Mike Hogg was interested to read our recent reports on the new Mark V Golf GTIand he would be keen to test drive one. As a Mk IV GTI owner he has started toying with the idea of upgrading to a Mk V, but he has been put off so far by cost (the new GTI is 3 insurance groups higher than his 1.8T GTI) and a perception that the new interior is not as plush as his current GTI.
As Mike probably realises, this is something of a golden age for hot hatches. Indeed the new GTI is part of a new generation of furiously hot hatches. Some of them aren't quite here yet, in fact, but if Mike is prepared to be patient, there is a whole bunch of great hatches coming his way.
There is the SEAT Leon Cupra which is of course Volkswagen-related. It has the GTI's engine and rather more radical styling and will cost around £18,500. It arrives in the autumn.
Then there is the Ford Focus ST. It has a five-cylinder engine from a Volvo S40 T5 and by all accounts is very, very quick and has wonderfully assured handling. Like the Golf, it is a sophisticated package and not a hooligan like Ford RSs of old. Apparently, though, you will have to wait until January 2006, although fast Fords have a habit of missing their deadlines.
Finally, the Vauxhall Astra VXR is set to change the way we look at hot Vauxhalls. The new Astra looks suitably outrageous and has the most powerful four-cylinder engine in this class. The VXR screeches in this September at £18,995, but what if Mike can't wait?
A Car for the head
Even £19,995 for a car as good as the Golf GTI certainly sounds a lot - especially when for considerably less you could have at least as much fun.
For instance, a Renault sport 182 Clio Cup is £13,800 and that's before you start shopping around for discounts. Performance is not an issue because as the name suggests, there is 182bhp on offer and that combined with a very low kerb weight of 1090kg means that getting to 60mph takes around seven seconds. Not only that the top speed is an astounding 139mph. Previously there was a 172 model and the 182 has revamped suspension which certainly helps. However, enthusiastic drivers do find that the 182 can scrabble for grip when the accelerator is floored. It is still fun though. Less good is the driving position, which doesn't adjust nearly enough: the interior is also not that special. Group 16 insurance rules out younger drivers and, of course, it will get through tyres and brakes quicker than a basic 1.2 model. Being a Renault the safety performance is good, but with a new Clio on the way the hottest version is bound to replaced soon, so Mike should aim for a discount.
A car for the heart
Just in case Mike needs a little more space and does not mind another model near the end of its life there is the Seat Leon Cupra and Cupra R. The truth is that this model is much better than the Golf Mark 4 that it was based on. The 180 Cupra version costs £15,500 and is group 16, the 225 bhp Cupra R is £18,000, but is group 17 and costs £18,000. There are discounts though.
It has a functional and clearly laid out interior. It may be a little tight in the back compared with rival models, but the boot is huge although the rear sill is on the high side. Driving a Leon is certainly fun and every model, whatever the size of engine, appeals to those who enjoy sharp, sporty responses. That means the suspension is harder and over rough road occupants will feel a lot of bumps.
If space is not an issue, there is the Mini Cooper S at just over £15000 and group 15. Adding specification costs money, even though it is quicker than his current GTI and the resale value is rock solid.
Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at carchoice@ independent.co.uk, giving your age, address and contact number, and details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested.Reuse content