Any stateside car fanatic worth his weight in Z-rated rubber knows that when it comes to performance imports the U.S. market often gets the shaft. It’s frustrating as hell. Even car manufacturer’s based stateside, Ford and GM, for example, have a history of keeping their finest performance automobiles out of the fat, greasy hands of their own people. What gives?
Over the past decade the winds began to change. Subaru brought the WRX over and even the STI. Mitsubishi threw the Evo into the game. GM brought the Holden Monaro over as the GTO and eventually the G8. Even Godzilla itself found its way onto American soil – the R35 GT-R has been sucking small, American children into its turbos for nearly a year now. Conditions have improved. But I’m better at bitching than I am at being content.
There’s one segment in the U.S. enthusiast market that is still not up to par: Hot Hatches.
In an effort to make grown men cry I present to you the top 10 hot hatches that the U.S. never got and due to some heinous bit of federal bullshit still won’t be able to import for some years. I’m not bitter…
1. 1993 Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione II
I’m going to start this off with my own personal boxy, metal wet-dream. The Lancia Delta Integrale dominated the World Rally Championship in the late 80s and early 90s. This little AWD monster tore through the crests of Sanremo and the curves of Monte Carlo like a cracked out ware-wolf. The car went through a few iterations the best of which was the Delta Integrale Evoluzione II, a homologation model. It featured a 2 liter, 215hp dual-overhead cam four-cylinder force fed by a water-cooled Garrett turbo. A torque biasing center diff split the power 53/47 in favor of the rear wheels and the beast would hit 100 km/h in 5.7 seconds. The 1993 Ferrari 348 made 100 km/h in 5.3 seconds. Ponder that bit of info for a while.
When can I import one to drive on U.S. soil: 2018
2. 1993 Renault Clio Williams
The Clio Williams was built to bust some heads in the 1993 French Rally Championship. Yup, another homologation special. Despite the name and the badges, then Renault powered F1 engineering team Williams had little input in the development of the car.
But it really doesn’t matter, Renault built an amazing little machine, stuffing a 2 liter, 150hp, naturally-aspirated four into the flyweight (2178 lbs.) Clio. Wider wheels and tires were fitted at all four corners, a close ratio 5-speed gear box utilized and the suspension was tuned by Renault’s crack motorsport division.
The Clio Williams is regarded among the European automotive media as one of the best, if not the best, hot hatch of all time.
When can I import one to drive on U.S. soil: 2018
3. 1992-1996 Ford Escort RS Cosworth
Homologation special number three. Are we sensing a pattern here? That’s right, we love European homos. Uhh… yeah.
Say the name ‘Escort’ stateside and you’ll muster a good chuckle. Say the same name across the pond and you’ll get wide eyes and wolf-whistles.
This car was built for domination in the World Rally Championship. It faced stiff competition when first released, most notably in the form of Lancia’s Delta Integrale. Ford’s earlier WRC entry, the Sierra Cosworth, another fantastic automobile, was beginning to show its age. The Escort RS Cosworth was developed in 1989 as a replacement. Essentially a standard Escort was taken and given a significant amount of steroids and a set of bull testicles.
Power came to the tune of 227 hp in stock form from the legendary 2 liter, dual-overhead cam, turbocharged Cosworth YBT four-cylinder. The wheels turned via an AWD system split 34/66 front/rear. What’s not to like? The wing? It’s a tip of the hat to the Sierra Cosworth. Don’t give a shit? Well, it comes off, you know.
When can I import one to drive on U.S. soil: 2017
4. 2009 Renault Mégane R26.R
I think about this car almost as much as I think about sex on an average day. Some of you might think that’s ridiculous, the Megane is an ugly, FWD shit-box. Well, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, bitch.
Eight minutes and seventeen seconds.
That’s what makes this car special. An 8m 17s lap time at the The Ring. The garish brute you see before you is the fastest FWD car round the Nürburgring. Ever.
Renault took its already stellar Mégane Renaultsport 230 F1 Team R26 and pushed it even further. They cut out unnecessary interior bits like the back seat, a stereo, climate control and all the air bags save for the driver’s. More weight saving comes in the form of a titanium exhaust system, polycarbonate rear windows and a carbon fiber hood (unpainted to appeal to your inner pizza-faced hooligan). This adds up to a loss of 271 lbs. Renault should have put this baby on ‘The Biggest Loser.’
The cup chassis that the Mégane Renaultsport 230 F1 Team R26 rode on was tuned even further with a stiffer suspension, track based suspension geometry, stickier tires and larger Brembo four-pot brakes. The R26.R is still powered by the same fantastic 230hp 2 liter turbocharged four and still puts its power to the ground by a Renaultsport limited slip diff. This car has simply been pushed to the extremes. As a solid example: Sabelt carbon shell racing seats and 5-point harnesses are standard equipment on the R26.R. Sure, she may be ugly but man can she dance.
When can I import one to drive on U.S. soil: 2034
5. 2009 Ford Focus RS
When the original Focus RS came out there was quite a din about it being FWD. Just about every enthusiast who heard the news pitched a 12-year-old girl bitch fit. And then they drove it. Even Top Gear’s own resident curmudgeon Jeremy Clarkson turned around saying that he had “never driven a front-wheel drive car that drives so well.”
The MKI focus RS is a shoddy plastic toy compared to the MKII iteration. It was crazy to throw 212 turbocharged horses at the front wheels. But 300 turbocharged horses? That’s just batshit insane – we’re talking Tyra Banks on PCP crazy.
The craziest thing of all; it pulls it off.
