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View Poll Results: Your favourite?
147 GTA 14 40.00%
WRX 13 37.14%
Cooper S 6 17.14%
Megane Turbo 2 5.71%
Voters: 35. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 11-12-2004, 12:22 AM
fpv_gtho fpv_gtho is offline
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WRX vs Megane Turbo vs Cooper S vs 147 GTA

Turn up the heat
The Sydney Morning Herald
Friday November 12 2004

The Subaru WRX has been the hot hatch king for a decade. Who'd have thought the strongest challenger yet would come from France? Bob Jennings introduces the next cult car to its rivals.

When it comes to having fun in cars, we're spoiled for choice right now. One of the best ways to put a smile on a motorist's face is with a hot hatch --they're smaller, quicker and more nimble than family sedans and there's something appealing in backing diminutive David against the hulking Goliath.

Today's hot hatch is a mature beast; like its potential buyers, who no longer need to tolerate compromises in comfort and quality in order to find performance.

The arrival of the Renault Megane Turbo has thrown the proverbial cat among the pigeons and prompted us to revisit the hot hatch batch.

We lined it up against the recently revised Mini Cooper S (the long-time yardstick of the genre), the Subaru WRX in hatch form rather than sedan (the class benchmark for performance and price) and Alfa Romeo's raucous and beguiling 147 GTA. Here's how they compared.

Alfa Romeo 147 GTA

This is the most expensive and most powerful of the group and one of the most obviously sporty, from the bodywork's huge, mesh-covered front and rear air openings, which expose hints of the mechanical componentry, to the raucous engine and exhaust notes.

It has a seriously sporting interior, too, with grippy, supportive seats. Although the cabin looks compact, there's a surprising amount of room and the tilt-and-slide mechanism of the front seats makes the back seats surprisingly accessible. There's reasonable space there, too, and the seats are well-contoured for comfort.

The new Selespeed gearbox with automatic clutch in the GTA is more robust than previous efforts, allowing more aggressive programming of the gearshift, which in turn makes its operation sharper. Paradoxically, it is smoother, especially in the automatically shifting city driving mode.

In manual mode, the shifts need to be assisted by easing the foot on the accelerator and generally it works well, although most testers said they'd rather save the $4000 it costs and drive a manual car.

At 1360kg it is lighter than the Subaru, so it's not surprising that the Alfa is a strong performer and it has the sort of tough feel which indicates it would be a good club competition car as well as a usable road car.

Being an Alfa Romeo, there are some quirks. At times the instrument panel picks up reflections which make the "acqua" and "benzina" gauges difficult to read, and on some bumpy corners the exhaust system banged against something under the car.

And the ride is uncompromisingly firm to the point of being uncomfortable on typical Australian minor roads.

For: Appearance. Lusty engine which is tractable for round town use. Roomy, comfortable interior. Sharp handling. Uncompromised character.

Against: Ride is uncomfortably harsh. Exhaust bangs against something else during hard cornering. And the front end had a mysterious groan. Selespeed takes some getting used to. Fiddly radio controls and well below average sound quality. The price.

Mini Cooper S

The least powerful and least spacious of the group but what it lacks in these departments it makes up for with its X-factor - the indefinable measure of fun. Even after a couple of years on the market, Minis still turn heads on the road and bring smiles to people's faces.

With the extras fitted to our test car, the Mini Cooper S costs almost as much as the much more seriously performing Subaru and Renault but Mini buyers aren't laying out this sort of money for performance alone; they're buying an image carefully nurtured by its maker, BMW.

The latest Cooper S has a tad more power than previously but retains its sharp reflexes.

While there is plenty of room for the driver and front seat passenger, there's woeful leg room in the back although the headroom's fine. Great if you're a shortlegged person with a tall hat ...

I particularly like the instrument layout with the satellite navigation option because the rev-counter and speedometer are grouped in two little binnacles in front of the driver, while the satnav system occupies the central-facia, circular binnacle normally occupied by the rev-counter.

While the steering and handling are spot on and the ride is fair, if a little bouncy at times, the seats lack the heavily bolstered side support of most of the others and don't locate their occupants as well.

The boot is pretty small, despite the Mini not having a spare wheel; BMW puts its faith in run-flat tyres. We admire their optimism. Of particular note is the excellent (but optional) sound system which was the best of any in the group.

For: Funky looks, inside and out. Sharp steering and handling reflexes. Reasonable performance. Sweet gearbox. Good space in the front, ample headroom in the back. Optional sound system.

