What is truly a ‘hot’ hatchback?

In 1975, the Mk 1 Golf GTI was launched and the world went crazy about it. The small car had around 100 hp and because it was very light (only 810 kg), it could really go like stink. The term ‘hot hatch’ was first coined for Mk-I Golf GTI.

The Germans were very clever to see the potential market for such a car. A small hatchback with a bigger engine, performance kit and some fatter tires that would do the school-run everyday and when you want, just put pedal to the metal and you were going much faster than the government would allow you to drive. People loved it, especially the family man, who for once could have fun even while travelling with his family.

And the car did not cost a fortune to buy and was just a smear more expensive to run and, most importantly, did not break down every 10 yards, as supercars of that era were very famous for. Rivals came up with alternatives and the market was flooded with fast cars that would always put a grin on your face.

Today, the hot hatch segment has moved on to a whole new level. And, India, what hot hatch? amazingly, so has the Golf GTI. Today, the Golf GTI is in its seventh generation and has more than 230 hp and is a very fast car. But it has not moved away from being a proper hot hatch. You can seat five adults, much like the MK 1 car.

You can carry your dog around in the boot and it wouldn’t cost you a fortune to buy and run. And as the cars got faster and more powerful, they got the kits necessary for that as well. The cars nowadays have electronically controlled limited slip diff, torque vectoring, better brakes and better build quality and, of course, better safety.

This, however, is the European scenario. But India, like in many occurrences, has been slow to move on and now people say that the country has got a hot hatch. The car has been launched by Maruti Suzuki and it is called the Baleno RS. I must confess t h o u g h that it is good looking. But the ‘RS’ moniker was a bit of a let down. ‘RS’ usually means ‘rally sport’ and this was used by manufacturers like Ford in certain special cars of theirs to tell the world that they have incorporated their rallying knowledge into their cars to make them more exciting and fast. But Maruti has used the ‘RS’ moniker in its car and has explained it as ‘road sport’.

The Baleno RS has a small, three cylinder engine that produces a paltry 100 hp and revs only up to 6,000 rpm. And I’m afraid there’s more. A hot hatch must reach a 100 km from standstill in around six-and-a-half seconds, which I’m not sure that the Baleno will pull off. It doesn’t have a slip diff, so, its handling is questionable. Calling a car such as this, which is under powered and not sophisticated, a ‘Hot Hatch’ is just not fair. Yes, you could argue that India has not got a mainstream car for such a price, but the thing is, if India had made a car that would stand up to the global hot hatches, then it would have been fine.

But making a car that would be equal to a 40- year Golf GTI, that too now, is unacceptable. It would be like a scientist claiming to have found a laser printer today and claiming that it is the best because he was the first person to have come up with that in the country. So people, give us the real hot hatchbacks that would stand up to the world.


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