Can we really call the Golf GTI a hot hatch? Yes, I know it’s a souped-up version of the get-to-work Golf, and the GTI’s heritage is that of basic, yet snarly value racers, but the current version isn’t. The current GTI is refined, quiet, and in a lot of ways very subtle. Most of them are purchased with Volkswagen’s DSG automatic gearbox. Can anything with less than supercar power be considered “hot” if it has an auto-box? Isn’t that like calling WHAM! Rock and Roll? Jeremy Clarkson drives one every day to avoid being noticed in traffic. Let that sink in. The most conspicuous person, in the world™* drives one because it looks like any other commuter car but is still exciting enough for an Englishman who chose to blow up his house, rather than simply push it over.
…they possess the beer crushing on forehead attitude of American muscle mixed with won’t kill yourself power.
I still don’t think it deserves the title of hot hatch, though. In fact, I can’t think of a single car sold in the States that can be classified as a hot hatch. Maybe the Fiat 500 Abarth, or the Mini Cooper S, both have a much harsher ride, produce more power, and make more noise than their base counterparts, but they also carry a certain “cuteness” about them that sort of kills the caged animal vibe. The Focus/Fiesta ST might be hot hatches, they are inexpensive, and they possess the beer crushing on forehead attitude of American muscle mixed with won’t kill yourself power. Plus, you can drive both to work and not wish you had bought a bus pass instead. So, hot hatches then? They seem to check all the boxes, so I guess I can think of two hot hatchbacks sold Stateside. Good for me. Nevertheless, the odds are good, that at some point you will wish that you would’ve bought a GTI.
The GTI is less of a deranged teacup terrier and more of a Colin Firth from the Kingsman type, unassuming but ready to rumble, in a civilized manner of course. The Fords are closer to track cars than the GTI, and it is because of this that you will wish you bought one. Those times when you need to go on long road trips, to fancy dinners, or when you’re late to a funeral. The dead loathe a crackling exhaust system. I think this, then, defines my argument; the GTI doesn’t compare to true hot hatchbacks. It certainly does in power, enjoyment, and value for money but it is so much more. Just go sit in one, and you’ll get what I’m on about. The GTI’s environment is a much nicer place than that of its American confrères. The seats are more comfortable, ingress and egress are easier, and the infotainment system will work a year from now. Whereas the Fords are a collection of what was left after they finished the Mustang.
So, what have we learned? The GTI is a muscle car stuffed into a merino sweater and slacks. It’s an accountant with a machine gun collection in their Airstream. It’s practicality and sportiness incarnate. So if not “hot hatch,” what are we to call this car? Sneak-attack hatch? Anti-bellicose hatch? Fancy hatch*? I propose that we switch to calling it a sleeper. I think that “sleeper” perfectly sums up what makes the Golf GTI such a unique piece of the automotive world. A mass-produced car defined by its unseen characteristics rather than it’s stickers. Or maybe we just continue calling it a hot hatch.
*2. Brilliant suggestion brought to you by Patty Cakes.