The best 1980s hot hatchbacks you forgot

14th August 2020
Henry Biggs

We probably shouldn’t have been surprised but when we started researching the best 1980s hot hatches, well, there were a lot of them. The usual suspects from Ford, Volkswagen and Peugeot were there of course but digging a little deeper we found a host of cars that were no less fun in their day but have now fallen out of our collective car consciousness. So, here is our list of the best 1980s hot hatchbacks you forgot.

Read about the birth of the hot hatch in the 1970s here.


1983 Lancia Delta HF

Pretty obvious why this hasn’t stuck in the memory. It’s nothing to do with the car’s abilities and everything about the innumerable plaudits and prizes its big brother the Integrale collected (we’ll be covering homologation hot hatches later in this series). In keeping with Lancia’s ethos of innovative engineering the Delta was, for a family hatchback, ahead of its time thanks to features such as fully independent suspension, rack and pinion steering, all-alloy, fuel-injected engines and luxuries such as air-conditioning. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro at Italdesign and launched in 1979 in scooped the European Car of the Year prize in 1980.

The Delta HF, for ‘High Fidelity’ which had been used on Lancia sports and racing cars since the 1960s, gained a turbocharged – but still carburetted – 1.6-litre engine producing 130PS (96kW), a five-speed gearbox, retuned suspension and fatter rubber. In keeping with Lancia’s trend for understatement, this was perhaps the subtlest of the 1980s hot hatches with silver ‘HF’ and ‘Turbo’ badges, blacked out trim and discreet spoilers. Although in 1984 you could buy a special edition with a Martini stripe to celebrate the Lancia 037’s rally victories. Two years later however and the car gained an all-wheel-drive system based on the Delta S4’s, was renamed the HF Turbo 4WD and began morphing into the legendary Integrale.

Engine and transmission

1.6-litre turbocharged inline-four, five-speed manual, front-wheel-drive


130PS (96kW)/191Nm (141lb ft)


8.7 seconds (est.)

Top speed



1985 Fiat Uno Turbo i.e.

Another Guigiaro-designed, Italian-built hatchback, another European Car of the Year award, this time in 1983. The Italians can obviously imbue their shopping cars with the same brio as their supercars. The titchy Uno was no exception thanks to a fuel-injected, turbocharged and intercooled 1.3-litre engine producing 106PS (78kW), enough to see it hit 127mph.

A lot less subtle than the Lancia, the Uno Turbo is almost the epitome of what we think of as the Eighties hot hatch look; black plastic airdam, wheel arch extensions and boot spoiler, foglamps, side graphics and polished alloy wheels. It was even available with red seatbelts and a digital dashboard. Also optional was a rudimentary anti-lock braking system. This operated only on the front wheels and if triggered the ignition had to be turned off and on again to reset the system. 

Engine and transmission

1.3-litre turbocharged inline-four, five-speed manual, front-wheel-drive


106PS (96kW)/146Nm (108lb ft)


8.4 seconds (est.)

Top speed



1986 Alfa Romeo 33 QV

We had considered that the Fiat Strada Abarth 130TC was the last hot hatchback to utilise carburettors rather than fuel injection but it seems that Alfa Romeo went soldiering on with them until the 1990s. The 1980s was not a standout decade for the storied marque – the less said about the Alfa Arna the better – but I had a later model 33 Cloverleaf which certainly felt like an Alfa Romeo to fling around.

The Quadrifoglio Verde (Green Cloverleaf) variant was originally introduced in 1984 with a twin-carburettor 1.5-litre version of the 33’s boxer flat-four, whose low profile reduced the car’s centre of gravity. But it’s actually the facelifted 1986 model, with a larger 1.7-litre – but still sucking its air and fuel down mechanically – that we are writing about here. Pronounced bumpers, side skirts, chucky alloy wheels and rear boot lid spoiler gave it the hot hatch look that its predecessor lacked and 118PS (87kW) helped it move down the road like an Alfa Romeo should.

