By on November 18, 2016

2017 Honda Civic Coupe Si – Image: Honda

Imagine a world without war. More specifically, imagine a world without the horsepower war that has dominated the automotive landscape over the past fifteen years.

It’s easy if you try. The Corvette would still have 350 horsepower; mid-engined Ferraris would have about 400. The Mustang? 260 raging ponies. Most pickup trucks would have under three hundred horses, and some would have fewer than two hundred. The V12-powered Mercedes sedans would have just a bit more than half the puissance they currently possess. The Subaru STi would have 300 hp to humiliate the VW GTI’s 200 hp, while the top-spec Nissan Sentra would send 180 hp through a six-speed manual, about which a big deal would be made.

Perhaps you experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance while reading that last sentence. After all, the current Subaru STi has 305 horsepower now, facing the 210 horsepower of the GTI, and the just-announced Sentra Nismo is expected to put out 188 ponies. Compared to their turn-of-the-century ancestors, both of those cars actually have a worse power-to-weight ratio today. And while the new Civic Si is expected to put up a slightly better number than the 2006 Civic Si, it’s going to come from a 1.5-liter turbo engine that will likely be stressed to the gills, not a tuned-down variant of the Type-R’s two-liter.

So, while the wealthy car buyers among us are enjoying an era of unprecedented power in their sports cars, SUVs, and big sedans, the entry-level buyers are being asked to do more with less. Sounds familiar, right?


Not to worry, dear members of the Best & Brightest; I’m not going to use this as an opportunity to dive headfirst into the Eugene B. Debs Municipal Swimming Pool. Nor will I attempt to make the case for modern compact cars being more dangerous in a crash, noisier, or lower-quality than their predecessors; that’s certainly not the case. My sole interest is raw speed.

Thirty years ago, the “hot hatch” was the red-hot segment in motoring both here and overseas. Everybody fielded a warmed-up compact car, and I mean EVERYBODY. From Escort GT to Cavalier Z24 to Corolla GT-S, the hills were alive with the sound of young people revving the nuts off machinery ranging from the tape-and-stripe prosaic to the sixteen-valve exotic. In the UK and on the Continent, drivers were thrilled by a series of sweet-handling small cars from Peugeot, Opel, and Ford of Europe. And in Japan, it was well and truly off the proverbial chain — remember the Honda City Turbo, complete with trunk-mounted motorcycle?

In the decade and a half that followed, manufacturers turned up the heat with a vengeance. The Subaru WRX/Sti and Mitsubishi Evolution weren’t just fast for being compact cars; they were just fast, period. Woe betide the driver of a new 911 Carrera who saw an Evo behind him on a twisty road or a close-coupled racetrack — there was a solid chance that he was going to get a forthright and humiliating lesson in the merits of turbocharged all-wheel-drive small sedans.

But then the horsepower wars started for real, and small cars were left behind. Fifteen years ago, you could throw a $499 aftermarket tune on a new WRX and whip a new Mustang or ‘Vette in the quarter mile. Good luck doing that today. Some manufacturers dropped out of the sport-compact game entirely — Nissan, we’re looking at you — while others were half-hearted (ahem, Honda). While the VW GTI improved by leaps and bounds to become the undisputed class of the field, it didn’t necessarily get any faster while it was doing so. Arguably, only Ford has pushed the envelope in the past ten years — the Fiesta ST is a brilliant car that runs harder than any supermini in history, while the Focus ST was a stout-hearted beast that responded well to chip-tuning. But everybody else has either held the horsepower line or lost interest entirely.

The news from Los Angeles suggests that this trend is unlikely to change any time soon. Yes, you will eventually have the Civic Type-R to join the Focus RS in the hyper-power-hatch segment that didn’t even exist fifteen years ago, but let’s be honest with ourselves: those cars are boutique products, aimed at wealthy Gen-Xers who fondly remember their GTIs or Civics but want to pay Mustang GT Premium money so they can run slightly slower than a Mustang GT.

So who killed the hot hatch or the crazy compact? Every theory that comes to my mind sounds like a stereotypical indictment of either today’s “participation-trophy” generation of young men, or the economy in which said young men are struggling to find work, or both. Perhaps it’s just a matter of engineering resources being pulled in another direction. Small cars nowadays are more likely to spawn tall-roof variants like the HR-V or C-HR than they are to generate fire-breathing Touge-twisters. Somebody with more baked-in optimism than I possess might argue that the increased durability of modern cars is to blame — why would you drop $20k on a warmed-over compact when that same money will get you a 370Z or Mustang GT with 100,000 good miles left in it?

