evo Car of the Year focuses on the very best new driver’s car from its respective year regardless of class, price or colour, but this often results in an unfortunate side effect. By pooling all of our favourite cars throughout the year into one test, it’s often that performance cars of real merit are outgunned, if not by their own doing, but by the more serious machinery on test.
So a few years ago the decision was made to condense the main eCoty test, leaving those who might not have a chance on the main event to impress on their own terms, as well as give the eCoty cars that deserved it plenty of space to shine.
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Joining the six main contenders in 2019 were a further group of eight performance cars that all impressed us over the course of the year – although a few might have been expected at the main event – and there is generally a good reason why.
So, from supermini to supercar, these are evo’s other stars of 2019, starting with our other favourite hot hatchbacks...
How could two vehicles that made it right through to the final of our issue 267 hot hatchback megatest (one in hatchback rather than fastback form, admittedly) not make it through to eCoty proper? It’s a sign more of the quality of this year’s eCoty field than any lack of talent on behalf of either car, even if it’s worth pointing out that both were beaten by the Civic Type R in the aforementioned test, and the Fiesta fell behind the Hyundai and Renault present, too.
Our introduction to the ST Performance Edition was less than salubrious. The weather was wet, Warwickshire’s roads unspectacular, and the drive brief. It mattered not. We already knew the current regular Fiesta ST was a cracker, and it took only a quarter of a mile to realise the Performance Edition was better still. How? Because that quarter of a mile was the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced in a Fiesta ST. If Ford’s latest terrier has one major weakness in standard form, it’s that bumpy, challenging B-roads – where a compact hatchback should excel – are a staccato experience. Push hard and the ST’s tyres lose track of the surface, corrupting steering and traction, disrupting your flow.
The Performance Edition eliminates this problem almost entirely. It’s still firm, and the car still feels a little toy-like compared to the best hot hatches on the market, but with just a set of lighter (and much more attractive) wheels and more sophisticated dampers, the ST has never been more capable, and the resulting grin never more permanent.
The other qualities all still remain. The 197bhp engine responds better than most three-pots and, away from the 300bhp crop in the class above, has real thump. Meanwhile the cabin is of reasonable quality, and the Recaro seats grasp you in place like a racing bucket. The only thing counting against the Performance Edition is its eye-widening £26,495 price tag.
The £29,995 Hyundai is more serious than the Fiesta, but even better. You can take or leave the styling – the Fastback is more distinctive looking than the £500 cheaper i30 N Performance hatch, but works better from some angles than others – and for some the interior is a little too bland, though it has the relentless good sense of a Volkswagen with similar build integrity and excellent seats. But the rest of it? Top-drawer stuff.
With the Fastback, Hyundai’s N division made some subtle changes to imbue the chassis with greater compliance than on its hatchback counterpart, but discovered the changes were so effective they’ve now been carried across to the hatch. The new Comfort mode’s mix of compliance and body control is well judged, to the extent that you’d only ever want to play with the suspension settings if you were to take the car on track – although Hyundai will tell you that its engineers run the car in Comfort even on the Nürburgring.
The changes do seem to have taken an extra edge off the ride quality, but frankly it feels as good as it ever has. On a circuit the extra weight over the rear axle makes the i30 Fastback N a little more tail-happy than its shorter counterpart, but otherwise the characteristics are identical: positive turn-in, intuitive and well-weighted steering, and levels of grip that strike a fine balance between pace and progression. The 271bhp turbocharged 2-litre engine remains amusing too, lacking the raw pace and response of some rival units, but packing one of the fruitiest exhaust notes this side of a supercar’s.
What holds both of these cars back is this: we already know that neither is the absolute best of its type. The Fiesta does get pretty close, to be fair, if largely through lack of contemporary competition, but it’s not the 182 Trophy of its generation, and the changes are too small to justify a successive eCoty entry.
The Hyundai, as previously mentioned, isn’t quite on the same level as the Civic Type R. The Renault and AMG that made it out to Spain might be, though, so justified their places early on. And as it turns out, both had a star quality that Hyundai, for everything it’s done so well to this point, has yet to quite capture.