The Hot Hatch movement has been with us for nearly 40 years, having really started with the launch of Volkswagen Golf GTI in 1976. There are those who claim that others such as the Autobianchi A112 Abarth or Renault 5 Alpine were the true hatchback originals, but popular perception is inclined to favour the VW. Strange to say, but there were no new versions of the latest GTI at the Geneva Salon, perhaps they are resting on the accumulated laurels of the Golf R. The opposition have been busy though, so it is time to run round the stands to see these latest hatchbacked sprinters.
Hot Hatches are very much in vogue again, the current issue of EVO magazine features a group test of such cars as its cover feature - The Year of the Hot Hatch - Why now's the time to buy your dream pocket rocket. However, the piece with some nine current speedsters on test was made just a bit redundant by Ford, who announced a new Ford Focus RS in the past month. The Geneva Salon was the ideal venue for the début of such a high profile and high performance machine.
With this new car, Ford have thrown down the gauntlet to the Volkswagen Golf R, the Mercedes A45 AMG and the Audi RS3, as well as any new pretenders to the Hot Hatch throne. The Focus RS is powered by the 2.3 litre four-cylinder EcoBoost engine that, with the aid of turbocharging, gives a claimed output of 316bhp. Four wheel drive is considered necessary to control this huge amount of power in such a small car.
Needless to say the performance of the Focus RS, both in a straight line and round the bends, will be staggering. A heap of electronic controls hide beneath the skin to manage the power and torque. "Awesome" is the word that springs to mind. There are evan more features included, according to a Ford spokesman, "The all-new Focus RS also introduces advanced performance technologies, and is the first Ford RS equipped with selectable Drive Modes – including an industry-first Drift Mode – and Launch Control."
The other good bit of news for those of you living on the other side of the Atlantic, is that this car will available in North America, the first RS-badged Ford to be on sale over there. Start saving!
But if the Focus RS represents Ford's bid to climb to the top of the Hot Hatch range, there are other famous names from the past also aiming for that spot. The world finally got to see the new production specification Honda Civic Type R at the Geneva Salon.
This Civic Type R is powered by 2-litre, four cylinder VTEC engine that now boasts both direct petrol injection and turbochargers, the result is an output "in excess of 276bhp."
The handling must be pretty good too, as at Geneva, Honda claimed to have set a time of 7:50.63 round the Nürburgring, a record for a front-wheel drive car on the Nordschleife. As luck would have it, Honda filmed the lap...
Honda describe the new Civic Type R as a ‘race car for the road' - and certainly the car's appearance - with wings, splitters and dive planes - distinguishes it from the modest family hatch that it is loosely based on. The lightweight alloy wheels and the four-piston Brembo brake calipers add to the serious stance of the Type R. Adaptive dampers help to control the power and balance out the ride. From every angle this a serious contender. Rumours swirl round the Internet that this car will also be available in some form in the North American marketplace, that's proof enough for me.
It is not just the Golf R that our two new stars are competing with, realistically Audi is also in the firing line. However that German manufacturer is not standing still, especially after the 2014 RS3 model caught some flak in the press for lacking character, even worse it was unfavourably compared to the Golf R. That must have caused some serious angst down in Ingolstadt. Audi brought the production version of their new Audi RS3 Sportback to Geneva for its public unveiling - and the figures are even more mind-boggling than either the Ford or the Honda. 362bhp is extracted from the 2.5-litre five-cylinder power-plant, which of course gets a hefty turbocharged shove.
For such an innocuous looking car, the performance is that of a jet fighter, 0-62mph taking just 4.3 seconds and a theoretical top speed of 174mph, though it is generally restricted to 155mph...
Everything else about the hot-hatch-to-end-all-hot-hatches is very Audi, understated quality and style, as is the price. The bill for the Ford and the Honda is expected to start at £30,000 plus the extras, the Audi rolls in at £39,950. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
While our first two cars snatched the headlines in the Hot Hatch segment on display at the Geneva Salon, there were others who were just as worthy of consideration. Renault have been in this arena since the early days and revealed a new Clio Renaultsport 220 Trophy EDC to the world.
"A refined EDC transmission, quicker steering, a lower and stiffer chassis and upgraded tyres will make Renault’s hot hatch even hotter," at least according to the PR Department. The engine, a 1.6 litre turbocharged unit has also been sharpened, all of the work in response to criticism of the current model.
Another hot hatch on display in Geneva, with an upgraded specification, was the MINI John Cooper Works. Now boasting 228bhp from its 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, it is the most powerful MINI ever offered for sale.
With a revised 1-series M135 on the way and other models promised from a range of manufacturers, the hot hatch segment of the automobile market is jumping and jiving. Evidence of that is clear with the cars currently on display at Geneva.
Continue reading our coverage of the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, we're just getting started! Oddities Among Greatness at Geneva showcases some of the weirdest from among the salon's floor.