It's been a very long time since the compact hot hatch class has been this competitive. The UK’s Carwow has assembled five of the very best compact hot hatches to partake in a series of tests - the Volkswagen Polo GTI, the Peugeot 208 GTI, the Ford Fiesta ST, the Mini John Cooper Works and the very racy Toyota Yaris GRMN. Yes, there are some missing – like the Corsa OPC and the Renault Clio RS – but clearly availability was an issue.
The only car in the line-up that is currently available in South Africa – apart from the Mini JCW - is the Volkswagen Polo GTI. The Polo GTI, which was just launched in South Africa, is powered by a new 2.0T of the third generation EA888 engine series, outputting 147kw and 320nm. While the outgoing model had a 7-speed DSG, the new GTI uses a 6-speed DSG transmission. Matching the engine’s higher power output is an optional “Sport Select” chassis - where the driver can vary the characteristics of the active dampers using the four driving modes: Normal, Sport, Eco and Individual. It is priced from R375 900.
Much like the Peugeot 308 – the Peugeot 208 GTI was once sold in South Africa. Unlike the lightweight 208 GTI though, the 308 has been facelifted and reintroduced into South Africa. The latest version of the highly rated 206 GTI utilizes a 1.6-litre turbocharged motor and produces 147kw and 275nm, with power being sent to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox – exactly the same setup that featured when it sold in South Africa four years ago.
Much like its predecessor, the latest Ford Fiesta ST is said to be something very special. It drops its 1.6-litre turbocharged engine for a three-cylinder 1.5-litre EcoBoost unit, but power still remains impressive at 147kw and 290nm. Despite being more grown-up than the car it replaces, Ford Performance claim the new ST is the most responsive, engaging and fun-to-drive Fiesta ST ever. The bad news is that it might not be coming to South Africa because of incompatibilities with our fuel.
Like the Polo GTI, the Mini John Cooper Works is available in South Africa. Mini’s might have swelled in size in the past decade, but they are still immense fun – more so in the sports tuned JCW-guise. Powering the flagship Mini is a turbocharged 2.0-litre motor that produces 170kw and 320nm – making it by far – the most powerful car in this line-up. In South Africa, it is available with either a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. It also features some of the latest high-tech bits borrowed from the BMW parts bin. It is priced from R491 095.
And lastly, we have the Toyota Yaris GRMN – where GRMN stands for 'Gazoo Racing tuned by the Meister of the Nürburgring'. The road-going Yaris GRMN was based on the Toyota Yaris WRC rally car, and was developed at the 'Ring. Tipping the scales at just 1.1 tons, the little hatch is powered by a supercharged 1.8-litre 2ZR-FE motor, making 156kw and 250nm, and paired with a six-speed manual transmission which sends power to a Torsen limited-slip differential. Limited to just 400 units, the Yaris GRMN was priced at ZAR520K when it launched in Europe last year. Interestingly, there are three in South Africa. Toyota South Africa brought them in for purely promotional purposes, and TSA has said, they will be sold at a later stage - although its price tag is academic.
While the pricing of compact hot hatches have increased exponentially in recent times, so have their power outputs, as well as the high tech trickery under the skin. With these five being so evenly matched - on paper at least - which is your favourite to reign supreme?