Battle of the junior hot-hatches: we test 3 of the best
We pitch the Renault Clio RS18 F1, Toyota Yaris GRMN and VW Polo GTI against each other
There was once an abundance of choice for those seeking a performance-orientated
B-segment hatchback. And not all that long ago.
Let us rewind, say, to 2013. On the milder end of the scale you could have had a Chevrolet Sonic RS or Suzuki Swift Sport. Then there were more powerful contenders in the form of the Peugeot 208 GTi, Ford Fiesta ST and Opel Corsa OPC. Even Fiat's Punto was made faster by the brand's Abarth division - and a handful of Scorpione units made their way to South African shores.
These nameplates are no longer available as new car purchases. Chevrolet went away as a consequence of General Motors' disinvestment and the next Suzuki Swift Sport only arrives next year. Peugeot has culled the 208 GTi from its line-up, and Ford said it would not bring the latest Fiesta ST to SA. Opel opted against selling us their feistiest Corsa too.
Your choices, essentially, are limited to the products mentioned here - and even then, that statement should be marked with an asterisk. You'll read why in a bit. There is one omission, if we aim to be thorough. Missing in action is the Mini Cooper S. "And what about the Abarth 595?" you ask.
Well, aside from a struggle in getting one for the purposes of this feature, that tyke is technically part of the smaller A-segment. Moving along. The three contenders pictured were all launched in 2018. These motoring equivalents of the Jack Russell dog bring cheer and grins to our faces, with their sprightly performance, nimble handling characteristics and aesthetics that signal sporting ambitions loftier than their humble roots.
TOYOTA YARIS GRMN
First up, we'll discuss the newest of the lot. Toyota's Yaris GRMN portends the revival of the spirited aspects of the brand's DNA. As company boss Akio Toyoda has been known to say in his speeches, they want to rekindle "fun" across the board.
With its scowling face and trio of colours, it looks like a clown: think along the lines of It from the eponymous horror story. But you'll happily be beckoned down the drain, because it's hugely fun to pilot.
For starters, it's light (1,135kg) which means the 1.8-litre, supercharged engine (156kW and 250Nm) doesn't have much mass to cart around.
Extracting the vim from that motor is a joyous process, working the six-speed manual and witnessing the tachometer needle bounce off the limiter in the early ratios. Yes, it sounds properly zingy too and in an authentic way - though some might bemoan this very lack of snaps, crackles and pops.
Here's the kicker. You can't have one. This GRMN is one of 400 units worldwide and three in the country, brought in for marketing and awareness purposes. As a taste of what's to come, this fiery Yaris is quite promising.
RENAULT CLIO RS18 F1
The Renault Clio RS18 F1 lays claim to a degree of exclusivity too, with 65 examples allocated to our market. It was built to commemorate the brand's efforts in Formula One, though it's based entirely on the Trophy version of the regular Clio RS, of which a facelifted version was launched last year.
The factors separating this RS18 F1 version are, essentially, a black-with-yellow-accents exterior job, bespoke decals and a reverse camera.It's a car for the committed enthusiast.
Even in its most docile setting, this Clio strains at the leash, goading its driver. The suspension errs on the unforgiving side of firmness - a reminder that it's been made with the track in mind.
Output from the 1.6-litre, turbocharged engine is stout at 162kW and 280Nm, with characterful acoustics courtesy of an Akrapovic exhaust system. Its six-speed, dual-clutch transmission has certainly improved in reflexes over former instalments. But it still reveals tendencies of dimness in wit - particularly in traffic.
Overall, the RS18 F1 provides an immersive experience, prioritising engagement over comfort. Ardent aficionados of Renault's RS brand might find the asking price of R449,900 reasonable.
VW POLO GTI
Everyone else, however, may find greater sense in the all-rounder capabilities of the rival from Volkswagen: that Polo GTI. It's a goodie, combining smile-inducing pace and refinement levels better associated with vehicles in a higher price category.
Indeed, you could assert that the benign personality of this GTI would leave a hot hatchback driver in want of more ... passion. But in the real world, with a regular driving style, the plushness and comfort of the Polo hold strong currency.
In these tumultuous economic times, you might even find the Polo wields more allure than its bigger, pricier sibling. They share an engine, after all.
The boosted 2.0-litre found here is the same one that powers the Golf GTI, though in a lower state of tune: 147kW and 320Nm. This is shifted via Volkswagen's DSG transmission, which is nigh-on perfect in its operation.
Then consider that it has a base price of R381,500 versus the R558,000 demanded by the Golf. Who said downsizing had to mean eschewing performance motoring altogether? You're welcome.