Girl TORQUE: Hot Hatch Appeal

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

I’m often asked what my favourite car is, and it’s impossible to answer. The last one I’ll forget as Alzheimers finally takes over? Probably something like the Lamborghini Murcielago. The one best suited to a combination of the road I live on, and the most fun obtainable upon it? Something great-handling, with power-to-weight more important than outright grunt; a Lotus Elise, or the much more affordable Mazda MX-5.

But ask me what I’d own and the answers could be different. If I’ve got to pay for fuel and tyres I’m hardly going to choose an HSV Clubsport R8, or Ford’s Pursuit ute, much as I like them.

If I’m buying it, the Lambo and Lotus are out of reach of my moth-ridden bank account, and neither would accommodate a supermarket shop, let alone my partner’s kids when they visit, or my niece’s child seat.

I’m seeking the impossible; something that’s shed-loads of fun to drive, affordable to buy and run, and which fits at least four and some luggage. Oh, and gets up my steeply sloping gravel drive.

Except it’s not impossible, as the last week has reminded me, for I’m on my second hottish hatch, with another due tomorrow. And all three can putter about town relatively frugally, fit four and in some cases more, yet fly down a twisting road as if born to race – without being so low-slung and revvy that my driveway defeats them.

None of them are cheap-as-chips when new, indeed they’d rival the Elise in terms of purchase price – but then they’re VWs. Mainstream equivalents do come a whiff cheaper; a Subaru WRX for example. Or there’s the pre-loved market, though hot hatches may not have been treated with TLC.

So, what’s the appeal?

Well, the VW Golf R in my driveway right now has a 2.0-litre turbo-charged engine with 199kW and 350Nm, the latter on tap anywhere from 2500 to 5000rpm. It sends it to all four wheels via a DSG double-clutch transmission so rapid few drivers could beat it. It’s a sensible family hatch than can hit 100km/h from rest in just 5.5 seconds – 1.4 seconds quicker than the GTI. Yet it looks superficially like the shopping hack your granny might drive.

That’s a potent combination, for you can do the school run, pop to the supermarket, and go out for lunch without anyone batting an eyelid. Turn up in an obvious hottie and you’re the focus of all eyes – not to mention the constabulary.

Even looking inconspicuous in a Subaru WRX doesn’t work. Everyone knows you buy the car to be a hooligan. But the Golf R car looks like a dull shopping basket tarted up with flash wheels and pipes. Yet when you cut loose in it by goodness, you know you’re alive.

Mind you, I’d still take the Scirocco R – front drive, much sexier and still with four seats, albeit two doors. It’s a bit of a crossover; not as overt as the Subie and its ilk, yet sleeker than Golf’s five-door hatch format.

Read past Girl TORQUE columns here.