Regardless of the causes, however, I will tell you what the effects will be. Enthusiast-focused small cars are the gateway drug of automotive enthusiasm. Today’s Corvette or McLaren owner was probably a hot-hatch driver at some point in his or her life. If we don’t hook ’em young, we won’t hook ’em at all. Mark my words. It’s a trickle-up economy out there when it comes to fast cars, and if that sounds crazy, how can it be any crazier than selling a “NISMO” Sentra that can’t keep up with the old Sentra SE-R?

[Image: Honda North America]

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102 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: The Low Spark Of High Performance Compacts...”


  • avatar
    jmo

    Isn’t the issue mostly the cost involved in putting more than ~250 bhp though the front wheels? The easiest solution is AWD or at least RWD. With AWD you have the cost issue and for RWD there haven’t been any compact RWD cars in American since what, the Vega?

    • 0 avatar
      Mandalorian

      That’s just it, Honda making an AWD Civic just to have a special low-volume performance model just doesn’t make sense. The WRX works because the Impreza is AWD to start with.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      …”there haven’t been any compact RWD cars in American since what, the Vega?”

      Well, there was the Pinto (can’t remember if it came out before or after the Vega), the Chevette, the Mustang II and Chevy Monza, and various AMC models, but you’re right, it’s been a long, long time.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      RWD packaging in a compact product just doesn’t provide enough interior room to sell in volume. Squeeze yourself into the back seat of a 2-Series, about the same size outside as a Prius, if you doubt this.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        The market–which seems to love the dubious benefit of a FWD-biased AWD platform–would never support it, but I’d love to see someone apply real packaging acumen to a FWD-only midsize or fullsize sedan: completely flat floor, small console or no console, gear selector on the column or dash. It’d be a refreshing change of pace from today’s cockpit interiors.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      Nah, the IS300 came out less than 20 years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      caltemus

      “there haven’t been any compact RWD cars in American since what, the Vega?”

      What about the Toyobaru? What jack describes is basically that car, and nobody bought it/complained that it was too slow. I just don’t think the market can bear that niche, as much as I’d like to see the segment thrive again.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Toyobaru has serious compromises as a daily driver. All the cars mentioned by Jack are more practical.

        jmo didn’t spell it out in his comment, but I think he meant affordable, practical RWD compacts.

        There have been practical, compact RWD cars around for a long time (IS, 3-series, C-Class, G35/37), they just aren’t affordable.

        I’ve long wished Mazda would finally own their zoom-zoom marketing and switch to RWD, though I don’t see it happening. You can get reasonable space in a RWD compact; however, a FWD car with the same footprint will always offer more space for less money.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

          Right. If you’re a manufacturer, its a bit hard to justify a small RWD platform when you pretty well need FWD to compete in the mainstream compact and subcompact markets. So, you’re spending the money twice, only the second time is for a car that will sell terribly compared to the first, but, at least it cost more to develop, so, there’s that. Ask Toyota how it feels to throw money down this pit. Its a shame, but its the truth.

          What you say about Mazda strikes me as logical, because they already found a business case for a small, RWD platform. I say they develop it into a line of subcompact and compact RWD sporty cars.

          Not extending the Miata into a “family” like Toyota did with the Prius. I mean a separate line of cars built off a stretched and widened MX-5 platform. Offer coupe, sedan, wagon and perhaps a Kia Soul-like smaller-than-the-wagon tallish boxy version.

          If development of the Rotary is continuing as some suspect, perhaps a RX-2 successor built off the platform would be a real unique alternative to other small sporty cars.

          I feel Toyota could do the same with the 86. Build a separate sedan and wagon versions. That Aussie shooting brake concept was KILLER, and I say that as a person who doesn’t care much for Toyotas or wagons.

          They have the platforms, why not do it?

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Corollas were rear wheel drive until the mid ’80s, and even then they offered coupes with RWD for a few years after the 4-doors went to FWD.

