Johannesburg - The hot hatch was once an affordable entry ticket to the fun side of motoring, but we now live in an age where a not-so-humble-anymore Golf GTI hovers around the half-a-million rand mark. Even a Fiesta ST is going to set you back a cool R325 900.
Of course there are used options, but if you insist on that new car smell and a clean slate sounds like a better idea than sleepless nights worrying about the previous owner's nasty habits, you’ll either need to stretch that budget or settle for mediocrity. Or do you?
The sub-R300 000 hatch market has seen some interesting newcomers hit the scene in recent times, and while you’re not going to get GTI-rivalling speed in this neck of the woods, there are a few cars that will keep your love for cars alive with warm performance, enjoyable steering and a lot more character than your common-garden hatch or SUV commuter.
Here we’ve ranked the five quickest-accelerating hatchbacks using manufacturer-claimed 0-100km/h performance times.
1. Abarth 595
0-100km/h: 7.8 seconds
Price: R299 950
Recently relaunched in facelifted form at a reduced price, Fiat’s Abarth 595 is now available at a shade under R300 000.
Sure, it’s not the most practical choice but this Cinquecento on steroids is the fastest new car that you can buy for said budget, its lightweight shell thrusted along by a 107kW/206Nm 1.4-litre turbopetrol engine, mated to a five-speed manual gearbox.
Of course, the Abarth range can get quite pricey if you up-spec to the 121kW Turismo, at R369 950, or the 132kW Competizione (R443 950) and that’s before we even get hooked on the tantalising options list. But if it’s maximum bang for the buck that you’re after then it makes sense to stick to the most basic 595 at R299 950.
2. Suzuki Swift 1.6 Sport
0-100km/h: 8.7 seconds
Price: R264 900
The Suzuki Swift Sport is one of the more enjoyable compact hatchbacks out there, but don’t expect it to match Suzuki's performance claims if you live at altitude as the Sport is the only normally aspirated car in this company.
Yet regardless, this hatch is certainly still great fun to chuck around, in an old-school kind of way. For starters, its sweet-sounding 1.6-litre engine can rev past the 7000rpm mark, and (down at the coast at least) produces a rather decent 100kW at 6800rpm and 160Nm from 4400.
Adding to the amusement is a short-throw six-speed manual gearbox and a sports suspension system, and a styling kit are also in place to make sure it looks the racy part.
3. Renault Clio GT-Line
0-100km/h: 9.0 seconds
Price: R264 900
Renault has finally given its swanky-looking Clio GT-Line the engine it deserves, recently launched in facelifted form with Renault’s 88kW/205Nm 1.2-litre turbopetrol engine, mated to a six-speed manual gearbox.
At R264 900, it offers a really desirable combination of style, space, features and – most importantly – performance, hitting the 100km/h mark in nine seconds on the dot.
Spec, as mentioned, is laid on quite thick, whether we’re talking style or luxury. To that end, the GT-Line gets a unique exterior styling package, numerous interior perk ups – including embossed sports seats, an RS-style steering wheel, a spherical aluminium gear knob – and a 17.8cm touch-screen infotainment system with satnav.
If you’re willing to give up some features and a little performance for the effortless convenience of a dual-clutch automated transmission, the Clio 1.2T Expression EDC is available at the same price as the GT-Line and with a 0-100km/h time of 9.3 seconds, it even matches the fifth quickest car on this list.
4. VW Polo 1.0 TSI R-Line
0-100km/h: 9.3 seconds
Price: R292 400
Another new entrant to the pocket-rocket game is Volkswagen’s Polo 1.0 R-Line, which sports an 81kW/200Nm 1-litre three-cylinder turbopetrol engine, paired with DSG dual-clutch transmission as standard.
Technically its 1.2 TSI manual and DSG siblings (with 81kW and 175kW) match it from 0-100km/h, thereby tying for fourth place. The 1.2 manual is also cheaper at R276 300, but if you’re aspiring towards hot-hatchdom then it's the R-Line, with it racy body kit and 17-inch Serron alloy wheels, that will make you feel like you’re on the right track.
Inside the R-Line gets sports seats with model-specific upholstery as well as a multi-function steering wheel and a 12.7cm Composition Colour audio system.
5. Ford Fiesta 1.0T Trend
0-100km/h: 9.4 seconds
Price: R240 900
If you’re seeking something even more affordable than those above, it’s hard to beat Ford’s Fiesta EcoBoost range, powered by a 1-litre three-cylinder turbo engine that defies its meagre displacement with outputs of 92kW and 170Nm.
You can have one for as little as R225 300, in the unlikely event that you want the rental-spec Ambiente with hubcaps, or you could go all out with the high-spec Titanium at R264 900, but the R240 900 Trend looks like the best deal in our book.
Bear in mind though that Ford has already revealed an all-new Fiesta abroad and while Ford SA has yet to confirm when it’s coming here, it’s clear that the current model is very much at the tail end of its life cycle.
Close but no cigar
These five are not the only perky hatchbacks in the sub-R300 000 bracket.
Also worth a closer look is Opel's Corsa 1.4T Sport, which on paper should have sprinted to 100km/h quicker than Opel's conservative-sounding claim of 9.6 seconds. The Corsa costs R276 200 and is powered by a beefy 1.4-litre turbo engine with 110kW on tap.
Another strong contender, and made by the same company that just bought the aforementioned brand, is Peugeot's 208 1.2T GT-Line, which also gets to 100 in 9.6 seconds and costs R284 900 in manual form.
Special thanks to vehicle information specialist Duoporta