Against: Minimal leg room in the back seat, which is difficult to enter and leave. Seats lack side support. No spare wheel.
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Old 11-12-2004, 12:28 AM
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henk4 henk4 is offline
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Can this be moved to the European Car Forum??
"I find the whole business of religion profoundly interesting, but it does mystify me that otherwise intelligent people take it seriously." Douglas Adams
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Old 11-12-2004, 12:29 AM
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Renault Megane Turbo

The latest player in the game and most impressive it is, too. It's a five-door hatchback - like the Subaru in this test - and its Euro-modern styling is distinctive. Opinions were divided about the bustle-back look but generally it met with approval.

It's probably not entirely coincidental that both the power and the price are almost identical to those of the Subaru and it's marginally lighter in weight.

It's no surprise, then, that the car goes hard, aided by a close-ratio six-speed gearbox, which has a nice feel.

The engine is smooth, quiet and flexible and with both its maximum power and maximum torque developed at lower engine speeds than the Subaru, it has stronger performance in every gear except first.

The re-engineered front suspension manages - with the assistance of electronic interference in the form of stability and traction controls - to get the power down

to the front wheels without too much drama in the dry. In the wet, all bets are off, and the traction control works overtime to prevent wheel spin.

When pushed hard, there's no doubting this is a front-drive car but, nevertheless, it still points well and the ride is well controlled; it's supple yet there's minimal body roll. Big front brakes with four-piston calipers ensure it stops well. There was occasional rattle from the steering rack on bumpy corners taken quickly.

The interior is well-furnished and modern-looking and has a quality feel about it. The seats are comfortable and have plenty of side support. There's good storage around the cabin.

Passenger space in the back is generally good, although the extended glass panel which is part of the glass sunroof included in the LX option package intrudes on headroom. Boot space is generous.

For: Strong performance. Excellent ride and handling. Powerful brakes. Comfortable, roomy and practical interior. Fresh appearance. Front, side and curtain airbags. Luxury feel.

Against: I'm sure the key-card which replaces the ignition key is clever but I'm not convinced it's better. Strange controls for radio and trip computer. Wet weather grip not a strong point.

Subaru WRX

The WRX has long been the yardstick of the performance-for-price equation, and rightly so, and the car's successful rally heritage shows through, especially with the trouble-free all-wheel drive system allowing the most to be made of the engine's considerable power.

The car's balance is excellent and it is both comfortable and practical, especially in the hatchback version which is $490 dearer than the sedan. It's so easy to drive it can make anyone look like a hero, hence its popularity among Sydney's high-speed criminals.

Unlike the Renault, the WRX still gives the feeling of being a cheap car with a performance makeover. You certainly wouldn't buy it on the basis of its appearance, equipment or trim.

That's not to say it's lacking in standard specifications, although it does only have two airbags (and no side airbags), a modest sound system and a five-speed gearbox. The Renault has a good sound system, six airbags and a six-speed gearbox.

Nevertheless, the WRX has a solid, unburstable feel and on the road gives the impression of being tough, competent and purposeful. It has predictable handling and strong braking and the benefits of four-wheel drive become more obvious as the road becomes more slippery.

Despite its low gearing, which has the engine spinning at around 3200rpm at 110kmh, it's quiet when cruising and fairly economical.

While the front seats are good and there is ample space inside - with adapability provided by the drop-down back seats - it's not a lavish environment. The facia is a bit spartan and the back seat passengers don't have much in the way of creature comforts.

Even in front there's not a lot of storage space and the feeling is rather utilitarian.

It could be argued that with the WRX you're buying performance and anything else is a bonus. Maybe so but the competition's getting tougher.

For: Vigorous performance. Sharp handling. Acceptable but not luxurious ride. All-wheel drive gives tremendous traction, particularly on slippery surfaces. Spacious interior and good carrying capacity. Good value.

Against: Comparatively bland and spartan interior which lacks oddments storage space, particularly in the back. Mediocre sound system.

The Verdict

The Alfa Romeo 147 GTA is in a league of its own. The most powerful of the group and out on its own in terms of raw aggression and uncompromising suspension. You just know this is going to be a fast car from the moment it starts moving and massive brakes are in keeping with the rest of the performance package. The interior doesn't let you forget what it's all about, either.

But it was first off our list for two reasons: suspension and price. As a hot hatch, it's too expensive and its suspension requires some dedication to live with. Not since the original Honda Integra Type R have we come across anything as uncomfortable over bumps.

