Last Sunday started just like any other. I spent a couple of hours in the office taking care of some paperwork, got a few jobs done at home, saw the family, and with my list of jobs to do steadily shrinking I decided to venture down the local to take in the afternoons footy, and the darts final from Lakeside.
The day ended though somewhat strangely. After the sport had come to a head, I was chatting with a mate about cars (nothing unusual there, we often do). Heâ€™s a petrol head, and as a man who likes small sports cars, recently bought himself a new Boxster S Manual â€“ I approved. Whatâ€™s not to a like about a small mid-engined rear wheel drive six-cylinder Porsche with a manual box? We chatted away, and then he came out with itâ€¦ (Referring to my Golf R)â€¦ â€œThe problem with your car is that it isnâ€™t a hot hatch, itâ€™s a sports car.â€
I jumped on the defensive, â€œof course itâ€™s a hot hatch, itâ€™s got five doors!â€ But I know what he was getting at, and itâ€™s something Iâ€™ve given thought to. When does a hot hatch stop being a hot hatch, and become instead an out and out sports car?
You see, that Boxster S, with its 3.4 litre six-cylinder engine, only musters up 315bhp. Compare that with the 296bhp in the Golf R which is two cylinders and 1400cc down, thatâ€™s not a lot in this day and age. The Golf weighs around 60kg more, but has the benefit of 4-MOTION, all of which means their 0-62 time is identical at 5.1 seconds â€“ comparing like-for-like, manual with manual.
BMW has a go at sticking up a fight for the sports car â€“ the current flagship Z4, the sDrive 35iS M-Sport can scamper to 62 in 4.8 seconds, but itâ€™s only available with the double clutch gearbox, so isn't far ahead of a DSG Golf R at 4.9.
Surely Audi with their all new TT can edge the sports car sector into a clear lead? Well yes, they can. Thanks largely to it using the same MQB platform as the Golf, a 310PS version of the Golf R engine, and elements of aluminium in the body means it weighs 100kg less than a Golf R, the result is 4.9 seconds to 62mph for the manual car â€“ a 0.2s advantage over the Golf.
Hardly a massive margin is there?
Things are going to get harder for the Sports Car too. With the new RS3 confirmed to arrive this summer with a 367bhp five-cylinder engine under the bonnet and a 0-62 acceleration time of 4.3 seconds, the current breed of Sports Cars wonâ€™t see which way it went.
There are more too. Although unconfirmed Mercedes are working on a hotter version of the A45 AMG with nearer 400bhp (think of it as a mini â€˜Black Seriesâ€™) but of course thatâ€™s only in response to the fact that VW are umming and ahing over putting the Golf R400/R420 into production.
So, in an age when you can buy a 5-door hatchback thatâ€™s as fast as, or even faster than a Sports Car, where is the line drawn? Is the Sports Car a dying breed, and are these super-Hot Hatches the new Sports Cars?
Well no. The truth is itâ€™s always been that way, well since the early 80s at least. Thatâ€™s how I should have answered the man in the pub. There have always been quick little cars that can take on the proper sports cars. As a classic car fan, Iâ€™ve watched countless battles between small nimble Austin A40s and Minis, with larger sports cars struggling to keep up.
Hot hatches are the â€˜pocket rocketsâ€™. They are cars that are reasonable to buy and run, and yet deliver a turn of speed that punches well above their weight.
Take the original GTi, the Mk1. Its power to weight ratio of around 135bhp/tonne far eclipsed the Porsche of the day, the 944 with its 2.5L engine, and 127bhp/tonne. Of course, given a long enough runway, the Porsche would win hands down. Autocar back in the day wound one up to 137mph, whereas the Golf would have been out of puff at 110mph. But, stick both cars on a B-Road, and the driver of the Porsche would seriously have his work cut out, and wondering why theyâ€™d paid the extra.
Fast forward to 2015 and the story is the same. The current breed of Hot Hatches, like our Golf R with 296bhp, and the newly face lifted M135i with 326bhp both cost around the same at Â£30/31k, and both share very similar performance figures. Yes, given a long runway, the Porsche Boxster S will stretch out a lead over both, but stick them all on a twisty B-Road, and just like it was back in the 80s, the Porsche driver will wonder why his machine cost Â£16/17k more.
Looking to the future then, what about this new breed of Hot Hatches, the Ãœber Hatches? Well, theyâ€™ll simply compete with the next level of Sports Car.
The new RS3 will show a clean pair of heels to an entry level 911, and instead of a Â£30k Golf R embarrassing a Â£47k Boxster S, we hope to see a Â£40k Golf R400 taking on cars double its price tag.
The Hot Hatch is growing up; the hot hatch is punching further above its weight than ever before.
Long live the Hot Hatch.