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Kia‘s new designs are helping brand the Korean automaker in a more positive light, particularly here in North America with the stylish new Optima. But in other parts of the world mid-size sedan’s don’t hold the same cache, nor do they sell all that well, so Kia is looking at alternative ways to create a boost in brand image.
In a recent interview, Kia product boss Benny Oeyen commented on three such methods, including a hot hatch, convertible or coupe. While the coupe idea, along the lines of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, may seem like the obvious choice, it’s the hot hatch the is the most likely. The reason for this is the importance of small hatchbacks in other parts of the world, like in Europe were sub-compact models, like Kia’s new 2012 Rio, make up the majority of sales for automakers.
A Rio hot-hatch is also the easiest to bring to market, as it would be based on the existing new car. Plus, it helps put the brand focus exactly where Kia wants it to be.
Exactly what a juiced-up Rio might bring to the table is unclear, with standard models in Europe getting 1.4-liter gasoline and diesel engines as well as a tiny 1.25-liter gas engine. One possibility is the 138-hp 1.6-liter 4-cylinder that’s expected to come standard in the North American model, although for a ‘hot hatch’ we’d like to see more.
Diesel hot hatches have always been a bit of an oddity – one would think that a big, heavy diesel engine would throw off the superb balance and lightweight that are the hallmarks of most front-wheel-drive hot hatchbacks, but the MINI Cooper SD is one diesel hot hatch that deserves the benefit of the doubt after seeing it at the Geneva Auto Show.
While the regular Cooper S isn’t quite a featherweight, the car’s reflexes would have you believe that it weighs as much as an empty coffee cup. While the 2.0L turbo diesel only puts out 143 horsepower, its 225 lb-ft of torque is greater than even a tuned-to-the-gills Cooper S JCW’s output, giving the car plenty of useable power in the lower end of the rev range.
MINI claims a 0-60 sprint of between 8.1 seconds for a Cooper SD to 9.4 seconds for a Countryman SD. Even more astonishing are the fuel economy figures – anywhere from 57.6 mpg to 65 mpg (on the European cycle). To put that in perspective, you can theoretically return Prius-like economy with a small performance trade-off.
Gallery: MINI Cooper SD and Countryman SD
This may be the most boring post you will ever read about the Volkswagen Golf R. Even though it has an awesome 270 horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder, all-wheel drive and a choice of 6-speed gearboxes, Volkswagen decided to milk the car for every last drop of “publicity” by launching 4 dubiously dubbed “concept” editions at the Geneva Auto Show.
The “concepts” are merely some Golf R models with unique interior and exterior combinations. The “Oryx White” model is available with a “St. Tropez” interior, while the “Carbon Steel Grey” model has the inside trimmed in “Almandine Red”. A third “Space Grey” model features a carbon fiber interior. The final model apes the “Space Grey” car’s exterior treatments but is finished in Aplomb Blue.
Frankly, we couldn’t care less. Just give us the damn car already. It could be painted in Pig Vomit Brown with an interior made of Hyena hides and we’d still drive it. Unfortunately, we won’t be getting those awesome bucket seats shown in the photos.
Gallery: Volkswagen Golf R Concepts
In Europe, hot-hatch enthusiasts can enjoy a faster version of the Golf in the form of the GTI, or they can go absolutely mad with the V6-engined, all-wheel drive Golf R32. But while they can also buy the Polo GTI, Volkswagen isn’t so sure about building a quicker and AWD version of the smaller hatch.
The Polo shares the same platform as the new Audi A1, the succinctly-named PQ25. It wasn’t initially developed for all-wheel drive, which renders a blow against the Polo R: all VW R models feature AWD, as it’s the trump card against the GTI. Without AWD the Polo R would just be a slightly faster and angrier version of the current Polo GTI, and not even Volkswagen could have the good conscience to promote that.
However, Audi’s A1 is currently looking at a quattro model. This could pave the way for a Polo R with the vaunted AWD, but it would also drive the price up: with the Polo GTI at £19,000 in the UK and the Golf GTI £6,000 more, the Polo R would be difficult to slot in between those.
