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Ford Escort Mk5 XR3i (1992-1996)
As with the Mk3 Golf GTI below, the XR3i has one of the best badges in the hot-hatch business. Yet also as with the Golf, the 1990s XR3i had little in common with the original in terms of its performance credentials.
Where the Golf GTI versus Escort XR3 battle had raged among true hot hatches just a decade earlier, now the same debate had been relegated to the warm hatch class. Both were available as three-door hatches or as cabriolets, both appealed to the same sort of people – but neither was at the top of the game anymore.
The Mk5 Escort isn’t the best of the breed, but the XR3i model came after the first wave of improvements had been made by Ford in response to a panning from the press. As such, it’s not a bad car to drive – its 1.6-litre CVH offered plenty of grunt for its size, even if it wasn’t up there with the RS2000 model. The XR sub-brand is very collectable, and this is undoubtedly the cheapest way to get in on the trend while they’re still (relatively) affordable.
Citroen AX GT (1989-1992)
The Citroen AX GT is light, economical, cheap to run and – thanks largely to its light weight – huge fun to drive. Values have soared in recent times as good examples get fewer and further between, however.
Later AX GTis are worth even more – so stick to the warm hatch GT – or the similar five-door GT5 model – for more attainable thrills. It’s still brisk enough, reaching 60mph in nine seconds, and a top speed well into three figures.
Volkswagen Golf GTI 8V Mk3 (1992-1998)
The Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk3 is the unloved GTI, and the 8V is especially unloved – thanks in no small part to its slightly numb character and considerable weight.
But while many see it as an affront to the badge, it’s still an excellent warm hatch – with a tight chassis and plenty of grunt for everyday use. It had a bigger and more powerful engine than the Mk2 GTI – it was just heavier. As the Golf had matured, it had piled on the pounds and with the Mk3 GTI tipping the scales at over 1000kg, the effect of all that power had been slightly dulled.
Mk3 GTI values are rising, though there hasn’t yet been the pronounced upward curve that the MK1 and Mk2 models have seen so far. If we were looking to invest in a Golf GTI right now, the Mk3 would be the one we’d predict the best percentage return for.
MG ZR105 (2002-2005)
The MG ZR was a very clever bit of marketing on the part of MG Rover. Targeted unashamedly at a younger audience, MG Rover had realised that young men in the early 2000s liked fitting bodykits to their cars.
MG sold the MG ZR in a pre-kitted state in order to allow buyers to enjoy a performance look without the resultant increase in insurance premiums for modifying their pride and joy. While the market understandably favours the 158bhp ZR160 with its 1.8-litre VVC engine, the ZR105 was far more popular in period – thanks to an easy-to-insure 1.4-litre engine that secured its warm hatch status.
Loads were sold, and that of course means that finding examples of this brilliant little warm hatch today is relatively easy – and the oversupply means they’re still attainable.