The Last Days Of The Hot Hatch

Back in the dark, historic days of the Twentieth Century with its Three Day Week, ghastly New Romantics and Cadbury’s Smash, tourists were allowed to roam free around Stonehenge, touch the ancient monument and wonder…
Here, in the blighted present, seekers of history are kept well away from the stone circle (unless they are famous or political or Druids) and are herded through the now ubiquitous visitor’s centre before exiting through the gift shop.

Seemingly every week someone somewhere decides that what the world really needs is more visitor centres. Near to me is a large out of town shopping complex that is presently being remodelled. They are also adding a visitor’s centre. Why? What possible service can it perform? ‘Tell me, where may I buy vegetables?’ asks the hapless visitor as Asda Walmart looms over him like Godzilla. ‘Pray tell, what arcane mysteries lies behind the portals of Next?’

It’s as daft as it is pointless but it is indicative – and I am getting to the point – of a bigger issue. Whether we like it or not we are increasingly being regimented. Around every corner is the next jobsworth waiting to tell you what to do and where to go, or so it seems to me. Nowhere is this more true than within the hallowed halls of the European Union. This is an organisation stuffed full of perpetually deluded people who have come to believe that they know what’s best for us.

Here at DriveWrite I have recently driven two of the current selection of ‘hot hatch’ motors, the Peugeot 208 GTI and the latest VW Polo GTI. As you’ll see in my reviews over the coming weeks, both cars are very good small, performance vehicles that do what it says on the tin – but there’s a problem and it’s name is regulation.Car makers these days are forced to comply with ever more stringent rules issuing forth from the great political maelstrom of hot air at the centre of Europe. The result of this is that the above mentioned cars, and others are, despite having ample power, starting to feel too grown up. In common with most cars these days they are bristling with technology and safety features that effectively defeat the purpose of the designation ‘hot hatch’. In short – where’s the fun? Where’s the pizazz? Hot hatch are quite simply no longer words bandied about by manufacturers, suggesting as they do, general driving yobbery and juvenile behaviour. Sure, journalists still use the term because it has become a generic description for fast small cars, but the tolling bell of driving restrictions is sounding loud and clear and the popular brands are shifting focus to the ‘lifestyle’ cars that they believe we want.The point about driving a hot hatch is that it should be fun. Remember fun? Governments and councils do not believe in fun. They believe in rules. Remember the old Pug 205GTI (below) or the original Golf GTI? They were about one thing and one thing only. The pleasure of driving. Current cars, good as they are in many respects, have lost that magic. I expect that there will always more powerful versions of many of the cars available today and tomorrow but they will not, alas, be hardcore hot hatches.

In the same way that we can no longer get up close and personal with ancient monuments or historical landmarks so increasingly we can no longer feel the buzz and charge that comes with driving free on our ruined, regulated roads. Those days are long gone. Please park at the visitor’s centre and wait for the shuttle.Geoff Maxted