Vauxhall has turned to Lotus for help with their chassis engineering on their upcoming Astra VXR hot hatch. The input from Lotus will supplement the work done by GM division Opel, which is testing the car on German roads.
Lotus has a long tradition of helping third-party manufacturers with their handling and chassis development. Prototypes of cars such as the Nissan GTR were seen at the Lotus test track early on in their development, and Lotus previously helped out with the outgoing Astra VXR.
With the newest edition expected to put down close to 300 horsepower through the front wheels, Lotus has apparently been tasked with tuning the mechanical limited slip fitted to the car. Lotus will ostensibly have to strike a balance between outright performance and quelling the massive torque-steer from the VXR’s turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.
Abarth, Fiat’s in-house tuner, launched two new vehicles at the 2010 Paris Auto Show, both which feature the optional “esseesse” kits that give the cars a modest power boost.
The Abarth 500C Esseesse is the most powerful version of Fiat’s 500 hatchback, and Abarth introduced a convertible version based on the 500C as a companion to the fixed roof model. Specs remain the same, with 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque from its 1.4L turbo engine. 0-60 time is 7.6 seconds, with a top speed of 129 mph.
The larger Punto Evo esseessse gets 180 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque, but most move a bit more metal, giving it nearly identical performance figures. The Punto hits 60 in 7.5 seconds and tops out at 134 mph.
The esseesse kits feature some neat enhancements, beyond the tuned air filter and muffler systems. Seatbelts are now made by renowned racing equipment manufacturer Sabelt, and the GPS system has a built in telemetry system by Magnetti Marelli, the same company that makes data loggers and electronic equipment for Ferrari.
Gallery: Abarth Punto Evo
Gallery: Abarth 500C
While many North American enthusiasts lust after European hot hatches, we were privy to one somewhat ignored car in years past. The Ford Focus ST170, better known as the Ford Focus SVT, was sold here earlier in the decade, and it’s back after an prolonged absence.
The previous generation Focus ST, not sold in North America, used a 2.5L 5-cylinder turbo, but the new car downsizes the cylinder count with a 2.0L Ecoboost 4-banger, making 247 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission with a special torque vectoring system helps the front-drive hot hatch behave properly on the road.
Our favorite part? Bucket seats and big brakes courtesy of well known specialist ATE. Not only will this car go, but it will stop and hold you in your seat properly.
Gallery: Ford Focus ST
In the long line of hot hatchbacks we wont get comes another enticing product, the Audi A1 1.4TFSI. Based on the more accesible Volkswgaen Polo GTI, the A1 gets the same 1.4TFSI twincharged engine and DSG gearbox, in a much more upscale package.
An S-Line bodykit and bigger wheels help set it apart from lesser A1s, and the car’s estimated $31,000 puts it in the rareified world of more expensive sports cars, making it unlikely that we’ll ever see it on our shores. But boy, does it ever look good.
Gallery: Audi A1 1.4TFSI
The Audi A1 1.4TFSI has stolen our hearts and left us wanting more, specifically a hotter version under the S1 label. If you’re like us, we have some bittersweet news for you.
Audi has announced that there will be no S1 for the time being, but that the A1 1.4TFSI was going to be the S1 right up until the last second. But Audi had reservations about calling it the S1 when it had no quattro all-wheel-drive system, necessitating the name change. Regardless of the name, the 1.4L twin-charged engine and 7-speed dual clutch gearbox are enough to make us salivate, and apply for EU citizenship. Look for the A1 1.4 TFSI to debut at this month’s Paris Auto Show.
Ford‘s Fiesta is a pretty good hot hatch, but it good be better; turbocharging, Recaro bucket seats and a performance tuned chassis would be just the ticket, and such a vehicle has recently been spied in Europe.
The front mounted intercooler and big mufflers are dead giveaways as to the forced induction, but it’s unlikely that the Focus ST’s big 2.0L Ecoboost will be shoehorned under the hood. Expect a 1.4L or 1.6L Ecoboost instead.
Most enticing are the huge Recaro bucket seats with harness slots, perhaps the biggest clue that this car is capable of serious performance driving.
