Mike Stevens | Aug 7, 2008

It was twenty five years ago that the class of giant killers known as the hot-hatch found another member. You will remember the Volkswagen Golf GTi had earlier pioneered the class by offering a performance version of what was already a 'hot-hatch' when it arrived in the mid-seventies. (Renault, of course, with the R16, is recognised as the 'inventor' of the hatch-back.)

In the 80's, another French car emerged to rule the hot-hatch roost. That car is the Peugeot 205.Formerly a producer of "larger" sedans, the purchase of French manufacturer Simca in 1978 gave Peugeot some new capabilities in small car manufacture to focus on building a competitor to the popular VW Golf hatch.

Mechanically this new hatchback would be lighter, more powerful and better suspended than its forebears - with fully, rather than semi, independent suspension. Aesthetically, the car would be designed by renowned styling house Pininfarina, which gave the car a form Volkswagen would struggle to match.

honda-civic-type-r-group

Topping the 205 series, of course, is the 205 GTi. A car that is still remembered fondly, and one of the first that added the phrases "big engine in a small car" and, more importantly, "lift off oversteer", to the hatchback drivers' lexicon.

It was a 'best buy" for five years straight by Which? magazine in the 80's, and voted car of that decade by respected British automotive magazine Car in 1990.

Eventually, five and a quarter million of them would be built over sixteen years to 1999. The cars were driven in motorsport series the world over, including being rallied in Group B, with one of the more famous drivers being the Climb Dancing Ari Vatanen.

nissan-gtir

So what has been the historical result? When you think "hot hatch", especially the most drivable and best looking of the class, you inevitably think French. Clarkson says that any small French hatch is automatically cool. I know that, when I was younger, I looked quite wistfully at the 205 GTi and the 306 GTi-6 while sitting in my Pulsar.

The mantle of hot hatch king was arguably taken by the Japanese in the nineties to early noughties. This is thanks to the Type-R variants of the Honda Civic and Integra, and the rally homologation specials known as the Nissan Pulsar (aka Sunny) GTiR, Mitubishi Lancer GSR and Subaru Impreza WRX.

In the current market however, Renault has arguably taken the 'hot hatch crown' with the RenaultSport variants of the Clio and Megane. These cars can stand toe-to-toe with their competitors on performance, but possess a design flair and visual impact that elevates them above their peers.

ren_r26-r_f

While the Peugeot 206 and 207 have disappointed some in the performance department - thanks to their relative heft - their styling and comfort has made them popular the world over. One can only hope that Peugeot remembers why the 205 became as famous as it was, and the next model returns to its roots.

Bon anniversaire.

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