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Why hot hatches like the Ford Focus RS and Renault Clio RS are disappearing - and why the future is electric

Ford will not continue building the Focus RS, but it isn’t the only brand to ditch hot hatches due to emissions rules.

It’s shaping up as a good year for hot hatch fans, with the updated Hyundai i30 N, all-new Hyundai i20 N, Toyota GR Yaris Rallye and Volkswagen Golf GTI all on the way. But enjoy them while they last.

That’s because the future of the hot hatch is becoming clear, and it looks very different to what we’re driving now. After decades of building hot hatches the same way – small car, big engine – like the rest of the industry, the electric revolution is coming.

Last year Ford confirmed it wouldn’t build an RS version of the new-generation Focus because emissions standards were simply too strict to make high-performance petrol engines viable; effectively meaning the current crop of hot hatches will be the last of their kind.

“Manufacturers must meet CO2 targets,” Ford Performance Europe manager Stefan Muenzinger explained at the time. “I think the answer is somewhat yes [they will be the last of their kind]. If you do a fully conventional [Focus] RS-style product with CO2 emissions above 200g/km, that really hurts you for your overall fleet compliance. It has a negative impact due to CO2 and penalties.”

The Focus RS isn’t unique either. The French have long been leaders in the hot hatch field with iconic models such as the Peugeot 205 GTi and Renault 5 Turbo, but with the impending ban on internal combustion engines, steps have already been taken to phase out traditional hot hatches. Currently Peugeot doesn’t offer any GTi models and Renault dropped the Clio RS for the range when the latest generation launched.

But the wheels are in motion for the new future of hot hatches.

Last week Renault announced plans to restructure its Renault Sport operations under the Alpine brand, and confirmed one of the first products of this new regime will be an all-electric hot hatch.

That likely means the current Renault Megane RS is the last of its line, with the Alpine electric hatch set to replace it in the next few years (Alpine didn’t give a specific timeline).

Peugeot is also set to go down the electric hot hatch path, with the new generation 208 GTi and 308 GTi both tipped to swap petrol-power for electric motors and batteries. The French brand signalled its intention long ago too, revealing the 308 R Hybrid concept way back in 2015 that combined petrol and electric power for all-wheel-drive performance.

Now it’s finally headed for production, with reports the new 308 will get the same 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine and rear axle-mounted electric motor to create a fast but fuel-efficient hot hatch.

And it’s not just the French thinking this way either. Volkswagen has all-but confirmed plans for high-performance R versions of its upcoming ID.3 hatchback will arrive by the middle of this decade.

Even Hyundai, which has only just begun offering hot hatches, is already looking to the future. The brand has vowed to build an electrified sports car in the near future, previewed by the RM20e concept. The company has also hinted it could offer high-performance hybrid powertrains too.