Oddball fast cars you’ve (probably) forgotten all about

Not all hot hatches and other fast cars are created equal.

There are many unusual and left-field choices that get overlooked in the rush of most fans to own one of the more obvious choices. So, here’s our hurrah to the oddballs however good, bad or indifferent they might be. The cars are listed in alphabetical order:

Daihatsu Cuore Avanzato TR-XX R4

When the world was going crazy for roadgoing versions of World Rally Championship cars like the Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru Impreza, Daihatsu offered its take on the theme: the Cuore Avanzato TR-XX R4. However, it was more a product of the fertile Kei car market in Japan than stage victories in the WRC.

The tiny Cuore came with four-wheel drive and a turbocharged engine like its more illustrious compatriot, but with 659cc on hand it was somewhat less powerful. The four-cylinder engine corralled 64bhp to offer 0-60mph in 8.5 seconds and, if you were determined, it could hit 101mph. Doesn’t sound much but the way the Cuore had to be driven hard made it a surprisingly entertaining and unusual way to brighten any journey.

Mazda 6 MPS

The Mazda 6 was the first to get the company’s Mazda Performance Series (MPS) treatment. Rather than just offer a more powerful front-drive version of the first-generation 6, Mazda went a whole lot further by adding all-wheel drive and a turbocharged 2.3-litre engine with 254bhp. Driving through a six-speed manual gearbox, it could cover 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds and nudge 150mph to worry the likes of the Audi S3.

Brilliantly considered under the skin, the Mazda 6 MPS was less thought through when it came to cosmetics. There were 18-inch alloy wheels but the rest was just too Plain Jane for most buyers, even those who fancied something a little under the radar. As a result, sales were slow, but those who did take up the MPS banner found a fast and engaging saloon well with fine body control and excellent steering feel.

Mercedes-Benz A210 Evolution

Given how happy Mercedes is to put the AMG badge to its cars today, it seems strange the hottest of the original A-Class line-up was denied this. What we got, instead, is the subtly titled A210. In fairness, a 140bhp 2.1-litre engine that served up 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds didn’t really warrant an AMG badge and hot hatch fans didn’t think it warranted them spending money on it, so sales were as sluggish as the A210’s performance.

Even so, Mercedes went as far as developing a sports suspension set-up to give good grip in corners, though it did nothing for the ride quality or steering feel. However, you got 17-inch alloy wheels, two-tone Alcantara upholstery and plenty of kit for the £18,990 Mercedes asked, or £900 more for the long wheelbase version.

Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart

Japan got the Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart Version-R in 2006 with 152bhp, but the rest of the world had to wait until 2008 for their won Ralliart hot hatch model. By then, 147bhp from its turbocharged 1.5-litre engine wasn’t much compared to fast Renault Clios, but 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds was reasonable.

Improved suspension for the Ralliart gave decent handling, but it was too little, too late for the Colt to compete seriously in a crowded market against the likes of the Clio, Abarth 500 and Fiesta ST. The Mitsubishi’s only saving grace for some buyers was it could be had with five doors for a bit more practicality.

Nissan Almera GTI

Nissan should have been a shoo-in to do well in the hot hatch sector as it enjoyed a resurgence around the turn of the millennium given its sporting back catalogue. Starting with the drab Almera was a bold move and the mild bodykit and five-spoke alloy wheels didn’t exactly shout rabid performance. However, under the bonnet was a willing 140bhp 2.0-litre engine that gave 0-60mph in 7.9 seconds, which just about scraped in as hot hatch quick when the car was launched in 1996.

The best bit of the Almera GTI was its chassis set-up that gave the driver plenty of feel and confidence. Push the Almera hard and it was very rewarding, yet the huge majority of buyers looked elsewhere as the Nissan appeared dull by comparison to seal its rare and unusual status.

Nissan Sunny GTI-R

The Nissan Sunny GTI-R was always intended to be a left-field model as it was built to homologate a rally version. Odd and rare it might have been when launched in 1990, it was worth seeking out as the 2.0-litre turbo engine came with 217bhp in European models, or 224bhp for the Japanese market Pulsar version. It could scamper from 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds and topped out at 144mph.

