Interview: Michael Georgiadis

Michael Georgiadis is a Greek automotive editor with a long spanning career in the automotive press and a driving enthusiast / amateur kart racing driver. Since 2001 he has reviewed thousands of cars but he admittedly shows his preference towards vehicles designed to be driven on a twisty countryside road or on the racetrack. Today he is the man behind the wheel of Drive.gr, which is among the most popular automotive press magazines and websites in Greece.

In between driving exotic supercars, Michael recently conducted a hot hatch mega test in Serres Racing Circuit, where he drove the Honda Civic Type-R against the Ford Focus RS, Audi RS3 Sportback, Mercedes-AMG A45, Seat Leon Cupra 300, Peugeot 308 GTi 270 and the VW Golf VII GTI Performance. (watch the video review here).

Michael, after having driven many hot hatches from the present and the past, how would you describe the evolution of the “species”; Driving-wise, do you prefer the old school or the modern hot hatches;

When you get into forties (I’m 42 years old) you tend to view the past through rose-tinted spectacles. I loved the Fiat Punto GT I used to own for 4 years and 130.000  km. I’d love to have it know, for sure. There are many hoth hatches from the ‘80s and the ‘90s I would love to have in my garage and take for a ride from time to time: Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9, 106 Rallye & 306 GTI, VW Golf GTI Mk II, Ford Focus RS MkI, Honda CRX/Civic VTEC and of course the Renault Clio Williams.

I love these cars because I grew up dreaming of them. But none of them is better, faster or more fun to drive than the current Fords (Fiesta ST and Focus RS) or the Civic Type R. Unfortunately, I’ve not driven the new Megane RS yet, so I can’t tell.

The truth is that some manufacturers lost it, the went too soft with their approach. Like VW. Mini is also a good example, the latest generation of the Cooper S, even the JCW is nowhere close to the sharp and aggressive first and second gens of the revived Mini. But others, like Ford and Honda, they do great job.  

Which is your favourite hot hatch from those that you have already driven and which one do you really want to drive in the future;

I think I’ve already answered. The Civic Type R, the Fiesta ST and the outgoing Focus RS are my favorites. I want to drive the Megane RS and the Hyundai i30 N.

In your opinion, what are the ingredients of a great driving experience and which is your favorite driving road;

Seating position is really vital for a good driving experience. And a good front end. I want to have a good feeling of the front wheels’ grip.  If I can point where I want to entering the corner, then I can handle the rest. I mean, I prefer an oversteering car than an understeering one. Sharp throttle response is also important. I don’t need too much power to have fun, as long as it comes when I want to. And chassis balance, of course.

Favorite driving road.. Here in Athens, the coast road to Sounion. In central and northern Greece I’ve driven some amazing roads, at Pelion, the west part of Mount Olympos. In Europe, I love the Alps Maritime routes, over Nice and Monaco, many of them are used as Special Stages of the Monte Carlo Rally. My favourite track is Spa Francorchamps.         

In a world of shared platforms and an array of electronic safety equipment, do you believe that there is such thing as a Japanese, German, French or Italian character in the design and engineering of modern vehicles;

Yes, I do believe that. If you look at the Honda Civic Type R, the Ford Focus RS and the Audi RS3, each one tells a different story. If you drive them, they feel completely different. I would not say that the character is a matter of the country, but of the brand. Especially when we talk about the top of the range hot versions.

Most of the people today are obsessed with SUVs, resulting in sporty versions with lowered ride heights and more aggressive suspension settings. Do you believe that a performance SUV could ever compete with a hot hatch;

As fast and capable as it can be, a sport SUV isn’t really a sports car. Of course, there are some vehicles like the M badged X Series models, or the AMGs, the Macan and the Cayenne that are really, astonishingly fast. But the feeling is not that of a proper sports car. You don’t feel “connected”. Expensive drivetrain and suspension technology and advanced electronics compensate part of the extra ride height and weight. But Physics can’t be deluded. To be honest, I don’t really see the meaning of an SUV with a high performance engine and stiff suspension settings. I would prefer mine with a diesel engine and soft suspension.    

How do you see the future of hot hatches and sports cars in general, do you agree that the driving pleasure might need to be sacrificed in a world of autonomous driving and fully electric powertrains;

I’m afraid we have to accept the the hybridisation and get used to it. Maybe it’s not that bad. Cars tend to become easier for everyone to drive fast. Performance is more accessible by more drivers. Inevitably, that makes the car less challenging for an experienced driver. Or it helps a good driver to push the boundaries further, to drive faster. It depends… Manufacturers’ DNA has a lot to do with this. Ten years ago we were also pessimistic about the “fun of driving” cars would provide in the future. But there are still some cars, especially hot hatches, that are huge fun to drive.  

Demand for small hot hatches maybe is not as high as it used to be in the past years, due to the increase of the B-SUV segment. I have also a feeling that not so many petrolheads were born the last 10-15 years. On the contrary, medium sized hot hatches like the Golf, Focus, Leon, Civic, etc are well into the supercars of the last decade territory, regarding horsepower and overall performance. And although many manufacturers have already announced or hint the discontinuation of their small sized hot hatches, most of them have plans for the next generation of the bigger models.    

Michael, we would like to thank you for your answers. We hope that we will see more hot hatch videos from you and the Drive.gr team in the future.

You can watch the hot hatch mega-test by Drive Magazine below (choose English subtitles):

 

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