18 Jan 2013

We create the ultimate hot hatch (and all because of the new Golf)

Colin Hubbard drives the new Golf and finds it bland, so instead he invents the best hot hatch ever.

Last week I drove the hottest version of the new Mark 7 Golf.  It was the 150bhp Diesel model in GT spec. From the outside it looked fairly sharp and unoffensive in 5 door form, but when parked next to the latest Polo it looked remarkably similar - just bigger with some small design tweaks to make it slightly more individual. Okay it saves money on design time and retains a family theme so is easily identifiable as a Volkswagen but it's also lazy and unnecessarily penny pinching considering it’s the 4th best selling car in the UK in 2012, and the Polo was the 6th.

Hotter models will follow but the current fastest petrol model is the turbocharged and supercharged 1.4 and, whilst faster to 60mph, it doesn’t have the urge and torque of the oil burner -  but strangely it costs an additional £1000.

The quoted fuel figures for the GT 150 Diesel are 56mpg on an urban drive, and on a limited test drive of steady driving, the trip computer showed an average of 38 mpg, so either the figures are highly overrated or the trip computer is inaccurate.

Driving the brand new Golf left me cold.  The current hottest model as driven was actually too comfortable, too cosseting and, to me, was just a box to get me from point A to point B - it didn’t excite at all. Yes it was a nice place to be, with a first class interior, with plastics and quality fittings of an Audi, but when I drive I also want to have some fun - otherwise I may as well drive an underpowered eurobox. Okay it had a manual gearbox but it is nothing special and I really missed having an actual stick for a handbrake instead of a button where you are never 100% confident that its on and will, well stick.

Don’t get me wrong the Golf's a very good car and has moved the game on from the Mark 6 and I’m sure that it will be a sales success, but while design and manufacturing get increasingly efficient I worry about what we will be driving in the future.  We are losing things like hydraulic power steering, mechanical handbrakes and manual gearboxes and eventually we could end up with little or no driving pleasure, just a box with a joystick and maybe autopilot for motorway work, like something you see in sci fi films.

It was a relief to get back into my 10 year old Mk4 Golf GTI afterwards, and it got me thinking about the current range of hot hatches. From a purely driving and fun point of view the Renaultsport Megane 265 and BMW M135i take some beating but neither are lookers and have hit a fair few branches of the ugly tree during their conception. This leaves the Astra VXR and Focus ST, which are entertaining cars but the interiors are fairly low rent and their mainstream counterparts are as common as muck.

This got me thinking about who could build the ultimate and thrilling hot hatchback, which is practical enough to be used on a daily basis - think Lotus Elise but with 4 seats. And then it struck me - Lotus should build the ultimate hot hatch to keep the spririt of driving going and I’m sure it would be a raging success if it was sold at the right price. Then I started looking at the numbers and Lotus only sold 100 cars last year and 300 the year before, so they won't have the funds to build an entirely new car, especially after Mr Bahar allegedly wined and dined the profits away.

So where do we go from here?  The Fiat Panda is a good little no-frills car.  Fiat borrowed some engineers from Ferrari and created the Panda 100HP which is a cracking little motor, with much sung praise. The 100HP isn’t a fire breathing monster with trick parts, it just uses the right parts with a correctly set up chassis and warmed-over 1.4 litre engine.  If they turned up the heat and put everything into it it could be the answer to my thrilling hot hatch conundrum but it is a little small and the interior quality a little down on the mainstream cars, and a mile away from the Germans.

So what I propose is that a mainstream manufacturer actually hires in some help from Lotus and develops one of their existing model to produce a Lotus branded hot hatch with reduced weight, high revving 4 pot motor and the ultimate chassis. Lotus have worked with manufacturers before and created such greats as the Lotus Carlton, Talbot Sunbeam even Lotus Proton Satria GTI (maybe not such a great car but still fun and a massive improvement over the standard Satria).

Now we need to find a reasonable base car to start with, and I’m thinking Japanese, so I first looked at Honda.  They have the Jazz and Civic but both have 5 doors and fairly nondescript looks. Onto Nissan.  As we know they have it in them to make a great car (GT-R) but theres only the Pixo, Micra and Note and none of those have the looks to make it the greatest hot hatch ever.  Next up is Mazda with the Mazda 2, but it s small car and the engine bay will be limited to tiny engines so it wouldn’t be up to the task, and the Mazda 3 has hit more branches of the ugly tree than the 135i and Megane.

This just leaves Toyota.  The Auris is too bland to succeed, which leaves the 3 door Yaris. Now, bear with me on this as the Yaris has never had much attention, but then Toyota has never made a hot version. Think about the Renault Megane R26R, Clio Trophy and the Mini Cooper Works GP - all were stripped-out, uprated hot hatches built in limited numbers and all were sellout successes with a huge following.  I would propose to go a similar way with a Lotus Yaris.

First off, production for the Yaris is in France so, with Lotus being in England, its only a short hop for the Lotus engineers to cosy up to a close working relationship and spend time polishing the product. The main issue would be the engine, as the largest engine fitted to a Yaris is a 1.4 turbo-diesel.   I am confident a 1.8 VVT engine, as actually made by Toyota and supplied to Lotus for their cars, could be squeezed into the engine bay. This engine once made 189bhp in the Celica so with some fettling for the English market could get up to 200bhp - which is the ideal figure for a front wheel drive, naturally aspirated hot hatch.  Ensure an adequately tuned exhaust note and induction roar and it would sound like it meant business.  Add a 6 speed manual gearbox with a short shifter and a mechanical limited slip diff and we have the start of something special.

Give Lotus free reign over the chassis - and maybe bespoke dampers from Sachs and some uprated brakes from the Toyota parts bin behind some anthracite 18 inch alloy wheels.  Remember this is an uncompromising hot hatch with little worry about upsetting passengers - they have a seat so should be grateful.  Note, to be successful it would need need fantastic high quality damping without a hard bouncy ride, as in the Suzuki Swift.

The outside wouldn’t be too over the top, a small bodykit like the one in the images below and some colour details to make it stand out.  But not too garish like the Citroen DS3.

On the inside things are kept basic with some lightweight fixed headrest heavily side bolstered sports seats with the front and rear finished in alcantara. This model needs to be a 4 seater, otherwise it’s a pointless exercise. Splashes of real carbon fibre make the inside feel a little special.

 To save cost and keep weight down luxuries are kept to a minimum, no electric windows or sound deadening; and air con would be optional, but a decent stereo with Bluetooth and direct iPod control are essential for the type of buyer this car would attract.  No need for sport buttons as the engine and chassis are already set up in sport.  If you want a comfort setting find another car. And the stars of the show, a fat rimmed leather steering wheel, a nicely sculptured gearknob and, best of all, a proper handbrake.

So there we have it.  I have just designed what could be the best hot hatch ever and could be made in a limited number of, say, 1000 and for a price of around £25k, which is reasonable considering what status it could achieve along with the delicious chassis Lotus could serve up.

Go on Toyota.  Think about it, mull it over.  Have a chat with Lotus and make the car which will make us Petrolheads ecstatic and as grin as much as Harry Metcalf when he finally got to drive the Aston Martin one-77 (check out Evo diaries).

Good Luck!