Browse over 9,000 car reviews

Sorry, there are no cars that match your search

2021 Toyota Yaris GR is all the rage but baby hot hatches like Ford Fiesta ST, Volkswagen Polo GTI and Renault Clio RS paved the way

The GR Yaris is a sell-out success in Australia, where the first 1100 examples were sold in just eight weeks.

It seems that even though we’re a few decades behind Europe (and a few ahead of North America), the forthcoming Toyota GR Yaris – with its turbocharged three-cylinder engine, promise of big performance and super-compact footprint – proves that the baby hot hatch is, indeed, a thing.

And while Australia has been slower than some to embrace the concept of a high-performance tiddler, it’s not as though we haven’t had some exposure to the idea previously.

In fact, there’s a distinct timeline that begins, arguably, with the Mini Cooper S (although not a hatchback in the strictest sense) that extends forward from there.

So, what were the landmark makes and models that have brought us to the GR Yaris and the hype that currently surrounds the concept?

Mitsubishi Colt 1100 SS

Very few SS Colts made it to Australia and the ones that did were mostly wrecked in rallies. Very few SS Colts made it to Australia and the ones that did were mostly wrecked in rallies.

Although the Cooper S was first seen in 1961, it had a pretty good innings and, true hatchback or not, it scored nine of the first ten outright places in the 1966 Bathurst classic at Mount Panorama.

But there was another, true hatchback with a decent competition pedigree around by the middle-to-end of the 1960s and, like the GR Yaris, it came from Japan.

The Mitsubishi Colt 1000F and, later 1100F, was an odd looker from some angles, and the 1100cc pushrod engine was hardly a powerhouse.

But the thing was light, agile and tough and, by the time Mitsubishi had added twin carburettors and a little more compression, it had arrived at the SS model and, in the hands of none other than Colin Bond, Mitsubishi had a rally winner on its hands.

Very few SS Colts made it to Australia and the ones that did were mostly wrecked in rallies, so while it’s more or less extinct now, it was definitely a baby hot hatch in the day.

Daihatsu Charade Turbo

Weighing just 710kg, the Charade was brisk. Weighing just 710kg, the Charade was brisk.

The 1970s was not a great time for hot hatches in Australia (or performance generally thanks to ever-tighter emissions controls), and it really wasn’t until the mid-1980s that things started to look up again. But when things did begin to take off, they really did.

Enter a couple of micro-hotties in the Suzuki Swift GTi and Daihatsu Charade Turbo. They might have arrived at similar results, but the paths each one took were dramatically different.

The Daihatsu hit the market first, in 1985, as the Charade Turbo in G11 form. A tinny little box of a car, the three-cylinder turbocharged engine suddenly gave Daihatsu a performance hero and earned the turbo-triple a following decades before the GR Yaris.

And even though the Charade could muster just 50kW from its 1.0-litre triple, with just 710kg to shunt around, it was still brisk.

Things improved when the concept was translated to the bigger, more solid G100 Charade for 1987, and even though it was now 70-odd kilograms heavier and had the same power and torque, it was still tremendous fun with a rumpy-pumpy little exhaust note that only a three-cylinder can produce.

Suzuki Swift GTi

The more substantial SF Swift GTi was introduced in 1989. The more substantial SF Swift GTi was introduced in 1989.

Meanwhile, over at Suzuki around the same time, the SA-series GTi with its 1.3-litre four-cylinder (with no turbocharger) arrived with 74kW and trickery like double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder.

That car was upgraded to the more substantial SF model in 1989 with the same mechanical package and then enjoyed a monster 11-year production run that even saw it the focus of a one-make race series in Australia.

Like the Charade, a five-speed manual was your lot and trim levels were sparse to say the very least, but these cars were all about having fun on a budget which might just be something the GR Yaris has sacrificed in its push for high-techery.

Peugeot 205 GTi

The 205 GTi was certainly the most exciting Peugeot of its time. The 205 GTi was certainly the most exciting Peugeot of its time.

Although VW claims to have invented the hot hatch with the original Golf GTI, the versions sold here were watered-down models (and a size bigger than the hatches we’re talking about here) leaving the baby-hot-hatch door open to another Euro contender in the 1980s.

And that company was Peugeot which gave the concept a huge shot in the arm Down Under with its 205 GTi.

Arriving in late 1987, the 205 GTi tapped into that well-trodden hot-hatch path: a dirty big engine in a tiny little car.

At 1.9 litres, the engine was big but it was hardly high-tech even back then, with just a single overhead camshaft and two valves per cylinder (although it was fuel-injected).

But it was also a long-stroke design (not untypical for Peugeot) and that meant it made lots and lots of torque; 142Nm at just 3000rpm, to be exact, which meant that it’s modest 75kW could shove the 950kg body along pretty smartly.

More than that, it felt like huge fun even piddling around town, and on the right mountain road it was almost uncatchable by anything else.

Renault Clio RS

The Clio RS remains a firm favourite with hot-hatch fans everywhere. The Clio RS remains a firm favourite with hot-hatch fans everywhere.

The other French big hitter, Renault, got stuck into the concept in 2001 here when it launched the Clio RS.

The nuggety-looking Clio got a lower stance (which led to broken coil springs on some hard-driven examples), a tubular exhaust and a high, 11.2:1 compression ratio for the 2.0-litre engine.

That gave the RS 124 very useable kiloWatts of power and a full 200Nm of torque, giving it an effortless feel around the suburbs and a ferocious temperament when you got serious with it.

The handling was flat and the steering pin-sharp, and the RS remains a firm favourite with hot-hatch fans everywhere, not just here.

VW Polo GTI

The Polo hottie boasted 110kW and 220Nm, yet still didn’t feel like it was straining the mechanical. The Polo hottie boasted 110kW and 220Nm, yet still didn’t feel like it was straining the mechanical.

The turn of the century was when Aussies really started to take notice of hot hatches, although the tiddlers were still kind of also-rans.

One that definitely lived in the shadow of its bigger brother was the VW Polo GTI.

While the later version used VW’s finicky twin-charger engine and DSG transmission, the model before that, the 2005 Polo GTI, used a bigger, 1.8-litre low-pressure turbo motor (lifted from the Audi A4) and a five-speed manual transmission.

With styling cues (the deep grille) from the Golf GTI, the Polo hottie boasted 110kW and 220Nm, yet still didn’t feel like it was straining the mechanical friendship.

Ford Fiesta ST

The Fiesta ST was worthy of wearing an RS badge. The Fiesta ST was worthy of wearing an RS badge.

Another very fast, baby hot hatch is also a car that cements Ford’s place as one of the all-time great manufacturers of rapid, working-class heroes.

While the world was grappling for the Focus RS, Ford quietly sneaked the Fiesta ST on to the market in 2013 and, in the process, created a cult car.

Suddenly, the promise shown by the Fiesta XR4 of 2007 was realised, and the ST with its turbocharged 1.6-litre engine, six-speed manual gearbox, Recaro seats, limpet handling and utterly accessible performance remains a truly memorable car.

The only real mystery is why Ford resisted slapping an RS badge (rather than ST) on it; it was certainly worthy of the name.

Buying any of these elderly hot littlies now (with the exception of the Fiesta ST) is to take a step backwards in terms of standard equipment and, of course, safety.

You’ll also be sacrificing performance equipment such as GR Yaris’s all-wheel-drive platform and the very latest in engine management and turbocharger tech.

But with the prices being asked for some of these cars, not to mention the reputations they have built over the years, there’s definitely a case for the GR Yaris to tip its hat to these tiny trailblazers.