweetly than any other, all the way to 8000rpm if you want.’
We also said that ‘No other hot hatch maker manages to engineer quality into every single component like Honda does’. Other companies have since caught up on that front, but with the latest Civic Type R, a mighty (now turbocharged) engine is still a large part of the car’s appeal.
Mini Cooper Works
There’s a very good reason few remember the Mini Cooper fettled by John Cooper Garages itself – the Mini Cooper S.
Cooper managed to extract 130bhp from the Mini’s 1.6, courtesy of a gas-flowed cylinder head, a new intake and fruity exhaust. In evo 039, Richard Meaden described it as 'smoother, faster to respond and happier at high revs'.
However, the cost it added to the basic 113bhp Cooper was significant. When the supercharged Cooper S arrived, boasting an even greater power output for similar money, few gave the Works a second look. Of course, Cooper Garages managed to find more power from that, too.
Proton Satria GTi
Malaysia is not a country known for its hot hatchback heritage, but Proton’s purchase of Lotus in 1996 did result in the surprisingly adept Satria GTi.
Testing the car in evo 020, we were more than positive about the car’s Lotus-honed handling - 'There’s little roll, lots of grip, and tight damping. It’s almost kart like – you feel low-slung; it feels well suited to track work', we said in a giant hot hatch test.
Unfortunately, the car has slipped off the radar today – though that does mean used examples are cheap, when they appear. Ironically, the only thing less memorable than Proton’s dabble in the hot hatchback market is that the company is still selling vehicles in the UK.