  • avatar
    George B

    Young men drive used cars. New compact cars have to compete on price with used cars that last longer than ever. In addition, if you’re young enough to not yet have a career, mortgage, family, etc. that requires your car to get you to work on time, you may be able to afford a less reliable used luxury brand car. Driving a more prestigious car is a net plus in the competition for the attention of attractive young women.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      This. ‘Real’ car guys buy and modify old cars. Also, if you want to use a car to impress a potential partner, buying something that is considered a ‘bargain’ is apparently not a turn on, because no one wants a fiscally responsible person anymore.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I’m going to throw in the obvious and boring answer here.
    Modern cars are often fast enough even as base models. Especially in the US. Yes, a Civic Si may ‘only’ have a little over 200 hp, but even the base Civic in the US smallest engine has 158 hp. Thats 10 more than a late 80’s Golf GTi 16v, possibly the most baddass hot hatch of the 80’s. And besides ‘normal’ cars not being slow enough to be worth paying extra to tune up, some electric cars do the 0-60 sprint in less than 3 seconds. Silently.
    Back in the 70’s and 80’s when just about every car was slow, it was worth some extra money to get the faster version. And you could use some of that power in the real world too. No one gets stuck behind a minivan in traffic nowadays, and if you want to pass that minivan on the highway before it swerves left to pass whatever is in front of it, you better be packing some serious heat to not have a soccer-mom throw her pentastar powered carrier sideways into you before you’re even halfway past her.
    And since most people can’t be bothered to pay extra for speed, our modern day Mustangs and Camaros are the Crossovers. Where kids in the 60’s dreamed of sportscars and speed, hated their parents chromefinned landyachts, and bought sportier versions of everyday compact, the kids of today dream of SUV’s and discoveries, they hate their parents frugal minivans, and buy lifted versions of their everyday compacts.
    And even the slowest and most illhandling CUVs today can still outrun most 80’s GTi cars, not just in straight line, but on a track too, even an automatics, with the AC on and two massive childseats in the back.
    I should mention though, that here in Europe, where people still like their cars to sound and smell like tractors, and think 0-60 in less than 7 seconds is supercar territory, there is still a small hot-hatch market, in which Honda is still king.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Minivans? I usually see the most aggression from late-model Toyota Siennas. I just picture every Sienna driver as being Claire Dunphy…the neurotic, uptight mother character on “Modern Family.”

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      An even more boring answer is supply and demand. The Millennial Generation has fewer young men who are into cars, so the demand for entry level sporty cars isn’t going to be what it was in 1986, when Gen X still had a lot of car guys in it, though probably fewer than the Baby Boomers. The Car Guy Quotient has declined steadily since the ‘Boomers.

      Another factor might be modern regulations and tastes. Cars are a lot heavier now due to all of the safety gear and creature comforts that modern buyers demand (try to buy a car with crank windows now, LOL!), and they are less sleekly styled because of required crush zones, door heights, and what not. So it’s a major challenge to create an affordable, small, tossible and attractive performance car like the original hot hatches.

      The much maligned (on here) Nismo Sentra is actually in the spirit of the original hot hatches, but it faced a huge weight and styling penalty right from the box, so you got what you got.

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      Baruth’s argument is as bad as usual. Today’s rich-kids-turned-auto-journos just don’t understand why everyone isn’t buying 370Zs and Mustangs. Well, a good part of it is that they can’t afford multiple cars, and those cars are inefficient, in running and carrying cargo and friends.

      And today’s McLaren drivers came out of GTIs? Maybe if daddy forced them to slum it in a new one, sure. Nah, they first got AMG hand-me-downs. AFter their allowances kicked in, they could start shopping exotics.

      Am I interested in a well-used turbocharged hot compact? Nope. I know too much about their owners to trust it’ll be reliable. ANd the costs to maintain a highly-stressed small-displacement turbo car… another unknown.

    • 0 avatar
      Love4cars

      The Honda is not King in Europe and never was, there are kings and they are all very fast buy also very very expensive! Golf gti 220bhp, R 300bhp, ford frs 350bhp, merc a class and 380bhp all great fast cars but also cost £30K plus what I think is about $50K!!! These great small fast cats are still here they just cost more money then most people want to spend and at there price take the fun out of it!

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        Honda makes the hottest manual shifted hatchback apart from the quite limited edition Golf GTi Clubsport S, I can’t call premiums hot hatches, they are just smaller luxury cars. I agree that all of them are way to expensive though. You can get a decently equipped CR-V for Civic type-R money, and still have money left for a shabby integra Type R.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      ” the kids of today dream of SUV’s and discoveries, they hate their parents frugal minivans, and buy lifted versions of their everyday compacts.”

      My oldest son dreams of a ’77 style Smokey and the Bandit Trans Am or a new regular cab 4×4. He also loves the idea of a modern Bronco.

      His school yard is an eclectic mix of vehicles. I don’t see any lifted compacts. Today he pointed out an old Grand Am with a 5 foot wide LED light bar bolted to the hood.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    They got fast enough for their practical, price-sensitive market base.

    You figured it out yourself when you alluded to the Civic Type R and Focus RS (and, I’d add, Golf R) being niche cars — those cars show that most people just don’t want to pay $40k+ in today’s dollars for a hot hatch. Volume hot hatches have stayed roughly constant in inflation-adjusted price and market positioning over the years. By contrast, the serious performance machinery that is having the “horsepower war” you refer to moved upmarket, sometimes very quickly indeed. You did not pay the equivalent of $46,000 for a V8 Camaro, $100,000 for a stripper 911 Carrera S, or $90,000 for a V8 5-Series 25 years ago.

