Friday, November 30, 2012

Hot hatches: Where are the Japanese?

Where are the Japanese hot hatches these days? I'd love a MAZDASPEED2.
This week's buzz about the upcoming turbocharged Ford Fiesta ST and the new variants of the Fiat 500, including a 500C Abarth, give me faith that more subcompact hot hatchbacks are coming. The MINI Cooper S is already here, as is the the Chevrolet Sonic with the 1.4-liter turbo powerplant (and I'll bet a "hotter" version will be coming to meet the Fiesta ST, too). Also, don't forget about the Hyundai Veloster, turbo.

This is all great news for us small car fans who enjoy performance, too. But one question remains: Where are the Japanese hot hatches?

Toyota has the Yaris SE, but that's just a handling/trim package; it still has just a touch over 100 horsepower. Honda offers the Fit Sport, but again, it's just a handling/trim package and only makes 117 ponies. Wheres our MAZDASPEED2? Where's the Fit Si? How about the Yaris T-Sport?

In talking with my friend Ron last night (he runs and, we were remembering some of the 1980s and 1990s Japanese hot hatchbacks that whetted our subcompact performance pallets. Mitsubishi Mirage/Dodge Colt Turbo, Chevrolet Sprint Turbo (built by Suzuki), the Mazda 323 GTX, Nissan NX2000, Swift GT, and so on. We were reminiscing about how the Japanese took a chance on some of these cars—much like Ford, Chevy, and Chrysler/Fiat are doing nowadays.

You've got to wonder if the Japanese automakers will return to their '80s/'90s hot hatch roots, or if nowadays they're content selling reliable fuel misers. A Fit is still a good car and is super practical; a Yaris still gets great mileage and handles well. But add 50 to 100 horsepower  and now we're talking some serious fun with that practicality and fuel efficiency. The ball is in your court, Japan.


Anonymous said...

I was wondering the exact same thing. Never in my life did I think that the Americans would outdo the Japanese in the hot hatch department. The Japanese ruled the compact department in the '80s & '90s. Where are they now? The competition that Ford will be putting out will force everyone else to compete as well. That is a good thing!

Ducati Scotty said...

I think the market these makers cate to has shifted. While they used to make lots of small cars and some hot rod variants they now make way more midsized cars (Camry, Accord) and I bet that accounts for both more revenue and higher profit margins. There's no business case for hot hatches when that's no longer your only money making segment. Sad :(

Andy Lilienthal said...

Well, if there's no business case for it, why have Ford, Chevy, Fiat (Chrysler), and Hyundai all offered small turbocharged hatchbacks?

If we go to the C-segment, we'll find the Civic Si, the MAZDASPEED3, and Corolla/Matrix XRS, and Sentra SE-R, not to mention the WRX and STI and EVO.

Ducati Scotty said...

That's kinda what I'm saying. All the Japanese cars are C segment, they're now serving more business to people who buy larger cars the the tiny econo-boxes they made decades ago. Who's making the hot small cars? The US makers whose total market share has been waning for years now, they're just trying to get something back.

Anonymous said...

I think it is simply a case of need. The Japanese don't need the sales, and they also have the aftermarket for the compact cars. There are plenty of people who will buy a brand new Japanese car off the lot and throw a turbo in it. While the aftermarket for American cars is huge for Muscle cars and other extremely expensive cars, there are not many people willing to buy a brand new compact car and spend an additional 5 grand or so on a turbo.

Basically, all the other carmakers see places to gain market share with the hot hatches, and the Japanese want people interested in that to either step up to a real sports car and spend more money, or install the turbo themselves.