A hot hatch is an informal or slang term for a high-performance derivative of a three to five door hatchback automobile. The term is more popular in Europe due to the popularity of the hatchback configuration. Within the United States they are commonly named sport compacts, however, this deviates from the original meaning of the hot hatch terminology. Vehicles of this class are typically based on a budget, family-oriented automobile, and equipped with improved suspension and a more powerful engine. Front mounted petrol engines and front wheel and tire packages drive is the most common powertrain layout.

The design most often considered to have started the hot hatch genre is the 1977 Volkswagen Golf GTI, (although some consider the first “true” hot hatch to be the Simca 1100 dating from 1967/8 or the Alfa Romeo Alfasud). The Renault 5 Alpine also pre-dated the Golf GTI, being launched in 1976.

The original 1974 version of the Golf was in mass production at this point, and the addition of a higher performance 1.6 litre fuel injected engine, sharper handling, and sports-focussed marketing found the birth a huge market for small, practical cars that still had excellent performance. The Golf GTI enjoyed a short run of unparalleled success, but by the early 1980s car manufacturers worldwide were racing to market with their own alternatives. Notable big-sellers in the early days were the Peugeot 205 GTI, Ford Escort XR3i, and Vauxhall Astra GTE.

By the end of the 1980s the hot hatch had taken its place across Europe, and was pushing into other worldwide markets. The brief heyday of Group B rallying pushed the hot hatch genre to its limits, and small numbers of ultra-high performance variants were manufactured to comply with the rally rules (often termed “homologation specials”). These enthusiasts vehicles represented a brief, extreme branch of the hot hatch, and included such notable vehicles as the Peugeot 205 T-16 and MG Metro 6R4. Most hot hatches use custom tires.

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