Hot hatch

Ned Jasper – Things are looking Up!

It took top honours in Ned’s top seven cars of 2017, and now the Volkswagen Up! GTI is proving to be one of the most important new cars launched this year. This is why.2018 Volkswagen up! GTI

In case you couldn’t tell I’m quite a fan of small sporty cars, especially those with a famous three letters behind the name. In fact, I happen to like them so much so, that I awarded the new Volkswagen Up! GTI the top spot on my annual ‘top seven cars of the year‘ list. I also awarded it to the Mk1 Golf GTI, but I make the rules, OK?

Why did I crown the Up! GTI the winner? No, not because it’s the only car in history to have two sentences in its name. Have a little think about that one…

2018 Volkswagen up! GTI

No, it’s because it has the recipe to make a properly fun little machine. Modern hot hatches are number obsessed. Be it horsepower, cornering G-force, transmission shift times, and not to mention the time it takes for them to cover a certain 13-mile race track in the heart of Germany.

This baby GTI bucks the trend, however, with a tiny 3-cylinder turbocharged 1.0-litre engine and lashings of retro-infused style. Just look at it, cute, but aggressive – kind of like a kickboxing kitten.

2018 Volkswagen up! GTI

Now those of you who regularly read ESM will know that we started talking about this car almost a year ago when it was merely a concept. Then when the top brass at VW gave it the go-ahead, I had the audacity to give it the top spot on my cars of the year list. Now, in the next stage of the Up! GTI story, UK prices have been released with orders already being taken. So many orders that dealers are now reporting potential waits of up to 12 months.

Prices for the Up! GTI starts at £13,750 for a bog standard 3-door car. That price gets you everything you could possibly need really, with chunky 17″ wheels, tartan interior and six-speed manual being standard across the range. (more…)

New Metal | Hyundai i30 N

It seems to have spent an inordinate amount of time lapping the Nürburgring, but Hyundai’s new hot hatch is finally here. 

2017 Hyundai i30 N

Hyundai is suitably proud of the fact that the new i30 N has racked up some 6,000 miles of testing at the fearsome Nürburgring-Nordschleife circuit. That includes competition running in the ADAC 24 hours race, along with substantial time polishing and refining the dynamics. It means Hyundai is putting real faith in the i30 N being able to perform on track.

2017 Hyundai i30 N

Before we go any further; what does the ‘N’ stand for? According to Hyundai it symbolises the shape of a chicane, and is relevant to this i30 being developed in both Namyang and at the Nürburgring. There are plans for more N-branded road cars, but this is where it all begins for real.

2017 Hyundai i30 N

Although in reality, things started quite some time before 2017. Hyundai has been competing in the World Rally Championship with the i20 WRC car, wearing N badges, since 2014. Also, Hyundai offered the i30 Turbo as part of the previous generation range. We tested the old i30 Turbo and found it broadly commendable, plus a solid platform for future hot hatches. As such, we’ve high hopes for the i30 N, based on our previous quick Hyundai experiences and the wealth of performance equipment thrown at this new car.

2017 Hyundai i30 N

Power comes from a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, producing 247hp and 260lb-ft of torque. There is, however, an optional Performance Package that along with various other tweaks, boosts power to a more substantial 271hp. This leaves the i30 N in something of a hot hatch hinterland – more powerful than a Golf GTI, but with less horsepower than a Golf R, for example. (more…)

2016 Mercedes-AMG A45 4MATIC | Review

According to William H. Land, the most important thing about power is making sure you don’t have to use it. But when there is so much of it on offer, can you really resist? We spent a week with the Mercedes-AMG A45 to test our resolve.

Mercedes-AMG A45Question. What’s bright red, has 376hp and does 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds? If your answer was a Ferrari F355, you’d be wrong, as the Maranello machine actually takes 4.7 seconds to hit 62mph. Yes, welcome to 2016, where you can buy a family hatchback with greater performance than a 1990s mid-engined supercar. But one with the benefits of better fuel economy, lower emissions, and far greater practicality – such is the pace of development in the past two decades. The A45 is the apex predator in the evolutionary process, as the most well-endowed mega hatch on sale at present.2016 Mercedes-AMG A45 ReviewThat adds a big chunk of gravitas, and expectation, that the A45 needs to live up to. For Mercedes this needs to be the gateway drug to AMG ownership – it’s selling a lifestyle choice just as much as it’s selling a car here. The first part of that sales pitch is making it look distinctive and, despite the number of AMG-kitted lesser A-Class models on the road, the A45 manages to look genuinely tough.

In Jupiter Red, adorned with the optional AMG Aerodynamic Package, our test car was anything but subtle. It also had the aural bark to match the visual bite, courtesy of the performance exhaust system. It’s loud – properly loud – and perhaps not an option to pick if you’re slightly more self-conscious. Clearly you don’t have to spec your A45 this way. Choose a subtle colour, ignore the exhaust and aero kit, and it could make for a relatively stealthy way to travel fast. But, being ESM, we’re all for dramatic entrances and the specification of this test car is very close to what we would pick ourselves.2016 Mercedes-AMG A45 ReviewOn the road, and especially on the motorway, you do have to be prepared for the fact seemingly everyone will want to race you. Be it a diesel Audi A4 estate, or Honda Civic Type-R, there’ll be no shortage of drivers trying to bait the AMG hatch. But we didn’t bite, as there’s something wonderfully cathartic from the knowledge that you could leave 90% of other road users in your wake. The A45 has nothing to prove, and that translates into the way in which you drive it. Such power is on offer when you want it on your terms and nobody else’s.