    If I try to explain why this happened I will quickly be talking about baby boomers, university administrators, and the real estate market, so I won’t bother.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      My low-option 911 C2 had a sticker of $61k in 1995.

      Adjusted for inflation (via WestEgg) that’s $96k now.

      The base Z28 was $21k in 1992 — that’s $35k now, well in line with a new SS.

      Not disagreeing with you in general, just pointing out that car prices haven’t swollen like we think they have.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        From the other side, would it be fair to say entry level wages have stagnated since the recession? I mean, I found an article in the Atlantic that suggested that, but not exactly doing in depth research. Still, if car prices have roughly matched inflation, but the wages of younger people haven’t, that’d help explain the death of cheapish performance cars.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Baruth

          I just flat messed up. I was thinking about how much a 4th-gen cost, not a 3rd-gen. An early 4th-gen with a few options was $19-20k — at least according to Motor Trend.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          Maymar – very true. Wages haven’t matched inflation.

        • 0 avatar
          SirRaoulDuke

          Wages have stagnated since the 80s, really. Especially for young men, that union job at the plant for a young man is long gone. Dudes used to graduate high school and buy a nice car, that doesn’t happen much anymore. Now they buy a used car and mod it.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Wages have stagnated since 1971 with a brief blip of growth in the ’80s. The party ended in 1970, when the federal government seized control of our natural resources.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Agreed with you on the Porsche. Damn, those were expensive back in the day. I didn’t remember that.

        But the Camaro, Mustang, and other such performance machinery that has gotten WAY faster and eclipsed the capability of hot hatches has indeed gotten a lot more expensive as well. The idea that a V8 Mustang would overlap squarely in pricing with a volume-engined midsize BMW would have been hilarious in the ’80s. (Although, in fairness, “midsize BMW” then meant the 5er and today means the 3er.)

      • 0 avatar
        smartascii

        My suspicion is that the class/category/demographic where 16-25-year-olds have the means available to them for a new $30k car (but not a $50-100k car) is very small at this point. It either means that their parents have the ability and desire to purchase the vehicle in question (many of whom probably don’t want to buy their kids high-powered fun cars), or they’re that rare unicorn that managed to get an advanced education with little or no debt weighing them down, making $60-75k, living in a place where there’s space and parking for cars, AND they’re enough of an enthusiast to choose to use that money on a fun, small car. My point is, this isn’t about inflation, or even changing societal preferences. It’s about economics.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          that was me when I was in high school back in the ’90s. In my area, most of us either bought whatever piece of junk we could save enough money for (my first car cost me $150 and some elbow grease) or a hand-me-down from mom or dad.

          The Grosse Pointe kids were the ones getting brand new cars from mommy and daddy.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      Jack where are you getting those numbers for the Camaro? I’ve checked two different sources and both say the 1991 Z28 started at $15,xxx. That seems like a big price jump. That makes it a $28k car today (according to the government), which is the base price of a 2016 V-6 Camaro (the 2.0t is a few $k less).

      That being said, the rest of your numbers are good. A 1991 911 Carrera had a starting MSRP of about $60k which is $107k today there was no V8 5 series in 1991. the top of the line 535i had a base price of $42,600, which is $75,600 in 2016. A 2016 535i starts at $55,850 and a 550i starts at $66,000.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        See above for my response — long and short of it was that I made a mistake.

        With that said, the 3rd-gen F-body had a pretty wide variety of V-8s available and the price gaps to each were substantial. If you just bought a Z28, you always got some sort of lame-ass 140-hp 305. You had to spring for cross-fire/5.0 HO/5.7 HO if you wanted to drop your neighbor’s Berlinetta. Maybe the fairest comparison to the current Camaro SS would be the IROC-Z or the 5.0 HO Z/28.

        • 0 avatar
          runs_on_h8raide

          Jack, the crossfire was garbage. The best of the 3rd Gens had TPI (Tuned Port Injection) from 85 on. You had the option of the TPI 305 in the Z28 and IROC-Z, and a few years later, an optional 350ci TPI, in addition to the 305 TPI and base 4bl carb models. I’d be remiss to point out the ultra rare 1LE pkg optioned 350 TPIs…the holy grail of IROCs. All TPI engine models could be had in manual or auto.

          On a side…the “big daddy” of all 3rd Gens would be the 20th Anniversary Pontiac Trans AM GTA fitted with the 3.8l turbo from the Buick Grand National…only available in 1989. This was a missile for the times.