The Ford Focus RS can be accurately described as belligerent, with its crackling exhaust, electric green paint and bulldog-esque stance. But there will inevitably be a segment that isn’t satisfied with its outrageous appearance.
For 5 lucky members of that demographic, Ford has whipped up a few Focus RS hatchbacks painted in historic liveries used by the Ford GT40 and Ford Capri RS 2600 race cars. In case you’re wondering, yes, the Gulf Oil paint scheme will be
Inside, custom Alcantara suede that matches the exterior paintwork, leather shift and handbrake boots and a numbered plaque help augment the car’s exterior changes.
The only downside is that Ford is only making five cars, and all will be available in France. If you’re well heeled and an EU Citizen, you know what to do.
Volkswagen‘s been on a roll with hot hatches lately; the Scirocco, Golf GTI MKVI and Golf R are all fine performance cars that the common man can buy, but as the cars balloon in size, equipment and power, they become further and further removed from their ancestor, the tossable, no-frills MKI GTI.
The car that will inevitably draw comparisons to the MK1 is Volkswagens new Polo GTI, officially announced today, despite being shown at Geneva in March. The MK1 GTI weighed 1830 lbs, a little less than a Lotus Elise, hit 60 mph in just under 9 seconds and put out 110 horsepower from a 1.6L naturally aspirated four cylinder engine.
Today’s Polo GTI, which technically slots in below the Golf, weighs 2632 lbs, pumps out 170 horsepower from a 1.4L four cylinder engine with both a turbocharger and a supercharger and uses a twin-clutch 7-speed gearbox(!) to propel the Polo GTI to 60 in 6.9 seconds while returning a combined 39.9 mpg.
Before the inevitable judgements surface about how the Polo GTI is heavy, too laden with technology and has little in common with the spirit of the original, featherweight GTI, consider the following.
In the mid 1970′s, when the MK1 GTI was released, the dual clutch gearbox was being developed for use in the Porsche 962 LeMans car (and didn’t even appear until the mid 1980s), twincharging was still years away in the Lancia Delta S4 rally car, 40 mpg was the domain of dreadfully slow econoboxes and the premium interiors and build quality of the Polo just didn’t exist. Do I have to mention how far braking and crash safety has come in those few decades?
The Polo GTI packs the kind of technology once available to only the most advanced race cars, and creature comforts of a much more expensive car for relatively little money, not to mention represents a quantum leap in quantitative performance over the MK1 To paraphrase the comedian Louis C.K., this car is amazing and nobody is happy. The fact that this sort of equipment has trickled down into an everyman hot hatch really is a miracle.
GALLERY: Volkswagen Polo GTI
Hit the jump to read the official Volkswagen press release.
Volkswagen has released three images of the 2010 Polo GTI, which will be introduced at the 2010 Geneva Auto Show in March.
The 2010 Polo GTI will be powered by a 1.4 liter TSI engine, claiming 178 bhp, and a seven-speed DSG transmission. The GTI version stands 0.6 inches lower and uses stiffer suspension than the regular Polo. The Polo GTI will also use Volkswagen’s XDS electronic cross-axle traction control system for improved handling.
Inside, the Polo GTI features tartan cloth seats and flat-bottomed steering wheel.
AutoGuide.com will have more when the 2010 Volkswagen Polo GTI makes its debut at the 2010 Geneva Auto Show.
Gallery: 2010 Volkswagen Polo GTI
How much could possibly be reported out of Toyota’s Tokyo Auto Salon booth? With G Sports and Gazoo Racing sharing the real estate it’s no surprise there’s plenty to see. Along with the FT-86 G-Sports Concept, Toyota displayed a pair of Gazoo Racing cars: the iQ-based FR Hot Hatch with a widebody and stylish flat black accents as well as a track-ready MR-S roadster. Toyota’s MR-S never got the cult following that its predecessor the MR2, but it was nice to see a tuned MR-S nonetheless.
Two additional concepts from G Sports were also present in the booth with the Mark X (aka, Lexus GS) being converted from a mundane commuter sedan to an aggressive street prowler while the G Sports Prius Concept took the car’s aerodynamics to the extreme, covering up the rear wheels in order to reduce drag as much as possible.