You may find yourself dictating those terms to yourself quite frequently, however. This car is absurdly fast, and you’ll find that you need several acceleration runs to try to process just what happens when you give it full throttle. Such is the tractability of the 2.0-litre turbo engine that most times only 25-50% of throttle pedal travel is needed to make good progress. But give it the complete 100% and, after a slight pause for turbo lag, the A45 pulls like all the best motoring clichés going.2016 Mercedes-AMG A45 ReviewLike any good AMG car, the motor is very much the star of the show. Also, just like a V8 or V12 engine from Affalterbach, each one is hand-built by an individual master engineer. Stefan, who built the one in our test car, is clearly a talented guy for wrestling all 376 horses into that 2.0-litre block. The resulting output is an unrelenting, ferociously rabid, stream of acceleration that allows the A45 to cover distance cross-country with ease.


Five ways the Hyundai i30 Turbo beats the new Ford Focus RS

We’re not kidding when we say we’ve found a quintet of things that places the i30 Turbo ahead of the Focus RS. If you’re thinking of placing an order for Ford’s newest hero you might want to read these first. 


We apologise that it may all seem a little BuzzFeed-esque, but it’s hard not to get swept up in the euphoria surrounding Ford’s new fast Focus. So just to ensure it definitely isn’t the second coming of Christ, we wondered if there was any way it could be beaten. Having just posted our review of the commendable Hyundai i30 Turbo, we decided to use that as a benchmark for comparison. Here’s how the Korean hatch can laud it over the fast Ford.

The i30 Turbo is cheaper!

Whilst the Focus RS is something of a performance bargain with a list price of £29,995, the i30 Turbo undercuts it by £7,395, starting at £22,600. That’s enough of a difference to buy 12,325 Kit Kats, or subscribe to Amazon Instant Video for nearly 94 years at current prices. Either a whole lot of biscuit goodness to work through, or so much streaming TV access that you’ll probably have to leave it in your will to someone. You won’t have either option with the Focus RS.

The i30 Turbo comes as a three door!

Ford’s move to making ‘world cars’ is a major undertaking to promote economies of scale, but it isn’t without problems. Whilst both previous generations of the Focus RS have featured three door bodyshells, the newest version only comes with five doors. It’s more practical, and will no doubt save the Blue Oval money, but there may always be that small part of you that yearns for fewer openings. Was the Escort RS Cosworth a five door? No, no it was not. But the i30 Turbo can be had with three apertures, and it’s actually the only i30 in the range to offer that choice. Exclusivity assured.

The i30 Turbo has better fuel economy!


New – 2014 SEAT Leon Cupra and Cupra 280

A Cupra version of the latest Leon was inevitable. Less so was a choice of doors and power outputs which the all-new Leon flagship will offer. For the UK, the Cupra 280 will represent the most powerful production car SEAT has offered. So, just what do you get for your money?

  • Choice of 265 or 280 PS 2.0 TSI engines,
  • Standard six-speed manual, with optional DSG gearbox,
  • 3-door Sport Coupe or 5-door hatchback options available,
  • Prices from £25,960 OTR

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra 001

In comparison to the two previous generations of Leon Cupra, the third iteration looks somewhat more restrained with less to differentiate it from its normal stable mates. Compared to the regular Leon FR, only the slightly deeper (Golf R mimicking) front bumper, unique cut-outs below the grille, and bespoke rear-diffuser set the Cupra apart as packing more heat. It’s certainly attractive, and pays credit to the good looks of the base car, but you can’t help but feel SEAT have played it a little safe. Perhaps the bodykit hijinks will be reserved for a Cupra R model?

2014 SEAT Leon Cupra 003

Power comes, predictably, from a 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol engine with two flavours on offer for the SC three-door: 265 PS (261 BHP) or 280 PS (276 BHP) with both churning out 258 lb-ft of torque. As seen with the recent Golf GTI, the Volkswagen Group strategy seems to involve producing two versions with slightly varying power levels and charging a premium for the higher output. (more…)

Twingo Renaultsport 133 is no more

Answer this simple question: when was the last time you saw a Twingo Renaultsport on the road? Given that there’s only been 1,203 of them sold in the UK since 2008, I’m guessing your answer is probably…never?

Twingo Renaultsport 133 Cup Phase 1 001

Just over 1,200 cars in around five years is hardly groundbreaking, yet it seems somewhat difficult to comprehend given just how much praise then Renaultsport 133 received from the press. Evo magazine gave it four out five stars back in 2008, praising its “grippy, incisive” handling in Cup format, along with the “zingy throttle response” from the 131 bhp 1.6 litre engine. (more…)

Uncle Steve Writes – Part 3 of 4 – MINI Cooper SD

In the penultimate part of the 4 part series, ESM’s Uncle Steve covers his most recent car purchase.