        • 0 avatar
          tjh8402

          No problem. Thanks for the correction. All the numbers above also ignore the fact that the modern Camaro, even in 4 cylinder form, is a dramatically better car than its predecessors. We can argue about whether we’d rather drive 991.2 vs a 964 and if an F10 is as desirable as an E34 (I vote E34 for the record), but I think you’d be hard pressed to say that a 3rd gen F body is really better or more desirable than a current gen.

          The reality is that inflation sucks. As other have pointed out, the problem is that wages and middle class disposable income hasn’t gone up in sync. It’s the same socio economic problem we run into when we ask why millenials aren’t buying new cars. As a millenial, I can tell you it’s because we can’t afford them, and our $100/month cell phone bill isn’t the reason. I actually do pretty well for my generation. My actual take home pay without overtime is a reasonable (for a childless adult living alone) $2600/month, and my $210/month car payment is about the limit of what I’d be comfortable with. $210-250 doesn’t buy you much of a car these days if you’re going new.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      It’s hard to argue with your point about nobody wanting to drop $40k on a C-segment car, but it is easy to forget how expensive cars used to be.

      Car and driver had a long-term test of a ’98 BMW 540i that they paid $59,296 for. The options weren’t crazy either, there was room to go up: http ://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/1998-bmw-540i-archived-long-term-test

      Adjusted for inflation using http ://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm, that’s $87,935.97.

      A comparable 2016 550i (m-sport, heated front seats, premium audio) is $71,495 on BMW’s website. To pour salt on the wound, the base audio on that car is an HK surround system that probably shames the 98’s DSP audio, so you can subtract the $3700 Band & Olufsen option and still have a comparable car.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Memo to GM. Cruze SS – 2.0T, manual trans, por favor

    • 0 avatar
      Freddie

      I got a great deal when I bought my new 2009 HHR SS (2.0T, manual)in 2010. It had been sitting on the lot for a year and the dealer was glad to get rid of it. After 93k miles of my driving it in an “entertaining” manner, the car is holding up great (although I am on my fourth set of tires).

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      I believe the 2.0T doesn’t fit in the Cruze.

  • avatar
    JMII

    The problem is the death of the 2 door hatchback in general, other then Mini Cooper and the Golf / GTI there is nothing else out there. Back in the late 80s thru all of the 90s just about everyone made an entry level 2 door hatch. We had the Civic, CRX, Celica, Escort, Plusar, Impulse, Eclipse, Rabbit and Starion. What do we have today? Nothing but 4 door hatches and CUVs. Its hard to make a “hot hatch” when there are no true hatches to start with it.

    The reason I got a Civic S1500 back in the day was because it held me and my date, plus a second couple or those rare occasions if required. The storage space of the hatch meant easy install of subwoofers and amps, or a great place to throw a weekend bag. Fold the rear seats down and you had old school station wagon levels of flat storage space. The car got great mileage, which was important on a college (beer) budget regardless of gas prices. Seems the idea of a small and fun, yet still practical car is gone now.

    I just don’t get everyone’s hang up on requiring 4 doors. Honestly how many times do you carry 3 additional people with you? Sure if you have kids it make sense, but then your in Minivan / CUV land anyway. I guess the real reason is child safety seats – because back in my day (mid 70s) kids were excepted to climb in back (and shut up). My mother had a Ford Granada then a Rabbit, both 2 doors and we managed fine going to birthday parties, baseball games, swimming meets, etc. It wasn’t until me and brother were almost teenagers did we final get a 4 door wagon and then a van when grandma started living with us.

    • 0 avatar
      Dingleberrypiez_Returns

      For a DD I like having four doors, even if I rarely have passengers. It’s worth it just for the option of opening the back door and putting down my groceries. Mid to full size two doors typically also have huge cumbersome doors. I doubt this is news to you, but that’s reason enough for me. Ease of carrying passengers is just a perk.

      • 0 avatar
        otaku

        I drive an ’08 Ford Focus Coupe. Since it’s a compact, I don’t think the doors are quite as long as those from a Mustang or Accord coupe-sized vehicle. Just long enough to help make entry/exit convenient while allowing me to look to my left and not have the view obstructed by B-pillar. The backseat is adequate for the one time per year that I find myself transporting two passengers and I always place groceries in the trunk.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The two-door Golf / GTI got discontinued, actually. I’m not sure if the two-door Fiesta still exists, but it was never sold here in the current generation. So you’re pretty much left with “cute cars” like the Beetle, Mini Cooper and Fiat 500.