How does it do it, you ask? Magic. Otherwise known as the combination of a Quaife Automatic Torque Biasing limited-slip diff and a so called “revoknuckle” front suspension setup that was designed to minimize torque steer.
Thus far the heavy hitters of the European automotive press have been creaming their shorts about this garish little car. It seems it can do no wrong. Jason Crump of 5th Gear fame has even said he thinks it may be the “best hot hatch in the world.”
Good news? There have been rumblings that Ford is considering the Focus RS for American shores. There are currently three of these hoons roaming around Michigan in manufacturer plates. Serve your country; call, write or e-mail Ford today and beg them to bring the RS over.
When can I import one to drive on U.S. soil (assuming we don’t get one): 2034
6. 2007 Renault Clio Sport 197 R27
Yes, another Renault. Throw out your freedom fries, the French have been at the top of the hot-hatch game since the 1980s.
The Clio Sport 197 R27 isn’t as lairy as the Mégane R26.R but make no mistake about it this is a track hero. Its 2 liter naturally-aspirated four pumps 193 hp, nearly reaching the coveted 100 hp per liter benchmark. And it’s pushing only 2750 lbs. Not too shabby. Like lift off oversteer? The Clio R27 loves it. You two should really get together.
When can I import one to drive on U.S. soil: 2032
7. 1990-1994 Nissan Sunny/Pulsar GTi-R
Homo says what? Yeah, still more rally homologation cars. They’re the bee’s knees.
The Pulsar GTi-R (or Sunny GTi-R for the Brits) was developed as Nissan’s entry into the group A WRC class. It was only run as a factory works car in ’91 and ’92 and didn’t fare that well in the series overall. But the road car is a screamer. Consider it a baby GT-R. It’s set up with an ATTESA AWD system and runs an SR20DET up front tuned to 227 hp. And the evil little bastard tips the scales at only 2690 lbs! Sixty miles an hour is had in 5.4 seconds bone stock. Only one tenth of a second behind the 1993 Ferrari 348 mentioned in comparison to the Lancia Integrale. Do want.
When can I import one to drive on U.S. soil: 2015
#8. 1986 Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9
This scrappy French hatch is seen in the eyes of many as the best hot hatch of all time. The Europeans really like to throw that phrase around. Maybe someday I’ll cross the pond, drive all of these so called ‘best hot hatches of all time’ and come up with an unbiased definitive answer. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
The 1.9 liter 130 hp naturally-aspirated four pulled only 1870 lbs. of car down the road. In case you haven’t picked up on this yet, light is good.
The 205 has all the right stuff to make a great hot hatch. It’s rather light, its wheels are pushed out to the extreme edges of the car (ala original Mini), it’s got a rev happy four-cylinder and a suspension known for lift-off oversteer. Sure, it got a lot of people in over their heads but for real drivers this car is a treat.
When can I import one to drive on U.S. soil: 2011
9. 1998 Honda Civic Type-R
Some of you may argue that this car is currently available in the U.S. due to the overwhelming amount of EK hatches running around with imported Type-R bits. Hell, I might even argue that. But this doesn’t change the fact that the EK Civic Type-R is a truly phenomenal machine that was never officially imported to the U.S. Yeah, we got the Integra, blah, blah… The point is this car deserves to be on this list.
The 1998 model year Civic was the first to wear the Type-R badge. The differences between the regular Civic hatch and the Type-R abound. First and foremost the chassis of the Type-R was seam welded to improve structural rigidity (this is also the main difference between a real Type-R and the thousands of fakes farting around the U.S.). The car received Honda’s B16B, 1.6 liter, dual-overhead cam, naturally-aspirated four which put out an astonishing 182 hp. That’s 113.75 hp per liter. Say what you will about Honda but they know how to build an engine. The Type-R also received a limited slip diff, a close ratio gearbox and a liberal amount of weight reduction.
If you were looking for an extremely capable front wheel drive car for track use in 1998 you would’ve been a fool to look past this little white weapon.
When can I import one to drive on U.S. soil: Never (stolen before it leaves the port.)
10. 1989 Volkswagen Motorsport Golf Limited
If you want to give an old-school water-cooled VW guy a boner, (why would you want to do that?) mention the Golf limited.
This car is probably the rarest on our list. Only 72 Golf Limited models were ever produced. Take a 5-door MKII Golf and throw every performance option in the VW Motorsport catalog at it and you get a Golf Limited. All 72 cars were hand made and painted in the same shade of gunmetal grey.
The Golf Limited was motivated by a supercharged 1.8 liter dual-overhead cam four shooting 210 hp to the Syncro AWD system. The suspension was a re-worked GTI 16v setup, a car which was already known for its superb balance in the corners, and a gorgeous set of 15’’ 2-piece BBS RM wheels (also borrowed from the GTI 16v) shod in VR series Pirelli’s kept the car on the ground.
Unfortunately it’s only a matter of time before some ‘dubber’ slams the car way beyond a useable ride height, widens the BBS’s to ten inches for ‘mad poke, yo!’ and strips all the paint off the hood for that oh so hip rust-look.
When can I import one to drive on U.S. soil: 2014
Technically any one of these cars can be imported for use on U.S. roads. They just have to be federalized – an extremely time consuming, expensive and labor intensive process. And there are no guarantees that the car will ever be eligible for legal road use. But, if you’ve got the money and the patience to wait one or two years to drive a car you already purchased then by all means go for it. Otherwise, you’re going to have to go by the rules and wait until the car is exempt from U.S. federalization standards, 25 years after the car was manufactured. Boo! I’m moving to Canada…