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2010's hot hatchbacks offer horsepower, fun

January 5, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Hatchbacks are small but not too small. They have powerful engines that are still fuel efficient, they tend to cost less than the average new car and they have a very useful hatch on the back.These are the so-called hot hatches. They're compact cars with usefulness and fun built right in.

All-new for 2010 is the sixth generation of the Volkswagen GTI. Available as a two door or four door, it's the one that started the segment more than 25 years ago with the original GTI based on what we use to call the rabbit.

Today's GTI, part of the golf family, is a lot bigger and more refined. Under the hood is VW's small but mighty engine, a turbo four making 200 horsepower.

But it's got a competitor from Mazda that offers even more horses. The Mazhaspeed 3 has 263 horsepower and is the hotter version of the Mazda 3 that got revamped last year.

Mazdaspeed 3 has loads of features, but in keeping with the performance theme it's only available with a six-speed manual transmission.

For those who prefer an automatic, take a look at Mitsubishi. Their new hot hatch is the Lancer Sportback Ralliart. Its power almost splits the difference between the Volkswagen and Mazda with 237 turbo'd horsepower and it has no stick. You can flip the paddle shifters of the semi-automatic or just leave it in drive.

If you do drive a bit more calmly, each of these little powerhouses can return mileage into the mid-twenties.

They're all priced around the mid-twenties with the price of the average new car being around $28,000.

But there's nothing average about these little gems. They can do it all, from hauling cargo to hauling themselves down the road quickly.