Opinion: Will Hot Hatches become extinct?

Hot hatches are designed to appeal to the heart and mind. Their target group consists of people who love driving and often call themselves petrolheads, but also need a practical vehicle to use as a daily and/or cover the growing needs of their family. As the top-of-the-range versions of B-Segment and C-Segment hatchbacks, Hot Hatches are usually affordable, practical but also fast, nimble, and sexy-looking thanks to their factory-installed bodykits and large-diameter wheels.

At the same time, their development costs are (or used to be) minimal, due to the fact that they are largely based on mass-produced hatchbacks, with a more powerful engine, suspension tweaks, and a few aesthetic changes.

So, why on earth would a company stop producing the best version of their supermini / compact hatch? We are obviously asking this now, after the announcement of several high-profile hot hatch cancellations during the past years. For those who haven’t been following the news, let’s have a quick recap of the current situation for each manufacturer:


AbarthThe Italian company will keep producing their 595 pocket-rocket for as long as possible, but the discontinuation will be inevitable at some point due to the strict emission regulations in Europe. Without a Punto (B-Segment) or a Bravo (C-Segment) available for tuning – at least at the moment – Abarth relies on the performance version of the fully electric FIAT 500e that is reportedly under development. Furthermore, the merger of FCA and PSA forming the Stellantis supergroup doesn’t seem to help because neither the French have hot hatches as a priority at the moment.

Alfa Romeo: The MiTo (B-Segment) was phased out in 2018 after a decade of sales and the Giulietta (C-Segment) was phased out in 2020 without a planned successor. That means we are not going to see Quadrifoglio Verde, Veloce or GTA variants of hatchbacks anytime soon – although the FCA-PSA merge in Stellantis gives us hope for Alfa Romeo’s possible return to the C-Segment using the updated EMP2 platform (Peugeot 308, DS 4). For now, the Italian company is preparing a 4-model range consisting of 3 SUVs (a new and yet-unnamed electric B-SUV, the hybrid Tonale and the larger Stelvio) together with 1 sedan (Giulia). Future plans will be unveiled in 2022.

Audi: The S1 Sportback of the previous generation didn’t get a successor and there won’t be any S1 or RS 1 models in the future. This leaves the A1 40 TFSI as the fastest version of the premium B-Segment car with the four-rings on its grille and this won’t last for long, as the A1 will be discontinued after the current generation. Thankfully, the same doesn’t comply with the new generation of the A3 Sportback – we already have the new S3 Sportback, while a successor to the flagship RS3 Sportback is coming soon.

BMW: The Bavarian company might have dropped the last rear-wheel-drive hot hatch from their range (the previous-generation M140i) but is still offering two performance versions of the new generation 1 Series – the front-wheel-drive 128ti and the flagship all-wheel-drive M135i xDrive.

Cupra : A European-only brand for now – soon coming to Australia – Cupra is taking over the reins from SEAT to produce hot hatches and performance SUVs. Thus, the new fourth-generation Leon is already available in gasoline-powered or plug-in hybrid hot hatch variants.

Ford: The hardcore Focus RS won’t be getting a fourth-generation as Ford publicly announced the cancellation of the project, leaving the Focus ST (C-Segment) and Fiesta ST (B-Segment) as their only hot hatch offerings tuned by Ford Performance. The decision was taken due to the increasing development costs associated with strict emission regulations that could not be justified by the low production volume of a focused model like the Focus RS. (learn more here).

Hyundai: One of the few companies with a growing range of hot hatches is Hyundai, thanks to the glowing N Performance division. Besides the i30 N which just got updated (with the addition of an automatic transmission) and the equivalent Veloster N already offered in the US market, Hyundai will be soon offering the i20 N (B-Segment) as well as a crazy-fast mid-engined hot hatch halo model which has been under development for a while now. The future of N is looking bright, with fully electric and hydrogen powertrains under development.

Honda: The good news here is that the Japanese are not giving up on the Civic Type R. Even though the current gen was facelifted recently with the addition of the track-focused Civic Type R Limited Edition, a brand-new generation is going through the last stages of development and camouflage prototypes have been spotted driving around public roads with full-on bodykits. Rumor has it that the new Type R will come with a manual transmission and retain its FWD nature with even more power. It is also rumored to be Honda’s last non-hybrid model before the electrification of the whole range.

Kia: The Korean company is no stranger to performance hatchbacks, with the Kia Ceed GT being an integral part of their range – even though it is considered to be a warm hatch. The situation will likely stay that way in the future, as Hyundai has the reins of hot hatches inside the Hyundai-Kia group. A big hope is the fully electric Kia EV6 GT that was revealed recently, which comes with amazing specs and sportscar levels of performance.

Mazda: The MPS-era of Mazda is long gone since the company has moved upmarket offering a more premium model range. The Mazda2 (B-Segment) is focused on practicality and efficiency, while the beautiful Mazda3 (C-Segment) is a premium hatchback that is not going to get a zoom-zoom version. Those who like to go fast will have to settle with the turbocharged version of the Mazda3 that could classify as a warm hatch.

Mercedes-AMG : Thankfully there is only good news here – Mercedes-AMG offers the most powerful hot hatch in history, the A 45 S 4Matic (W177), sitting a step above the lesser A 35 4Matic which still has plenty of grunt. The guys from Affalterbach seem determined to stay active in the hot hatch game and keep breaking records.

