Just because it has been years since you last wore a backwards baseball cap while listening to AC/DC doesn’t mean you can’t recapture your youth with a little hot hatchback fun. There has to still be a little bit of boy-racer (or girl-racer) left underneath the shiny veneer of your Brooks Brothers suit with the iPhone ringing in the jacket pocket.
Do you know who’s calling on that iPhone? It’s your 18 year old self berating you for driving that lame hybrid when you could easily be behind the wheel of one of 2010’s greatest hot hatchbacks. So get a move on friend because one day fun like this could very well be illegal. And besides, the VW GTI, MazdaSpeed3 and Subaru WRX don’t like to be kept waiting.
The GTI essentially created the hot hatchback genre nearly 30 years ago when a group of VW engineers in Germany took it upon themselves to create a “performance” Rabbit hatchback. The result was the iconic first generation GTI and while some later incarnations of this model have been less successful than others there is little doubt that the new for 2010 GTI VW has pretty much perfected the art.
But with perfection, of course, comes complaints. Some say that the GTI is too civilized, not loud enough and doesn’t have as much horsepower as its competitors. Well, if you prefer to be pulled into the shrubbery each time try to accelerate out of a turn or like interiors made from recycled post-it notes by all means have a look at the competition.
The GTI is powered by a 2.0 liter turbocharged and direct injected four cylinder that puts out 197 horsepower with near zero turbo-lag. Response is instantaneous in all gears and the six speed manual is a delight to use. Steering has plenty of feedback but isn’t so hyperactive that it constantly requires small corrections to maintain a straight line.
Thanks to a clever multi-link rear suspension the GTI also can handle twisty roads with aplomb. All this is topped off by exterior styling that reeks of class and an interior that wouldn’t look out of place in an Audi. There are even standard plaid tartan-style seats just like the ones found in the original GTI. On the whole the 2010 GTI is without question the easiest hot hatch to live with and the only one your friends wouldn’t say was purchased due to your imminent “mid-life crisis.”
If you don’t know what torque steer is just go down to your local Mazda dealer and test drive a MazdaSpeed3. Torque steer happens in front wheel drive cars as a result of too much power being channeled through the front wheels. Torque steer pulls the vehicle to one side (hopefully not into oncoming traffic) under heavy acceleration. And no matter how good a car is in other respects that is never any fun.
It is too bad that the MazdaSpeed3 has this torque steer issue because the rest of the 2010 car is really well executed. The manual transmission is now much more precise and the 264 horsepower turbocharged motor has plenty of character and very little lag. The interior is also hugely improved with very modern curves and plenty of soft touch plastic (although it is still no match for the GTI’s palatial interior treatment).
The interior of the 3 is also quite roomy making it a very practical vehicle. In fact, if I were in the market for a fun to drive hatchback I would just buy a regular grade 3 with the non-turbo engine and the manual transmission. That car may not be as fast but is much more fun to drive.
Subaru Impreza WRX
If you live in a Snow Belt State you no doubt realize the value of full time all-wheel drive in a vehicle with the level of performance found in the WRX. Powered by a 265 horsepower turbocharged four cylinder, the WRX is not haunted by the same torque steer demons that haunt the Mazda due to the fact that the power is put down through all four wheels.
While the Subaru does have a bit of turbo-lag, once it is on boost the acceleration can be addicting. Too bad the manual transmission is not as precise as the unit found in the VW. One other place where the admittedly utilitarian Subaru falls down is in interior quality. It is priced similarly to the VW but features some very hard plastics and a rather uninspired dash design. Subaru models have great quality reputations so nothing will probably fall off but this interior doesn’t have a whole lot of that “feel good” factor.
I do have to admit, however, that the standard sports seats in the WRX are very comfortable and covered in a fabric that looks very sturdy. As for exterior styling beauty does always lie in the eye of the beholder but one does have to wonder how Subaru can consistently manage to make five door hatchbacks look nothing short of bizarre. For some reason the front grille reminds me of the beak of a chicken. Let’s hope Subaru wasn’t going for that look.
The VW GTI is hands down the smartest buy in the hot hatch universe right now. It is stylish, well built, fast, fun to drive yet has plenty of room for cargo and passengers. Plus right now VW is offering 3 years/36,000 miles of free maintenance. This is a feature that neither Subaru nor Mazda offers.