Wednesday, April 22, 2020

European hatchbacks: first in a series.

The selection of econoboxes in North America in the late 80's and early 90's wasn't a wide one.There were a few domestic models but most were captive imports such as the Ford Festiva and Dodge Colt or models directly from Honda, Toyota and the like. Cities and towns are generally spread over long distances in North America so cars, and trucks for that matter, tended towards the large size for comfort and because we had the room! Such is not the case in Europe. Towns and cities are much closer together, countries smaller and the continent is more densely populated. If you took a twelve hour drive in Canada or the US you wouldn't leave Canada or the US. A twelve hour drive in Europe, for example from Amsterdam to Milan could have you  in a total of six countries; Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Italy! That's part of the reason that the majority of cars in Europe tend to be smaller. Combine that with the high cost of fuel and the result was, and still is, a much larger selection of cars that would fit into the econobox category. 

European econobox and hot hatch
This is the first of four posts coming over the next couple of months that will feature a number of those econoboxes, and their "hot hatch" variants, not available in the North American market. These will be models available from the late 80s until the mid to late 90s manufactured in France, the UK, Italy and Japan!

To start things off may I introduce the Alfa Romeo 145. First introduced in 1994 to replace the aging Alfa Romeo 33, this three door hatch was available with four cylinder eight valve boxer engines from 1.4l - 1.7l and an inline four cylinder 1.9l diesel. In 1997 the boxer engines were replaced with inline fours ranging from 1.4l to 2.0l.

Alfa Romeo 145. Photo sourced at
In its most basic spec the 145's 1.4l, 8 valve four cylinder engine produced 90hp. It took 12.5 seconds to reach 100kph on its way to a top speed of 178khp (111 mph). That's actually the fastest of the econobox verisions of the cars I've picked for this series as you'll see in upcoming posts!

For the '98-'00 model years the hot hatch version of the Alfa 145 was introduced. It was labelled Quadrifoglio in most markets, Cloverleaf in the UK and according to Alex Robbins, writing in an August 2019 Drive Tribe article, it was  "the 90's hot hatch everyone forgot". 
Its engine bay was home to a 2.0l DOHC 16 valve engine producing 150hp. Its top speed was 210kph (131mph) and it reached 100kph in 8.4 seconds which is almost the slowest of the hot hatches in this series of posts!

Alfa Romeo 145 Quadrafoglio

Next on the list is the Ford Fiesta Mk3. This version of the Fiesta was available from 1989 until 1997 replacing the previous generation that had been in production since 1983. The first generation Fiesta was available in North America from 1978 until 1980. The model reappeared on this side of the pond in 2009 when Ford introduced the Mk6 which itself has been superseded by the Mk7. The Festiva is often misidentified as a Fiesta... but that's a topic for a future post!

Ford Fiesta MK3 from
Back to the Mk3... in its lowest trim levels it was equipped with a 1.1l eight valve inline four producing 50hp. That was enough to propel its 826kg/1821lbs from 0-100kph in 18.1 seconds and its top speed was 143kph (89mph). There were variants sporting gasoline engines up to 1.8l or a 1.8l diesel. There was a five door version offered along with a small van which evolved into the Courier. The hot hatch version of the Fiesta, the RS Turbo, reached showrooms in mid-1990. The suspension was upgraded as were the brakes and the interior sported a pair of Recaro seats. Its 1.6l eight valve engine with forced induction courtesy of a Garrett T-2 turbocharger produced 131hp, 100kph was reached in 8.2 seconds and the top speed was 214kph (133mph) which puts it in the top half of the group of hatches in this series. Three spoke alloy wheels, quad fog/driving lights and added vents in the hood were some of the more visible changes over the econobox version.

Ford Fiesta MK3. Photo credit in properties.

Color choices were limited to red,white, black and grey with silver being added to the options for the 1992 model year. In 1997 the MK3 was replaced with the MK4 which had a markedly different body style. In a bit of a twist this model was also marketed as a Mazda 121, which was the Ford Festiva's twin ten years earlier. 

Follow these links to some more on the Alfa and Fiesta:

What are your favorite econoboxes, or hot hatches, from this era? Leave a comment below and come back in a couple of weeks for part 2 of the Euro hatch series. Next week... it's not a Fiesta!

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