    • 0 avatar
      eggsalad

      You can get a Yaris with two doors as well, but that’s hardly sporty.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    I don’t think the fashion for hot hatches is coming back. It peaked almost 20 years ago with the Fast and Furious.

    The problem with hot hatches is that you can’t drive them anywhere.

    Either the nice roads are so heavily (roboticly) policed that it’s a waste of money, or the roads are made-up of brief paved sections between potholes thanks to 8+ years of austerity.

    In that context the pickup/SUV/crossover culture makes perfect sense. They feel fast at low speeds, and they don’t bottom-out on badly-maintained roads.

    • 0 avatar
      smartascii

      This. I live in a rural area near where Car and Driver does its handling testing. I’m the kind of enthusiast that wants a fun car and a manual transmission. And I sold my BMW and bought a pickup, because I’m tired of speeding tickets and bent wheels. The roads are crap, the cops are enhancing revenue (though they’re clearly not spending that ticket money on better paving), and it just wasn’t fun anymore.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I can do a 36-month lease on a Lexus, BMW, or Audi for about the same as a 60-month payment on a $25K car.

    Anecdotally, I’m a younger guy that works in a younger office where people are fortunate enough to make okay money and most male-driven vehicles are either: 1.leased(?) entry-level premium brand cars/CUVs or 2.American-branded V8 trucks and cars. There doesn’t seem to be much desire for a sport-compact.

    • 0 avatar
      krohde

      I think you’re onto something there – the massive increase in leasing probably has something to do with it. I don’t remember the exact numbers but I want to say all the German luxury brands are way beyond 50% of sales being leases.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    No one will be mourning the Corvette or Mclaren. Tastes will have fully shifted to hot CUVs in the not so distant future. All manufacturers need to do is keep crapping out higher and higher priced variants of them and eventually buying a sports “car” without practicality will have the same association as buying a car based on its tailfin size does today.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    If I went down to the Ford dealer with…whatever a Focus ST costs, I’d probably end up leaving with a used 6.2 F-250 instead. PA roads are abominable and my poor Thunderbird’s constant creaks, rattles, and groans drive me nuts!

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Isn’t the growing use of 1.4 and 1.5 liter engines in large part due to Chinese tax structure, which puts significant taxes on automobiles with displacement over 1.5L?

    With China at or trading with the US for the largest car economy in the world, makers are going to focus on the impacts of those taxes. Hence when we’re finding a growing list of 1.5L and smaller engines under the hoods of American vehicles.

    We don’t call the shots anymore – unless it is a big fullsize BOF SUV or pickup truck.

  • avatar
    yamahog

    Let’s indict the 276kw japanese gentlemen’s agreement too. The agreement went into place in the late 80s / early 90s with the RB Nissans and JZ Toyotas. And no Japanese manufacturer broke it until… the 2007 LS460.

    Now we have a reasonable chance of Subaru turning up the wic on the Sti (but I wouldn’t hold my breath). And other manufacturers are reluctant to hook it up. The premium for the 5.0 V8 over the N/A V6 in an F150 is around 3k. The premium is closer to 10k in a Mustang.

    I think the Tesla Model 3 might actually get some enthusiast cred, Tesla’s AWD ‘system’ works very well and seems to hustle the car around pretty well.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      nitpick- the agreement was to not advertise more than 280 PS (276 horsepower.) The funniest example is the Toyota Crown Century executive car; it has a 5.0 liter DOHC V12 making… “276 hp.”

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “While the VW GTI improved by leaps and bounds to become the undisputed class of the field, it didn’t necessarily get any faster while it was doing so.”

    A 1986 GTI had 102 hp and a 0-60 time in the mid-8’s.

    The current GTI has more than twice the horsepower and a 0-60 time in the high-5’s, while getting similar fuel economy to the earlier model.

    (If one is so inclined, it is possible to get a Golf R with almost three times the horsepower of the older car and a 0-60 time in the low-5’s, but it uses more fuel.)

    The hot hatch has progressed, while today’s normal cars produce numbers (if not the feel) of the older sporty compacts. The essence of the design is oriented toward Europeans, who need to worry more about fuel economy, so there is a practical limit to how much horsepower can be added before losing sight of the basic mission of tweaking more performance out of a reasonably fuel-efficient package.

    Stateside, it is possible to buy a mundane car with the basic performance numbers of the old sports models. Perhaps a level of performance that used to thrill earlier generations is currently more than adequate for many drivers today — they feel no urge to upgrade.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      You could get a 200hp GTI in 2001.

