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The return of the hot hatch wars

Vauxhall and Ford return to the fight once again, with Mercedes in tow...

For years there has been a very closely fought battle for the title of Hot Hatch King, since the 1980s there has been the fight between Ford, Vauxhall, VW and Renault.

Fast forward to 2012 and the battle rages on, though Ford and Vauxhall have been absent for a while. Recently the fight has been between the VW Golf GTi and the Renaultsport Megane 265, with a slight showing by the outsider Mazda 3 MPS and Audi S3. But now there are three new challengers to the crown and it looks like it’ll make for quite the group test. Representing the different ends of the market, the 3 MPS comes in at £23,995 and the Audi S3 is priced at £31,250. The Golf GTi Edition 35 and Megane sit between them at £27,560 and £26,040 respectively.

First up we have the Vauxhall Astra VXR, which certainly wins the award for best looking hot hatch straight away. A 3-dr coupe-like profile, not dissimilar to the Megane is pumped up and made more muscular by flared wheelarches, massive 19 or 20 inch alloy wheels and an aggressive bodykit. It packs quite a punch too, with 277 bhp and 295 lb/ft or torque from the 2.0 litre turbo engine. First drives have praised the handling and it seems as if the VXR has finally turned into a more rounded product, given that the previous model was a bit of a handful. Pricing looks competitive at £26,995 too, that is until you look at the Focus…

For 2012 Ford has come over all eco-friendly with the Focus ST, ditching the characterful yet thirsty 2.5 litre 5-pot turbo engine for a new Ecoboost 2.0 litre turbo. Power is up though, with 247 bhp and there’s a nice 250 lb/ft of torque. Not quite as powerful as the VXR then, but Ford has never really been about headline figures, more about the driving experience and handling. One thing that surprises is that the 2012 ST won’t be available as a 3-dr model. Instead it will only be sold as a 5-dr hatch or estate, showing that the Focus is aimed at the more all-round family car. Featuring a new development of the Revo-Knuckle front suspension first seen on the previous Focus RS, the new ST has been highly rated for returning to the old Focus’ direct handling and providing tightly controlled damping whilst still retaining ride comfort – not an easy task. It also strikes quite a blow to all the rivals by coming in at just £21,995 for the base ST which is still well equipped.

Lastly we have a German outsider who is trying to muscle in on the hot hatch war – the Mercedes A250 Sport. With looks to make even the VXR cry, the A250 may not have the outright punch of the other contenders, but with 211 bhp is still no slouch and matches the standard Golf GTi. Visually the Merc looks just like a concept car for the road, with large wheels, incredible detailing and a low stance that blows the oddball previous model away. Expect the A250 Sport to be priced nearer the Audi S3 at c.£30,000.

Of course, these models are just a taster for some of them. In the Golf you can already get the more extreme Golf R with 265 bhp, there’s the Audi RS3 with 335 bhp and BMW have the M135i with 313 bhp. Ford will also inevitably release a new Focus RS in a few years with 300+ bhp and we expect to hear from Mercedes in the next week with official confirmation and details of the 330 bhp A45 AMG, a 4WD full-on AMG version of the new A-Class. We can’t wait…

Images courtesy of Ford, Vauxhall and Mercedes

 

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About Tim Oldland

Contributing Editor - Long time petrolhead, automotive design engineer and journalist. Also Social Media Manager for the ecurie25 Group - www.ecurie25.com Tim has worked in the automotive sector for many years, but has been a fan of anything with 2 or 4... read more