How To Buy One Of Top Gear’s Beloved Retro Hot Hatches

Liked Top Gear's hot hatch comparison? Here's how to buy the three classics they were inspired by...
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Top Gear compares hot hatchbacks (Image: BBC)

Top Gear compares hot hatchbacks (Image: BBC)

Catch Top Gear the other night? ‘Course you did. So you’ll have seen Hammond thrashing three new hot hatches around the TG test track, Ford’s brilliant Fiesta ST emerging the ultimate winner.

That’s all well and good, but we know what you guys are like. We’ve seen the poll results on our old versus new articles. Old always wins. You just can’t get enough of cool, retro cars.

Conveniently, TG’s spicy hatchback segment started off with three all-time classic hatchbacks – the Ford Fiesta XR2, Renault 5 GT Turbo, and Peugeot 205 GTI. The mere appearance of these icons was enough to get us scouring eBay for our own examples. But what should you look for?

1. Renault 5 GT Turbo

Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

Renault’s hotted-up hatchback is perhaps the most difficult of the trio to buy. There are fewer of them about, and those that exist tend to fall into two distinct categories: Hugely expensive minters, and horrific 1990s tuning scene refugees.

Read our review of the new Renault Clio RS EDC.

Sadly, their turbocharged engines made them a darling of the Max Power generation, and many have met their ends under tasteless plastic bodykits, mad mods and paintjobs to make your retinas puke.

Mainly, you want to be looking for signs of abuse and engine damage. Headgasket failures are common and manifest themselves as oil in the coolant, coolant in the oil and plenty of smoke. Turbos also smoke and hot running can lead to poor restarting.

Make further checks of the bodywork (has it been ricocheted between barriers on the ring road?) and suspension on your test drive. If it feels shagged, it probably is. We’d highly advise checking this excellent buying guide on Renault5GTTurbo.com for more info.

2. Ford Fiesta XR2 Mk2

xr2

Good news: Fiesta XR2s are a bit more common than turbo’d Renaults, require a little less money to get a good’un, and Ford parts grow on trees so they’re relatively cheap to fix and look after. We also know you already love them.

The bad news is that they’re another 1980s hot hatchback, with all the “benefits” that entails – crash damage, a past with more joyriders than owners, and a service history patchier than a Geordie’s spray tan.

Read our Ford Fiesta ST review.

Rust can be an issue with these old Fords, though chances are many will have been repaired by now and those that weren’t are in the great scrapyard in the sky. Make sure it’s on the original “pepperpot” alloys and not some nasty aftermarket tat. Ensure it’s had a recent cambelt change (the engine can lunch itself if it snaps), walk away from anything with a grumbling gearbox, and steer clear of anything owned by anyone called “Baz” who seems more concerned about “Wikid ICE” than the car’s mechanicals.

Fast Ford has a great buying guide on the XR2 – we suggest you have a leaf through it.

3. Peugeot 205 GTI

Image source: www.driversgeneration.com

Image source: www.driversgeneration.com

The ultimate enthusiast’s hot hatchback? The 205 GTI makes a pretty good case for it. Whether 1.6 or 1.9 the handling is sublime, both still feel quick (the 1.9 especially) and they’re far more reliable than Peugeot’s reputation would give them credit for.

Accident damage is priority number one here: GTIs have a rep for twitchy handling. It’s largely tamed by sticky modern tyres, but owners still over-drive them and more than a few will have visited the scenery at some point.

Read our review of the new Peugeot 208 GTi.

GTIs love being driven hard, but as a result you might find the previous owner has all the mechanical sympathy of a retarded monkey fixing a Rolex with a mallet. Get them to take you out for a quick spin before you buy. If they drive it like it’s 11pm in a Maccy D’s car park, walk away.

Rust isn’t a major issue on 205s, so any car with lots of rot will have a seriously dodgy past. Engines are hardy and anything regularly serviced should have plenty of life left in it, but it shouldn’t be too smoky.

Other than that, it’s all usual checks – 205s are remarkably solid things. For a more thorough buying guide, we’d highly recommend the one on 205gtidrivers.com – it goes into real detail on some of the car’s finer points.

Conclusion

So which should you buy? All of them, if you can – they’re all hot hatch legends. They’re not as quick as the moderns, but a whole lot more affordable – a good 205 GTI can be had for as little as a couple of grand, and all should be available for less than £5k.

But if you want one, be quick – all are appreciating these days, and an appearance on Top Gear is unlikely to have changed that…

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