Finding an unmodified GTI-R will be the biggest problem nowadays, though Nissan built a total of 14,613 so there are plenty to choose from between Sunny and Pulsar versions. You’ll also be bagging a car with true rally heritage as they were driven in period by Stig Blomqvist, David Llewellin and Tommi Mäkinen.

Proton Satria GTI

Proton took the wise decision to enlist the help of Lotus when developing its Satria GTI. It resulted in a hot hatch with a body kit that genuinely aided aerodynamics and good handling. This latter point was underlined by a ‘Handling by Lotus’ badge on the back of the Proton.

The performance was a little less inspired with a 138bhp 1.8-litre engine that needed some thought to get the best from it and see 0-62mph in the claimed 8.5 seconds. More impressive was the way the Satria could be pushed down twisty roads, while the looks had just enough aggression thanks to the bolt-on wheelarch extensions. However, buyers found it harder to look past the Proton badge and the Satria GTI remained a left-field choice for the dedicated few.

Renault Twingo Renaultsport

Think Renaultsport and most dream of very quick Clios and Meganes, yet rapid Renault fans also have the option of the Twingo Renaultsport. Offered to the world between 2008 and 2013, the Twingo Renaultsport made a virtue of its light weight and compact size rather than prodigious power. There was only 131bhp from the 1.6-litre engine and 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds didn’t look impressive.

Yet the Twingo was more than the sum of its parts. The chassis was agile and could be further stiffened with the optional Cup pack or by choosing the Cup model. Either way, the Twingo loved corners and being driven by the scruff of its neck. Even so, not even the Twingo Renaultsport’s affordability compared to other quick Renaults could tempt enough buyers, so it was and has remained a rare treat.

Saab 9-3 Viggen

If rarity and scrabbling wheels are your idea of hot hatch heaven, the Saab 9-3 Viggen is the celestial chariot for you. Despite development input from race car company TWR, the Viggen’s front wheels endured perennial wheelspin while trying to transmit its 230bhp. It used a much lager turbocharger than the stock 9-3 models, which explained the hike in power and rampant delivery.

Named after the Swedish for ‘thunderbolt’, the Viggen was not built in Sweden but by Valmet in Finland. A total of 4600 were built, including 1305 Convertibles to add scuttle shake to its list of dynamic shortcomings. Today, a kit to relocate the suspension pick-up points cures most of the wheelspin, but this lightning flash from Saab remains an unusual sight.

Skoda Fabia vRS

Skoda has proved itself no slave to convention and the 2003 Fabia vRS proved it. Where its obvious rivals were all petrol-powered, the Fabia opted for a 130bhp turbodiesel engine. That might have been giving away a fair bit of fire power to the competition, but the vRS also came with 228lb ft of torque to propel it from rest to 62mph in an official 9.6 seconds, though Autocar recorded an impressive 7.1 second time.

The Fabia vRS was no one-trick pony, either, as it handled nimbly and put its power down without the histrionics of many rivals. Allied to this, the Skoda was comfortable, easy on fuel and has earned a cult following among those who appreciate its corkscrew thinking on the hot hatch formula.

Suzuki Ignis Sport

If the Suzuki Ignis seems an unlikely basis for a hot hatch, this Sport model’s origins lie in the even less obvious root of the Japanese firm competing in the World Rally Championship with an Ignis. To qualify for its rally class, Suzuki needed to build roadgoing models, so the Ignis Sport arrived in 2003 with 107bhp, or 114bhp for the Japanese home market version.

This sort of power meant 0-62mph took a leisurely 8.9 seconds and top speed was 115mph. Not heart-thumping stuff, but the Ignis Sport’s square-rigged body was lowered by some 50mm on its suspension to help with the handling. Still, the Ignis Sport did its job of getting Suzuki on to the world’s rally stages, even if it didn’t get into the buying public’s mind.