Engine and transmission

1.7-litre boxer flat-four, five-speed manual, front-wheel-drive


118PS (87kW)/152Nm (112lb ft)


9.0 seconds (est.)

Top speed



1987 Citroën BX GTI 16V

Mention a big brother to the Peugeot 205 GTi and most people think of the 309 GTi, often held to be the better handling and more practical of the two, thanks to its longer wheelbase. Indeed, it was going to make this list but we actually don’t think it is particularly overlooked anymore. Citroën however, its pioneering use of front-wheel-drive notwithstanding was not on the typical hot hatch buyer’s radar at the time. Hydropneumatic suspension, a single-spoke steering wheel and pinstripe velour don’t really scream performance admittedly but the BX GTi, in 16-valve form at least, could deliver.

It was in fact the first French production car to be fitted with a multivalve head, one-upping the 205 whose 1.9-litre engine it had borrowed and significantly increasing its power count to 160PS (118kW). True, it rolled more than most but absorbed mid-corner bumps with aplomb and the same hydraulics allowed for a super swift steering rack. Along with a close ratio gearbox this all allowed the BX GTi to make surprisingly swift cross-country progress. And its angular Marcello Gandini body just suits the ‘80s performance addenda perfectly. It looks especially good when slammed to the ground, again thanks to that suspension, when parked.

Engine and transmission

1.9-litre inline-four, five-speed manual, front-wheel-drive


158PS (118kW)/181Nm (133lb ft)


8.6 seconds (est.)

Top speed



1988 Daihatsu Charade GTti

No, we didn’t mistakenly add an extra letter, the additional ‘t’ denotes the fact that this tiny supermini was actually turbocharged. It was in fact the world’s most powerful 1.0-litre production engine for quite some time. Just 993cc, divided between three-cylinders, with dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and a turbocharger produced 101PS (74kW) and only had 800kg to move around. Little wonder that the little wonder could apparently hit 60mph in sub seven seconds.

The cars developed in conjunction with DeTomaso and sold using the Italian marque’s name in some markets. There was even a mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive prototype with 120PS developed for Group B rallying but the project was canned when Group B was cancelled. Imagine seeing that flying through the fields like a demented Postman Pat van.

Engine and transmission

1.0-litre turbocharged inline-three, five-speed manual, front-wheel-drive


101PS (74kW)/130Nm (96lb ft)


7.7 seconds (est.)

Top speed



1989 MG Maestro Turbo

The words ‘British Leyland’ probably still strike fear into the hearts of former owners and mechanics across Britain but perhaps we are being a bit lazy with our stereotyping. The Maestro, introduced in 1982, actually introduced to Britain a number of innovations we now take for granted. A laminated windscreen, body-coloured bumpers, electronic engine management, adjustable front seat belts, 60-40 folding rear seats and impressive 12,000-mile service intervals.

Well received but not the seller that BL hoped, the first attempt at warming it up with a 1.6-litre, twin-carb engine was not a success with cold start and rough power delivery caused by the two Webers. A 2.0-litre, fuel injected replacement in 1984 gave the car more of a fighting chance against the Golf GTI and Ford XR3. But it was the limited edition MH Maestro Turbo that really impressed. Returning to carburettors might seem like a retrograde step but the addition of a turbocharger kicked power up to 152PS, slashing its 0-60mph time to under seven seconds. A Tickford-designed bodykit helped it look the part but sales remained sluggish and it was dropped in 1991 after just two years on sale.

Engine and transmission

2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four, five-speed manual, front-wheel-drive


152PS (112kW)/229Nm (169lb ft)


6.7 seconds (est.)

Top speed


  • List

  • Lancia

  • Delta

  • Fiat

  • Uno

  • Citroen

  • BX

  • Daihatsu

  • Charade

  • MG

  • Maestro

  • Alfa Romeo

  • 33

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