90s supercars v today’s hot hatches

Car technology has developed at such a rapid pace that many of the cars that were hallowed for their speed have been matched by everyday hot hatches. Back when I was 10, I couldn’t fathom just how fast things would move. The Ayrton Senna-tuned Honda NSX, the Ferrari-beater of its time, put out 276bhp, a feat that most hot hatches from the SEAT Leon Cupra to the Mercedes-AMG A 45, match with ease these days.

While it’s true today’s hot hatches don’t have the outright speed to keep up with the likes of Jaguar’s XJ220, Ferrari’s F40, or even Porsche 911s, they match, and sometimes, outdo these venerable monsters in terms of power, 0-60mph times, and lap times. To see just how closely matched they are, I’ve chosen three of my favourite 90s supercars and compared them to the three fastest front-wheel drive hot hatches.

Jaguar XJ220 v Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

Jaguar XJ220 and Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubport S
The Jaguar XJ220 above and the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubport S below. (Image source: Wikipedia Commons and Volkswagen press site)

The Jaguar XJ220, the fastest production car from 1994 to 1998 (until the McLaren F1 stole its crown), was powered by a twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 engine developing 540bhp and 475lb-ft (644Nm) of twisting force. It was capable of pushing the XJ220s exquisitely designed 1470kg body to 60mph in a claimed 3.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 213mph (341kmph). While it did as poorly as the McLaren F1 in terms of sales, Jaguar’s supercar set a blistering 7 minute 46 second time at the Nurburgring in 1991. Despite complaints that the car was utterly impractical due to its size, lack of space, and (typical of Jaguars then) refinement issues, the engine managed to deliver 32 miles to the gallon (11.36kmpl).

Launched to commemorate 40 years of the Golf GTI, the ballistic Golf GTI Clubsport S took over as the fastest front-wheel drive car around the Green Hell just last year, posting a time of 7 minutes and 47 seconds, just about a second slower than the mighty XJ220. The ubiquitous EA888 turbocharged 2-litre four-cylinder mill puts out 306bhp and 280lb-ft (380Nm). It propels the 1360kg hot hatch to 62mph in 5.8 seconds and 165mph. Even though it is handicapped by its lack of outright power, the Golf manages to nearly keep up with a car that was more than 12 times its price when new.

Lamborghini Diablo v Honda Civic Type R

Lamborghini Diablo and Honda Civic Type R.
The bonkers Diablo and the madcap Civic Type R. (Image source: Wikipedia Commons & Honda press site)

Another supercar that adorned my computer as a desktop background was the bonkers Lamborghini Diablo. I mean how can you not love a car named for the devil? The massive 5.7-litre V12 engine developed a stonking 485bhp and 428lb-ft (580Nm) of torque, and propelled this sexy devil to 62mph in 4.5 seconds, hit a top speed of 202mph (305kmph), and lap the track at Nordschleife in 8 minutes and 4 seconds! A point to remember is that the Lamborghinis of the time weren’t about pure speed in the same way that Ferraris were. They were more about being as loud as possible, in more ways than just the exhaust note.

For nearly two years, Honda’s new Civic Type R was the fastest front-wheel drive car around the famous German circuit. Lapping it in 7 minutes and 50 seconds, the turbocharged 2-litre VTEC engine produces 306bhp and 295lb-ft (400Nm) and manages an impressive 0-62mph sprint time of just 5.7 seconds, while topping out at 167mph (267kmph).

Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale v Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy-R 

Ferrari 360 Modena, 360 Challenge Stradale, and Renaultsport Megane 275 Trophy-R
The Ferrari 360 Modena with its hardcore Challenge Stradale sibling above and the Megane 275 Trophy-R below. (Image source: Ferrari press site & Renault press site)

To give you an idea of just how far car technology has come in the span of a decade, I’ve pitted the 2003 special hardcore Challenge Stradale version of the Ferrari 360 against Renault’s Megane RS 275 Trophy-R. The last hurrah for the 360 before it was replaced by the F430, Ferrari gave everything it could at the time to make it the ultimate track day champion. The 3.6-litre V8 engine put out 20bhp more than the standard Modena at 420bhp, along with 275lb-ft (373Nm). A 0-60mph of time of 4 seconds aided the 7 minute 56 second lap time around the Nurburgring and it also went on till 176mph (283kmph) before running out of steam.

Renaultsport has a history of churning out brilliant little firecrackers from the Turbo 5 to the Clio RS. They tuned the already mad 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine to make 271bhp and 266lb-ft (361Nm), gave it better tyres, brakes and suspension and removed more than 100kg of weight to create a record breaking lap (it broke the SEAT Leon Cupra’s record and then lost the title to the Civic Type R) of 7 minutes and 54 seconds!

All these hot hatches cost less than a tenth of the corresponding supercars and offer the same amount of thrills. Sure the supercars have the star power and looks to-die-for, yet the hot hatches give them a run for their money in terms of performance and driving excitement. Even though I am a hot hatch enthusiast, I’m definitely not saying that I wouldn’t choose to drive the older supercars over the hot hatches if given the chance. I am saying that 2030 might see regular hot hatches go faster than today’s supercars like the Lamborghini Aventador or Ferrari’s LaFerrai. It’s almost a scary thought!


2 thoughts on “90s supercars v today’s hot hatches

  1. I somewhat understand what you mean by cheating. The Civic Type R that made the lap record didn’t have a front seat, air conditioning or audio equipment, and so is not exactly production spec.
    Similar to how Subaru can claim rally-potential in its Impreza or how Audi could claim engineering derived from its WEC-spec car, it’s all a marketing gimmick…. albeit an interesting one.


  2. Maybe Ferrari and Lamborghini didn’t cheat back then? Car was a real production car and tyres weren’t ultra sticky compound with barely visible threads? I’m very skeptic about those FWD times, and if they really can do 20.6km Nordschleife lap under 8 minutes with normal tyres, that is a miracle.

    Liked by 1 person

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