Toyota Corolla 1.8 VVT-L Sport Compressor

Long before MINI made supercharging popular with its Cooper S, Toyota offered its hot hatch Corolla 1.8 VVT-L Compressor. Its supercharger increased power of the T Sport model’s 1.8-litre motor to 215bhp, good enough for 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds and 143mph.

However, the driving experience didn’t live up to the promise of those numbers with dull handling despite being lowered 15mm more than a T Sport. Adding to the car’s woes, the engine wasn’t keen on high revs, so just as well Toyota limited production to 250 cars.

Vauxhall Zafira VXR

Before crossovers were all the rage, MPVs enjoyed a period as the perfect family accessory. So, Vauxhall reckoned what could be better than an MPV with some sporting appeal? The result was the Zafira VXR and the answer was a hot hatch that fell down as an MPV, or an MPV that didn’t work as a hot hatch. Either way, it was a car doomed to rarity.

There was no faulting Vauxhall’s ambition. The Zafira VXR came with a 237bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine from the fast Astra, giving 0-60mph in 7.2 seconds and a 144mph top end. Confused customers stayed away in their droves and perhaps the most impressive number for the Zafira VXR is it stayed on the price list for five years between 2005 and 2010.

Volkswagen Beetle RSi

Volkswagen threw everything it had into the Beetle RSi that went on sale in 2001. It had been intended as a development mule for the upcoming Golf R32, but someone went and pressed the green button for a limited production of 250 of the RSi. We’re glad they did as it’s a visual treat with bulging arches, front spoiler and huge rear wing. It also sits on handsome 18-inch OZ Superturismo wheels.

The RSi was no sheep in Wolfsburg clothing and used the same 221bhp 3.2-litre V6 engine and four-wheel drive system that became a hallmark of the Golf R32. In the Beetle, it meant 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds and 144mph. Good to drive, the only thing the RSi was missing was the standard Beetle’s dashboard flower vase.

Volkswagen Bora 4Motion

With even a name suggesting a dull existence beckoned, the Volkswagen Bora came over mildly exciting in 2000 with the launched of the 2.8-litre V6-powered 4Motion. This Bora had a 201bhp, sweet-revving engine able to make the most of its power thanks to all-wheel drive. As a consequence, it covered 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds and went on to 146mph.

Volkswagen didn’t go as far as offering the Golf R32’s more potent engine in the Bora, but the compact salon handled well. However, when the Jetta replaced the Bora in 2006 there was no fast model to replace the 4Motion and it’s now overlooked and forgotten in the wake of its faster Golf sibling.

Volkswagen Passat R36

Volkswagen has made a speciality of building fast cars that often fly under the radar of most drivers, and the Passat R36 is a prime example. To the uninitiated, it looked like nothing more than an R Line version of the Passat saloon or estate, but under the bonnet lay a 299bhp 3.6-litre V6 motor. It drove through one of the best versions of VW’s DSG gearbox and power was sent to all four wheels.

The R36 saloon could knock off 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds, with the wagon only 0.2 seconds behind and both hit a limited 155mph top end. Handling was good, if not great, but what sealed the R36’s fate as an oddball was it just wasn’t exalted enough to tempt buyers from the Audi S4 while running costs were higher than a BMW 330i’s.

Volvo V50 T5

The T5 badge carries a lot of weight in Volvo circles, usually attached to the heft of a V70 or 850 wagon. Put the five-cylinder engine of those big hitters into the more compact V50 estate and it should have been a roaraway success. However, where the second-generation Ford Focus ST with the same motor sold in spades, the V50 was a much more considered choice.

In standard form, the T5 was front-wheel drive and it had a fight on its hands to deal with 220bhp and 236lb.ft going through just the front axle. Still, 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds was decent for an estate. There was also the option of four-wheel drive, which tamed the wheelspin, but also further hampered the already dismal fuel economy and emissions. It was these factors that held back the V50 from mainstream success.


Oddball fast cars you’ve (probably) forgotten all about We salute the performance cars that for a variety of reasons time has forgotten