      So: 98hp improvement in the fifteen years from 1986 to 2001, and a 10hp improvement in the fifteen years since.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        As noted, you can now get even more power in a Golf R, but it comes at the expense of a higher price tag and lower fuel economy.

        There are practical limits to what can be done with the standard hot hatch while providing a reasonable price point and hitting the fuel economy target.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Baruth

          Not sure what your point was.

          There was a 95% improvement in power over fifteen years, model to model.

          Then we have a 5% improvement over the next fifteen year period.

          If you want to talk Golf R, we could talk Golf G60 from overseas, I guess — or Golf VR6.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            There is a 300 hp GTI, it’s just called a Golf R. That’s three times the power of the Mark II GTI of three decades ago.

            A run-of-the-mill hot hatch needs to be reasonably priced and easy on the fuel. You can’t sell a 400 hp GTI and hit those other numbers, and not many people want to pay big money for a hatchback.

          • 0 avatar
            Adam Tonge

            The Golf R isn’t a “GTI”. It’s the R32 replacement.

            In 2003 it was making 237 HP and in 2007 it was making 250 HP.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Thirty years ago, the top VW performance hatch had about 100 hp; today, it’s a lot more than that.

            The name and precise lineage of each model in the lineup is besides the point. These cars are far more powerful and faster than they used to be.

            Compared to the mid-80s, the Mustang GT and GTI have both doubled their output while maintaining similar engine displacements and price points. You can get even more powerful versions of both, but few people will.

          • 0 avatar
            Jack Baruth

            I don’t think you could see any more clearly into Pch101’s mind if you cut out a part of his skull and replaced it with Rolex-grade sapphire crystal.

            Point out that he’s wrong about the GTI, he falls back and says he’s talking about the Golf R.

            Point out that he’s wrong about the Golf R, he falls back and says something about “well, we’re just talking about the highest-performance VW hatch.” Never mind that the same “logic” would mean that the 918 Spyder is the legitimate successor to the 914 1.7.

            I think one of the more mentally healthy days I’ve ever had was the one where I decided that I would admit being wrong about things when I’d been wrong. It saves a lot of heartache, a lot of wheel-spinning, a lot of absurdity.

            Someday Pch will also get there. He’ll be able to say, “You know what? I’d forgotten that there was a 200hp GTI available around the turn of the century. I guess that means that I was wrong. I’ll let this go now.” That will be a great day for him. It will be a bad day for this site’s income — we rely on people arguing to keep the clicks coming — but it will be a great day for him.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            FFS, VW has a hot hatch that has triple the power of the car of thirty years ago. (You’re the one who said, “Thirty years ago, the “hot hatch” was the red-hot segment in motoring both here and overseas,” hence my reference to the cars of thirty years ago.)

            It doesn’t matter what name it has. It does exist, contrary to your assertion that it doesn’t.

          • 0 avatar
            Jack Baruth

            Thirty years ago, you could order a Golf G60 Limited.

            It had 209 horsepower.

            Today’s Golf R has 292 horsepower.

            So if we want to truly compare the highest-horsepower variants, then the gap isn’t “triple”. It’s 292 to 209.

            But since we are not discussing limited-production or uber-expensive cars, and we never were, none of this is relevant. Only the power of the proper “hot hatch”, the GTI, is relevant, and the specs remain the same: from 102hp to 200 hp in fifteen years, then from 200hp to 210hp in fifteen more.

  • avatar
    deanst

    I guess I would argue the opposite. When $25000 will get you 275-300 hp cars like mustang, camaro or accord any day of the week, it’s never been a cheaper time to be a fast car enthusiast.

  • avatar
    Alfisti

    FINALLY someone addresses the weight issue. All this hp war stuff is be, look at the weight these engines are carting around. Our x3 has a turbo charged v6 for God’s sake and still feels no faster than my 9-3 wagon with a solid 100hp less because of the weight.

    This also irks me in regards to reviews , always mention power but without the weight listed it’s a moot point.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Right. The poor Nismo Sentra is being taken to the woodshed for being an inferior driving experience next to the original SE-R but the current Sentra weighs 2,850 pounds. The 1991 Sentra only weighed about 2,300 pounds. It’s a lot easier to make a fast fun to drive car with nearly 600 fewer pounds to cart around.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        And, what’s worse: While you can fib the “fast” part with stickier rubber and more power, fun corresponds pretty much directly with lightness, once you’re into triple digit horsepower on public roads.

      • 0 avatar
        3XC

        Nissan is leaving a lot on the table by putting the 188 horse 1.6 turbo engine from the Juke Nismo versus the 210 horse 1.6 turbo from the Juke Nismo RS.

