What Car? Car of the Year awards 2010 - Hot hatch contenders

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Best buy less than £15,000
Renault Twingo Renaultsport 133 Cup
List price £12,051
Target Price £11,534

It's been a bumper year for hot hatches, but with grandiose-priced, fire-breathing monsters stealing all the headlines, you have to ask whatever happened to the spirit of the cheap-thrills originals.

That’s where the Renault Twingo Renaultsport 133 Cup steps in. It’s a belter for not many bucks, but it still has to knock out some brilliant rivals, such as the bargain flyweight Fiat 500 Abarth.

Weighing only slightly more than a pile of pizzas and powered by a frothy turbocharged 1.4-litre engine, the 500 Abarth delivers a bigger rush than a double espresso.

Likewise, for relative peanuts you can get either a Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart or Suzuki Swift Sport. Both were born to be thrashed, and both serve a heady mix of raucous performance and laugh-a-minute handling.

For us, though, the standout performer is the Renault Twingo Renaultsport Cup. Only slightly longer than its nametag, the stripped-out Cup is powered by a rev-hungry 131bhp 1.6-litre engine and underpinned by a brilliant chassis, which delivers masses of grip and super-flat cornering.

Beefy 17-inch alloys and a chunky bodykit give it the essential moody look, while a stripped-to-the-bones interior and figure-hugging sports seats complete the Twingo’s junior World Rally Car feel.

Renault Twingo Renaultsport performance
0-62mph 8.7 seconds Top speed 125mph
Running costs
Economy 40.5mpg CO2 165g/km Insurance group 19

What the testers thought...
I first drove this hot Twingo on twisty Portuguese roads and was blown away by its sharp steering and rev-hungry engine. When I found out the price, I was hooked. Peter.Tullin@whatcar.com


Best buy £15,000 – £20,000
Renault Clio Renaultsport 200 Cup
List price £16,465
Target Price £14,512

Another price point, another Renault winner, although we wouldn’t blame you if you simply logged on to the Mini website and started personalising your Cooper S. It’s a riot to drive, with a fizzing engine, razor-sharp steering and an interior that’s sublimely eccentric, if impractical.

Fancy something with a fair bit more power and a lot more visual drama? Then the Honda Civic Type R with its screaming VTEC engine and rifle-bolt gearshift could be just the ticket.

Before you start shelling out the thick end of £20,000, though, you might want to check out the Clio Renaultsport Cup. It’s not in the same chic league as the Mini, but have you seen how much power the Clio’s got? Have you seen the tiny pricetag?

Basically, the Clio’s driving ethos harks back to a time when your tunes and your furniture came covered in vinyl. Some may take one look at those brittle interior plastics and conclude that so does the interior, but the joy of the Clio is the fact that it is lean and mean.

It’s powered by a manic 197bhp 2.0-litre engine, so you’ll need to hit the high numbers of the rev counter to get the most out of it, but the Clio’s chassis is so brilliantly balanced and there’s so much grip that even the bravest will struggle to find the limits of adhesion. It’s simply brilliant.

Renault Clio Renaultsport performance
0-62mph 6.9 seconds Top speed 141mph
Running costs
Economy 34.4mpg CO2 195g/km Insurance group 30

What the testers thought...
The Clio Cup is what a good hot hatch should be like. The ballistic engine and balanced chassis makes you feel like a teenager, and low prices mean it’s a bargain. Euan.Doig@whatcar.com


Best buy more than £20,000
Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250 Cup
List price £22,473
Target Price £22,473

Powerful hot hatches have been in the papers more often than fish and chips this year, just like this Renault Mégane Renaultsport. However, it was Ford’s Focus RS that was first to assault our eyes with its garish paintwork, glossy spoilers and big alloys. With a thundering 301bhp five-cylinder engine and trick race car-spec suspension, it also had the dash to go with the flash.

Next, Volkswagen launched the latest version of its seminal GTI. If you’re looking for a car that balances speed, agility, brilliant everyday usability and impeccable image, then the GTI will do most to maintain a smile on your face.

Then came the rapid Seat Leon Cupra, but it proved that putting copious amounts of power through the front wheels isn’t necessarily a recipe for success. Miles more fun and feeling every inch the junior race car is the Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works, but it’s pricey at £21,681.

Perhaps the biggest shock came from Renault with its Mégane Renaultsport Cup. Looking like the love child of a coupé and a boxer, it has phenomenal performance and a beautifully balanced chassis that delivers masses of feel and immense grip. Although it’s not quite as cultured as a Golf, the Cup isn’t a no-holds-barred hot hatch. It’s surprisingly civilised and definitely a car that you can enjoy driving every day.

Renault Mégane Renaultsport performance
0-62mph 6.1 seconds Top speed 156mph
Running costs
Economy 33.6mpg CO2 195g/km Insurance group 34

What the testers thought...
When I first drove the Mégane 250, I wondered what all the fuss was about: it doesn’t feel that fast at low revs. Yet few cars inspire such confidence when pushed hard. Steven.Huntingford@whatcar.com


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