Top Gear Top 9: the nuttiest hot hatches

By topgear, 02 March 2020

01 Renault Clio V6

Filed in the top of the “what were they thinking” drawer, the Clio V6 wasn’t built to homologate a rally car or break records. It was simply the fantastically difficult-to-drive result of a Laguna V6 finding its way into the back seats of a Clio.

Complete with rear wheel drive and the turning circle of an intercity train, the mid-engined 230hp wasn’t even that fast, but it was a glorious return to classic French madness.

02 Audi A1 quattro

Before the underrated S1, Audi turned its little hatch into a rally tribute act with aero-turbine wheels, white paintwork with red detailing and – crucially – quattro four-wheel drive. This required new rear suspension and even a special fuel tank.

Of the 333 made, only 19 ever came to the UK. All in left-hand drive. Sounds ridiculous, no? But with a 2.0-litre motor tuned for 260hp, 600 bespoke parts and well, those wheels, the A1 quattro became a modern curio-classic.

03 Volvo V40 T5

The thinking person’s Ford Focus ST? Well obviously not, giver it’s rarer than a unicorn/flying pig crossbreed.

But yes, believe it or not, Volvo’s unassuming family hatch was briefly available with the 2.5-litre five-cylinder motor shared with fast Fords. Except here, it was allied with a snoozy 6spd auto and – attention torque-steer-phobics – four-wheel drive. Predictably it sold in Microsoft Zune quantities, but it’s a used gem today.

04 Mercedes-Benz A200 Turbo

Before the A-Class went all low-slung and sporty to face up to the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, it was much cleverer. It was tall, boxy, space-efficient and designed to be both easily convertible to electric power and very safe in a crash.

Unfortunately crashing became unfairly synonymous with the innovative Mk1 after it failed a swerving ‘elk test’ by tipping over. ESP rectified the problem, and the second-gen car was better built too.

So, Mercedes treated the range-topper to a turbo, giving 193hp and 0-100km/h in oh, erm, 8.0secs. A true performance car it really wasn’t. To think this is a distant relative of the AMG A45…

05 Vauxhall Chevette HS

Homologation specials often created legendary cars, but they’re all the sillier when the standard model was woefully dull. Taking an Opel Chevette and shoving in a 2.3-litre 137hp motor to drive its puny weight via the rear wheels is exactly the recipe we’re talking about.

This was 1975, so safety measures stretched to a new fibreglass front bumper to help aerodynamics, or something. Not until the Lotus Carlton would a Vauxhall gain such a reputation for fearsome power oversteer.

06 Abarth 850TC

How could a car with only 60hp be considered a hot hatch? Well, when it weighs less than 800kg, has a tiny rear-mounted four-cylinder motor, and takes a class victory at the 1961 Nürburgring 500km race.

Best of all, the engine cover was permanently propped open to help cooling and aid the top speed, thanks to a sleeker drag coefficient. That’s lateral thinking at its Italian best.

07 Nissan Micra R

Some hatchbacks lend themselves to go-faster versions. Ford Fiestas and Focuses, MINIs – anything that’s fun to drive in base trim, really.

A Mk3 Nissan Micra was not one of those cars, but being desperate to inject some pizzazz into its bug-eyed city car, Nissan commissioned a rear-engined, rear-drive one-off with a stripped-out rollcaged interior and a 350hp touring car motor.

Incredibly, this rocket-propelled OAP carriage wasn’t green-lit for production. Can’t think why…

08 MG Metro 6R4 Clubman

The Metro 6R4 is a Group B hall of famer, but it’d never have been eligible for competition had 200 examples not been (allegedly) produced for road-going purposes.

We say allegedly as there’s some conjecture as to whether Austin-Rover actually ever built the complete 200-strong run of Clubmans. Costing £50k when new in 1986, the 250hp V6-powered shoebox was vastly undertuned compared to its turbocharged competition siblings. But pretty tasty for a mid-Eighties Metro…

09 Vauxhall Meriva VXR

Ahh the heady days of 2006, when Vauxhall would ‘VXR’ (or Opel adding OPC) just about anything wheeled it could get its hands on. Factory forklift trucks included, probably.

The Meriva VXR was supposed to create a super-mini-MPV niche by bridging the sizeable gap between the Astra VXR hatch and Zafira VXR people-carrier. To do this, a turbo was fitted to the 1.6-litre engine, raising power from an adequate 110hp to a potty 180hp.

It was lowered and stiffened and prodigiously bodykitted, but sales were registered in the tens, not the thousands, and with the Focus ST costing less, the Meriva VXR sank without trace. Can’t say we’re surprised.

STORY Ollie Kew

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