        Expect a Sentra Nismo RS with the 210 hp engine if they can move enough of the 188 horse units.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      BMW X3 V6? BMW’s shed me as a fan years ago, but a V6? What’s next? EPS?

  • avatar
    jonsey

    “those cars are boutique products, aimed at wealthy Gen-Xers who fondly remember their GTIs or Civics but want to pay Mustang GT Premium money so they can run slightly slower than a Mustang GT”

    Ouch Bark. I guess we know what big brother thinks of your latest car purchase.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    “wealthy Gen-Xers who fondly remember their GTIs or Civics but want to pay Mustang GT Premium money so they can run slightly slower than a Mustang GT.”
    That’s no way to talk about your brother in public. SHAME!

  • avatar
    Maymar

    Personally, a hot hatch is pretty much exactly what I seek. I’m not ashamed to say a FiST is what I’d want my Mazda2 to be, if I could’ve justified spending nearly 50% more on a new car. But, there’s a glut of off-lease 328Xi’s for about the same price as a new FiST, and I suspect the majority would rather have that over the tiny Ford (they don’t even care that the BMW’s quite a bit quicker).

    And off the top of my head, the only other hot hatch that competes with the FiST on price is the 500 Abarth – beyond that, you’re moving from subcompacts to compacts that (up in Canada at least) are barely available under $30k. My wife and I are fortunate enough that we have decent incomes and no student debt, but once we’ve covered the mortgage (for a mediocre condo because housing prices are insane) and a modicum of retirement savings (because we don’t want to assume there’ll be anything else in place for us in 30-40 years), it’s pretty much impossible to justify throwing away $30k on a depreciating asset.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Some have already mentioned it. The hot hatch is dying because the hatch is dying. The STI isn’t a hatch anymore. Warmed up CUV’s are tomorrow’s hot hatch. Put the big power motor from the bigger car in the smaller ute, lower it (a lot more than the hot hatches ever needed), add suspension firmness… Sell a few and gain brand awareness with the young ‘uns.

  • avatar
    bluegoose

    I think insurance rates play a part as well. Using Dodge as an example, there were a lot of young people killed in SRT Neons. The insurance on the SRT4 was so high, I went with a PT Cruiser GT 5 speed. I think Dodge decided to reach a more mature market with the Caliber SRT and it failed.

    The Hot Compact cars also have a pretty low profit margin for manufacturers and a lot of them started to balk at having to federalize two engines. The Neon SRT-4 did not arrive until the 3rd generation when the platform was paid for. It utilized an engine that was used in the Mexican Stratus and the PT Cruiser GT. So they had savings in scale. The Caliber which followed it ended up with an engine that was used on one model only. It became too costly to use on only one model and it died an early death.

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    I think it’s more fair to say that hot hatches got there first, not that they lagged behind. This assumes we’ll see a power plateau for the big guys in the next few years, which I think is more likely than not.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Winwood and Capaldi just winced. Then turned to John Barleycorn.

  • avatar
    pb35

    I had one of those 102hp ’86 GTIs back when I was 21. I bought it gently used in 1988 after totaling my Mustang GT.

    Today, my sedan has 4x the horsepower that my VW had. I used to lament missing the “golden age” of the muscle car in the 70s but these are the good old days indeed. I actually looked at the GTI before purchasing my SS last year but I couldn’t bring myself to drive the same car I drove 30 years ago.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    “Not to worry, dear members of the Best & Brightest; I’m not going to use this as an opportunity to dive headfirst into the Eugene B. Debs Municipal Swimming Pool.”

    I like this better than Bark saying he is a Reaganite……… nice work Jack.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    It’s Eugene V. Debs. Whatever happened to civics education?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The “V” is next to “B” on a keyboard, so your question should properly be, “Whatever happened to typing education?”

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        The last time typing education was around was probably the mid-late 70’s when I was in high school. Most of us took a semester of typing. The classroom had a mix of electrics and manuals mostly IBM’s. I’m glad a teacher or counselor nudged me to take it.

  • avatar
    scuzimi

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! BORING.

  • avatar

    I suspect that the pickup and SUV have replaced the hot hatch for a lot of the guys who could afford one. Instead of putting a giant muffler and wing on a compact, they are jacking up an F-250 and putting a smokestack on it.

  • avatar
    scuzimi

    Jack, Jack… ! Here is a place were you could learn to write better and more concise, shortened posts, ASU, as it seems you never took a less is better course. ;-)

    http://tinyurl.com/hkryjdq

  • avatar
    LesleyW

    Why do you think I drive such old beaters?
    I’ll probably go out in a crumpled ball propelled by 86 horsepower, but at least there aren’t seven layers of safety disconnect between me and the car.

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