The Mini Cooper S was next off our list because it lacked the performance of the rest of the pack and had the most cramped interior. We can still see its visual appeal, however.

That left the benchmark Subaru and the new arrival, the Renault, which came into the test as something of a sleeper. We knew Renault was capable of turning out serious hot hatches but Renault Sport's magic tweaks to the Megane still caught the Drive team by surprise.

The Renault does 95 per cent of what the WRX can do (the Subaru has the edge on grip in extreme driving conditions) but does it in 200 per cent more comfort.

The Renault's power is more accessible and it's more comfortable to drive on bumpy roads or around town. It's so responsive that, at times, it can make the WRX feel sluggish. And the Subaru's normally excellent brakes feel wooden by comparison to the Renault's race-bred Brembos, which have a wonderfully sharp bite.

In a sea of WRXs, the Renault also looks refreshingly different. It's modern and practical and a pleasant environment in which to travel.

We can already hear the sighs of disbelief but we've given the gong to the Renault by the narrowest of margins over the long-time favourite, the WRX.
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Old 11-12-2004, 12:31 AM
fpv_gtho fpv_gtho is offline
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Originally Posted by henk4
Can this be moved to the European Car Forum??

That'd be a good idea

i was making it, then when i put the 1st bit on, im looking at the top of the page and its reading "manufacturer claims > american cars" and im just like going "aaaarrrrggggh!!!" i wanted it in car comparison
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Old 11-12-2004, 12:53 AM
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personally i think that the WRX shouldnt be conmpared with the rest of those cars. the147 GTA is an amazing looking sounding and well just a great car.

ive chosen the WRX for this but with the 147 close behind
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Old 11-12-2004, 02:06 AM
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i cant go past the looks of the Cooper S personally, a bit pricey i suppose for the car and its got the least power of them all, but theres always that John Cooper Works kit
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Old 11-12-2004, 04:42 AM
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Cooper got my vote too. I usually don't like to vote for FWD's (as fpv knows) but the Cooper is like a man's Beetle, it doesn't take itself seriously and thats why I like it. The Alfa was last one my list because Alfa are a bunch of jerks. The Renault is pretty cool I have to admit (gotta love those orange seatbelts) and the WRX is a WRX... I'd rate them the same, the interior of the WRX needs a lot of forgiving...
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Old 11-12-2004, 08:38 AM
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One can't compare the WRX with the rest. It's in a different class
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Old 11-12-2004, 10:12 AM
quattro_20v quattro_20v is offline
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Originally Posted by TDI15
One can't compare the WRX with the rest. It's in a different class
Yes, it's also the one i'd choose over the others, the mini and the alfa are spoilt kids cars. And I just dont like renaults a lot with a few exeptions.
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Old 11-12-2004, 10:47 AM
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Alfa, cause I can't have one. Stupid NTSB crash tests...
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Old 11-12-2004, 12:22 PM
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only the megane and the alfa are in the same class.

the mini is one class below in size, power, speed and acceleration and the wrx is one class up in power and chassis dynamics...

of the four however its got to be the alfa. it looks so gorgeous and the sound that v6, very nice
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Old 11-13-2004, 06:00 AM
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The 147 GTA for that engine, although a Delta Integrale is a lot better. I don't like the new mini, I would definately go for the original over the new.
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Old 11-13-2004, 06:34 PM
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I'd still take the WRX out of all those. Mostly because I cant get the Alfa or Renault even if I wanted them, and the Cooper S is not only too small, it has the speedo in the middle. Yuck.
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Old 11-14-2004, 11:40 AM
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Originally Posted by jcp123
it has the speedo in the middle.
So it doesn't really matter about the class leading dynamics and handling?

The WRX is seemingly for boy-racers who have made a bit of cash selling drugs, or work in IT.

If you want to own one near where I live you can probably expect it to get stolen in an alarmingly short ammount of time.

The Megane hasn't taken a leaf out of the sublime Clio Cup's book, and isn't brilliant dynamically apparently.

The 147 GTA is made by Alfa Romeo, so that rules it out.

That leaves the Cooper. There are far too many about, and using anything but the front seats is rather optimistic, but since when were performance cars practical?

Everyone loves the performance and handling, so that'd be the one for me.
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Old 11-14-2004, 04:41 PM
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well i dont know if it was done also for the UK market, but here Subar fitted i think its a keybad ignition alarm or something like that, and its cut WRX thefts down from like over 200 or so a year to only 6
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