Since the Renault Megane RS Trophy set its 8:07.97 lap of the Nurburgring North Loop in 2011, hot-hatch manufacturers have been working fiendishly to one-up each other. The latest front-wheel drive warrior to set a new record is the Honda Civic Type-R, but the past few years have been such a record-breaking rollercoaster we thought it was worth taking a look at the hyper-hatches that have lapped before it.
2014 Seat Leon Cupra
Seat has a small, er, seat at the table in the world of hot hatches, but the Leon Cupra punches well above its weight on the Nurburgring. Thanks in part to its powerful 280-hp (209-kW) engine, the angular Spaniard set a 7:58.4 time around the track back in 2014 to sit at number five on this list.
To make sure it could stand up to the Green Hell, as the fearsome German track is known, the team at Seat also gave the Cupra a set of 30 mm (1.2 in) bigger brakes, and special 19-inch wheels finished in an eye-searing shade of orange. The record-setting car also made use of sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.
2014 Renault Megane R.S. 275 Trophy-R
Although it started the Great Hot Hatch Pissing Contest back in 2011, Renault has been slowly sliding down the ladder to fourth place since the Trophy-R set its 7:54.36 time in 2014.
Compared to some of the other cars on this list, the Megane is a bit of a one-trick pony. Unlike the stock Civic, the Trophy-R has been relieved of its rear seats and air-con unit, both of which contribute to a massive 100 kg (220 lb) weight saving over the standard car. Renault has also gone to the trouble of fitting a roll cage, finished in red to match the wheels, front splitter and stickers.
2014 Honda Civic Type-R
The turbocharged 2014 Civic Type-R signaled a huge departure from the formula that had always underpinned hot Hondas, so the company decided to compensate by making it the fastest, wildest, most over-the-top hot hatch the world had ever seen.
With its four-cylinder engine producing 306 hp (226 kW), and a chassis set up to prioritize flat-out driving above all else, it should come as no surprise the Type-R set a storming 7:50.63 time around the Nurburgring. Along with its prodigious power, the Type-R benefits from a sophisticated aerodynamics package that, according to Honda, actually creates downforce at high speed.
A clever dual-axis front suspension helped put the power to the road without torque steer, and drivers could tweak power delivery and steering weight using the +R button on the dash. We can only assume the car was in maximum attack mode when it set the record...
2016 VW Golf GTI Clubsport S
Volkswagen is widely credited with creating the hot hatch, but the Golf GTI has never really been about outright track performance. Instead, it chases the middle ground, aiming to balance weekend fun with comfort and convenience for the daily commute. As you can probably imagine, comfort and convenience don't make for fast Nurburgring lap times, so the team at VW created the stripped-out Clubsport S to take on the Civic's time.
Like the Megane Trophy-R in fourth-place on our list, the Clubsport S was put on a crash diet for its record tilt. The rear seats were removed, and VW replaced the standard wheels with lightweight units wrapped in sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. The turbo four-cylinder under the hood was boosted from 203 to 228 kW (272 to 306 hp), and the seat belts are now finished with a red stripe down the middle – which as everyone knows, is good for a couple of extra mph.
The result is a 7:49.21 lap time, narrowly faster than the Honda Civic Type-R.
2017 Honda Civic Type-R
Finally, we've arrived at the new king of Nordschleife performance. The team at Honda has upped the ante for its new Type-R, which stormed home in 7:43.80. That's 5.4 seconds faster than the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S, from a car with four doors and rear seats. Pretty impressive, right?
What the Civic Type-R has going for it is weight, or a lack thereof. Even though it has the same 306 hp (226 kW) as the outgoing Type-R, Honda has managed to shed 35 kg (77 lb) from its curb weight for 2017. The new car also ditches the torsion beam rear suspension in favour of a more sophisticated multi-link setup.
As always, there is likely to be some conjecture about the validity of the Type-R lap time, but Honda is adamant there was no funny business going on. The company says the development car used for the record attempt was on stock tires, and the (necessary) floating roll cage was set up so it didn't contribute any extra stiffness.
The video below shows the full lap from go to whoa as captured by the in-car camera.
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