I’m getting tired of the truck culture here, and I ask myself, “Why can’t we be a tad more European and enjoy a good hot hatch?” Let’s talk this out.
In America, when I say hot hatch you say, “What the hell’s a hot hatch?” The MINI Cooper S, Mazda Mazdaspeed3, Volvo C30, Volkswagen Golf GTI/R32, those are hot hatches. Unfortunately, those are the only ones we get.
In Europe there’s a bevy of these little three and five door machines just running around the streets. Across the pond they believe in smaller cars with better gas mileage to our love for trucks and SUVs. But if we just stopped and thought about things, we may enjoy having a good, fun, sporty car that got great gas mileage, while not giving up our love for big trucks and SUVs. A study in 2008 saw that the average household has 2.28 cars. That’s not surprising, if you think about it. What is surprising, though, is that the top cars sold in America in May, 2011 were as follows:
As you can see, we’re already interested in smaller cars that get great gas mileage (the Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze). But the people buying the trucks aren’t usually getting a small car for their spouse. Let’s think about this a totally different way. I currently drive a 2009 BMW M3 sedan. I had two cars prior to the M3 that I traded for it, a 2008 Ford Bullitt Mustang and a 2005 MINI Cooper S. My Mustang averaged about 23-24 mpg between city and highway driving, and my MINI would average a little over 30 mpg when I drove it right. When I took my trip to the mountains, with luggage and two passengers, I was still averaging 26-28 mpg with lots of spirited driving. My M3 gets about 20-21 mpg, if I drive it conservatively.
A good hot hatch, like the Renault Megane, can make up to 265 hp, get to 60 mph in around 6.0-seconds or less, and will get better gas mileage than any sports car out there today. These are real sports cars, though, so that makes it fantastic. Far more amazing is their impressive track performance. Recently, Renault took their new Megane RenaultSport 265 Trophy to the Nürburgring, where it bested the previous fastest hot hatch -a Renault Megane R26, interestingly enough- by 9 seconds. The new Megane RS set a time of 8:07.97. The BMW M3’s fastest lap time around The ‘Ring, according to Sport Auto, is 8 minutes, 5 seconds. not even 3-seconds faster with 414 hp versus 265 and rear-wheel drive versus front-wheel drive.
You can purchase this car for 27,820 GBP, or around 44,000 dollars US. Obviously, though, if it were sold here, it wouldn’t be priced that high. A brand new M3 will cost you no less than $65,000. Granted, it’s faster in a straight line, by a lot, but it’s not too much quicker around most race tracks, mostly due to weight and bad drivers. That takes nothing away from a good front-drive hot hatch that’s just as much fun to drive on any street. In fact, probably more fun, because you don’t have to do the same speeds to enjoy a good back road. If that makes any sense.
Unfortunately, the Megane RS 265 Trophy is limited to 500 units total. But the Megane RS is still a fun and amazing car.
The Europeans get the privilege of being able to choose hot hatches from Renault, Alfa Romeo, Volvo, Mazda, Citroën, Fiat, Abarth, MINI, John Cooper Works, Peugeot, Ford, Vauxhall, Cosworth, among others.
So why can’t we get these cars over here? Well for one, it’s a hard sell to most of the time-honored, die-hard American car guys. Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Jaguar, etc. have all proved their worth over the years in attacking the Corvette and any other American sports car. Of which, the Corvette is the only real one left. The Big Three don’t build hot hatches. At least not for America. GM builds Vauxhall in Europe, as well as Opel. Both of whom make hot hatches. Ford has been doing hot hatches for decades. Between their work with Cosworth, and then with the RS and ST Focus models, they’ve had a very strong presence.
The 2012 Ford Focus here in the states is supposed to feature an RS or ST model coming in the next year or two. With more than 300 hp, 325 lb-ft of torque (Euro-spec RS), 34 mpg US, less than 3,300 lbs, it’s not just a hot hatch. It’s a sports car that has a hatch. But it’s not quite enough, I don’t think. It’s not just that we need the cars, the American people also need the mentality of supporting smaller, funner (yes, I know) hot hatch style cars that get great gas mileage, can have the same thrills as the higher end sports cars, yet still save you money and have plenty of room for the luggage and/or groceries.
So what do ya say, kids; Interested in a new hot hatch with a truck or SUV as a second car?
[Source: May, 2011 cars sold]