In the trouser-searing world of performance cars, the Germans are known for making considerably-more-than-reasonably-priced sports cars (and wagons), while the French are famous for making wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing hot hatches.
However, these stereotypes don’t mean they can’t try new things.
Leaving the Golf GTI and the Scirocco R on the bench, the exploits of the newest German hatches — the BMW M135i and the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG — are already pretty well-known. Both are small in size, have more than 300 horsepower, and are quick enough to cause hyperventilation. Toss in the Audi RS3 and there you have it: three piping hot hatches, all a great deal of fun, and all quintessentially German.
Although these Deustche cars might constitute a new niche – the super hatch – they’re still hot hatches, and because of that occupy a category that has (in the past) been dominated by the French.
With cars such as the Clio RS, the Renaultsport Megane 265 and now the Peugeot 208 GTI, the French have held the hot hatch world by the scruff of the neck since… before I was born.
Each new hot hatch gets reviewed against whatever le tricolore has to offer, because the French know how to make superminis so tantalisingly hot they’ve become the benchmark for balance, feel and the joie de vivre of driving.
If you’ve paid much attention to the latest news, you’ll be aware that French automakers such as Peugeot and Renault have both spent a good deal of time in firmly rooted in the headlines.
Sébastien Loeb and his Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak rewrote history at this year’s Race to The Clouds, while Renault announced the rebirth of the Alpine brand through its new JV sports car project with Caterham. While the new Peugeot RCZ R, unveiled at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, means the French have received a good deal more than their (allotted) fifteen minutes of fame.
With the soon-to-come RCZ R and Alpine-Caterham collaboration, the French are doing for mid-sized sports cars what the Germans have in recent years achieved with the hot hatch; first dipping their big toe into the water, then their entire foot.
But this all begs the question: is a change of hands beginning to unfold in the performance car market? This writer likes to think so, since there is absolutely no denying how well German car makers have brought their expertise in building über-saloons, down to do-wellers in skinny jeans.
The French, on the other hand, have done the reverse. After showing the world what can be done with a discreet hatchback and a mild dose of insanity, they’re aiming for customers with slightly larger pockets and a penchant for two-door coupés.
So are French car makers merely copying the Germans, or is the entente cordiale between both country’s brands about to turn frosty?
Peugeot’s RCZ R has its cross-hairs set firmly on Audi’s TTS, while Alpine’s new sports car is undoubtedly looking for a slice of the action enjoyed by the Porsche Cayman (especially considering they’re using a Lotus Exige as their test mule), so clearly the French have designs on their neighbour’s market and are learning how to offer something similar with an added dose of French flair.
But let’s not get too carried away just yet, thus far nobody has reviewed the RCZ R and the Alpine-Caterham sports car is still several years away. We don’t even know what it will look like, far less how it will perform. Yet it’s clear that we will soon see French car makers trying new things and who would bet against them, given what they’ve achieved with the hot hatch.
I hark back to my earlier foot-in-water metaphor. Given that a foot in the water is usually the precursor to some waist-deep-wading, these early forays might lead to a full-blown immersion with a stream of mid-sized French sports cars arriving some time in the near future.
That sounds a very promising development, don’t you think? Now if only we could buy these cars in the States…