MINI: The current generation MINI Cooper S (F55/F56) alongside the more focused John Cooper Works just received their second facelift in order to keep up with the competition, something that probably won’t happen with the limited edition MINI JCW GP. The future however lies on the upcoming fully electric JCW that will keep the hot hatch spirit alive in the era of electrification.

Nissan: With the Pulsar (C-Segment) discontinued and no successor planned, the only hatchback in the Nissan range is the Micra (B-Segment) which is not getting a high-performance version. Given the financial situation of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance and the cost-cutting measures taking place, it is highly unlikely that we are going to see a Nismo branded hatchback anytime soon.

Opel: The current generation Corsa (B-Segment) and Astra (C-Segment) hatchbacks are not getting OPC variants anytime soon. Instead, Opel is offering a sporty GS-Line variant for the Corsa, which is not considered a hot hatch by any means.

PeugeotA company associated with the iconic GTi badge, has officially stoped offering hot hatch versions of their cars. The latest generation 208 (B-Segment) won’t get a GTi version so you will have to settle with the sporty-looking GT-Line. As for the 308, it won’t be offered in a spiced-up hybrid form with the Peugeot Sport Engineering badge as it was originally rumored. The reason is probably the emission targets in Europe, with Peugeot opting to invest in more popular segments.

RenaultThe Mégane IV R.S. will likely be the last of its kind, as Renault is planning a fully-electric successor, previewed by the Mégane eVision concept. At the same time, Renault won’t be offering an R.S. version of the popular Clio (B-Segment) – mostly due to the strict emission regulations in Europe, leaving the now-discontinued Clio IV R.S. without a successor. However, there is still hope for the French, as they will be developing performance versions of electric models in the near future, using the name of their sporty sub-brand Alpine.

Suzuki: The Swift Sport is the only hot hatch offered by Suzuki and one of the few performance models in the A-Segment. This year, it got some mechanical updates and it is now called the Suzuki Swift Sport Hybrid, boasting a mild-hybrid system.

Volkswagen: The German company is not going to disappoint the hot hatch lovers, as a pioneer in the segment. Thus, they offer a full range of hot hatches including the Golf GTI (gasoline), Golf GTI Clubsport, Golf GTD (diesel) and Golf GTE (plug-in hybrid), and the AWD flagship Golf R. The Polo GTi which might get a facelift soon. We are also quite certain that Volkswagen’s R division is getting ready to support the company’s electrified future, and they are already working on a high-performance twin-engined ID.3 R! Until then, people will have to settle with the GTX line of electric models, using dual electric motors in both axles.

Toyota: After their return to WRC, Toyota has given new life to its hot hatch offerings. The Toyota Gazoo Racing division is going full-throttle, and after the rally-bred Toyota GR Yaris homologation special launched this year, it is rumored that a GR Corolla will follow alongside GR versions of SUVs. The GR Corolla is rumored to have all-wheel-drive and even more power from the GR Yaris’s mighty three-cylinder 1,6 lt engine.

Other manufacturers: There are many other companies that have stopped making hot hatches due to the lack of available hatchbacks in their model range, the lack of suitable high-performance engines in the parts bin or a conflicting strategy from the marketing department. To name a few – Citroen, DS, FIAT, Lancia, MG, Mitsubishi, Skoda, Subaru, and Volvo.


Conclusion

So to sum up, while hot hatches are going to stay with us at least for the next decade, there are three main reasons that they are facing the danger of extinction in the long term.

1 – The rise of SUVs: More and more people are opting for high-riding crossovers or SUVs that combine imposing looks, adequate ground clearance, easier ingress and egress, and roomy interior focused on practicality. This has forced companies to reduce the amount of money spent on the development of hatchbacks and focus more on SUVs – and their equivalent performance versions. A good example of this is the US market where there are almost no conventional cars (hatchbacks, sedans, or estates) offered at the moment, leaving room only for SUVs and Pickup trucks.

2 – Emission Regulations: Especially in Europe, automakers have to comply with lower emission targets for their whole model range. This is forcing them to abandon the development of high-performance gasoline and diesel engines, something that is already evident not only in performance versions but also in the more mainstream offerings of each company that are going through the electrification phase. As a result, the future hot hatch will definitely be a hybrid, if not fully electric. This is not entirely bad, as the electric propulsion systems offer amazing performance and torque-vectoring capabilities. The only issue is the limited range under pressure, the added weight for the batteries, and the lack of sound – all of them are gradually taken care of by the manufacturers and technology experts.

3 – Autonomous Driving: The future is electric but it is also autonomous. Cars are getting smarter and capable of taking over more and more aspects of driving from the soon-to-be passenger sitting behind the wheel. Even today, a well-equipped car has adaptive cruise control with stop and go functions that take over the gas and brake pedal, lane-keeping assist for the steering, blind-spot monitoring, and many other systems that improve road safety. In the near future, most of cars will be semi-autonomous which means that people are gradually going to care less about driving. This means that most of the prospective buyers will focus on the infotainment and comfort features, so we will eventually have fewer vehicles designed for purists.

Adding up the facts we can probably guess that the performance car of the near future that is going to replace the traditional hot hatch, is a five-door coupe-SUV with lowered and stiffened adaptive suspension, a powerful hybrid system, a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, a complete package of autonomous driving systems and a sporty bodykit. It may sound weird, but this is exactly where the market is heading at the moment. Are you a fan of this trend?

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