So, as previously mentioned, the Leon FR TDI has gone, arriving in its place is a MINI Cooper SD hatchback. Again purchased from our tame motor trader, Cooper MINI Durham. So let’s get right down to the specs:

  • MINI Cooper SD Hatchback
  • Lightning blue with contrasting black roof and mirror caps
  • Chili pack
  • Media pack
  • Sun protection glass
  • Anthracite roof lining
  • Chrome line interior
  • Chrome line exterior
  • Piano black interior trim
  • Heated front screen
  • Park distance control (more…)

Uncle Steve Writes – Part 1 of 4 – The Leon FR TDI

In part 1 of a 4 part special, ESM’s Uncle Steve returns. Since he knows you’d be disappointed if none of the four contained a rant or complaint, he’s getting in there straight away with an article on possibly the least reliable car ever produced by SEAT, a Leon FR TDI owned initially by Steve’s fiancé and, more recently, by Steve himself. At some point Steve also intends to stop writing in the third person!


In the summer of 2010 my fiancé decided that she needed a hot hatch to rival my own (see my article on the MkV Golf GTI I owned), she’d always loved the SEAT Leon Mk2 and we decided that the frugal diesel was the model to go for to give us a nice blend of practicality and fun between our two vehicles. (more…)

Hidden Desires #1 – Vauxhall Corsa VXR

Last year I ran a short feature called “Crap Cars I Like” on ESM. The aim was to explain my love for cars which automotive journalism, the internets, or society as a whole had shunned. However, I decided the name did too much of a disservice to the cars featured. So, instead, this segment is now going to be known as “Hidden Desires”. In a nutshell, these are the cars that I cannot help myself from liking, even though deep down I know I shouldn’t.

#1 – Vauxhall Corsa VXR

The inspiration for the first car to be featured came during a journey with ESM’s OH just the other day. Whilst sitting at traffic lights opposite a used car dealership in Gateshead, I spotted a tidy Arden Blue Corsa VXR sat on the forecourt. It’s fair to say the Corsa isn’t a bad-looking little car, and with the VXR adornments it does look genuinely sporty.

Granted, the triangular exhaust tail-pipe is a bit naff, and the big block colour grill irritates me, but on the whole it looks good. I like the triangulated fog light surrounds, the cheeky vents in the front and rear bumpers and the fake diffuser at the back-end. If you were wanting to produce a miniature hot-hatch, ticking all the styling benchmarks, then the VXR does this in spades.

It’s also pleasing to note that the VXR easily has the firepower to back up the looks. With its turbocharged 1.6 litre engine chucking out 192bhp and 192lb-ft of torque, this Corsa has some serious bite. Autocar managed to drag a 0-60mph time of 6.7 seconds from it during a road test, backed up by a 0-100mph in 16.8 seconds. No matter how you slice it, that is quick. All that power is transferred through a six-speed manual gearbox, with the handling said to be confident and surefooted. Ignore the real-world mpg of 28, and it makes for a decent package.

Objectively, the Corsa VXR ticks all the boxes you (or I) might want from a small hot-hatch. Granted, new prices have swelled to over £18,000.00, but decent used ones start from as little as £7k. So why, given it would meet a lot of the requirements for what I need, am I not rushing out to buy one? For what reason could I overlook such a seemingly competent car? The badge, obviously.

I admit it; I am a badge snob. Blame it on the stream of Vauxhall company cars (Carltons, Cavaliers, Vectras and Omegas) that my Father had when I was younger. Blame it on the fact that, when I was in my late-teens, the Corsa was the car to have if you lived in Teesside and wanted to Max Power your motor. Or, just blame it on the fact that having owned a string of Volkswagens, I struggle to see myself in anything un-German.

Oh, and there is the interior as well:


I know it has Recaro seats in there, I know it has a standard-specification others would charge huge amounts for. But the problem is that clock at the top of the centre console. That was the clock/temperature gauge in the Vectra and countless other 1990s Vauxhalls. Plus, it also looks like the person who designed the dashboard only communicated with the person designing the door card, by telephone.

Should you choose to buy, or already own, a Corsa VXR I do not judge you. I salute you for not being bothered by the snobbery of people like me, and for instead picking a competent supermini with prodigious performance. It is just a shame that I am not enlightened enough to do likewise.

Bye Bye GTi – Saying Auf Wiedersehen to a Wolfsburg Legend

Tonight, ESM’s Mate Steve explains why he’s surrendered ownership of the iconic MkV Golf GTi, along with noting the highs and lows of owning a hot-hatch legend.

Last week I handed back the keys to a VW Golf GTi MkV, you might ask why, hopefully this will become clear.

Just over 3 years ago I cheerily told my girlfriend “Don’t worry, I’m just going to look, not buy” as she went off to do some shopping. An hour and a half later and I’m dragging her out of the supermarket to have one final test drive before sitting down to agree the deal. (more…)