Has the boy racer finally grown up?

November 1, 2016

Hot hatches – sporty small cars with a powerful engines – were once the preserve of “petrol head” car fans, but are fast becoming a mainstream choice for car-buyers who are a far cry from the stereotypical “boy racer”.

New research shows the average hot hatch buyer is now in their forties, compared to 2010 when the average buyer was in their late thirties. The findings also reveal that 8 per cent more women were buying hot hatches last year compared to five years previously.

Hot hatch sales are booming and customers buying practical performance models are increasingly ranking equipment levels and compact size as key purchase decisions.

In the UK alone, Ford has sold more than 35,000 Focus RS, Focus ST, and Fiesta ST current generation models, which offer technologies including Ford SYNC, Quickclear windscreens and heated seats.

At Ford, our futurist and global consumer trends manager, Sheryl Connelly, has identified a trend for durable products with multiple functions and says it is the desire for a “Swiss Army Life”.

“The Swiss Army Life is all about self-reliance. In response to the trend, consumers are increasingly drawn to products that deliver in terms of versatility, adaptability and utility,” Connelly said.

“Perhaps this is even more true for Millennials who seem to be pioneering new paths and are careful to invest in products that can take them through many different lifestyles and life stages.”

The Ford Fiesta XR2 was at the infancy of the hot hatch trend 35 years ago, when the popularity of practical models built for speed first began to grow. Early hot hatches offered levels of comfort very different to those now available to customers in the market for a Ford performance hot hatch.

While the majority of hot hatch buyers are still male, Sarah Stringfellow, from Brentwood, is typical of the new customers who confound stereotypes. The 31-year-old, from Brentwood, Essex drives a top specification Focus ST.

“It appealed as it was fast, looked great and wasn’t too big, with plenty of room for shopping or luggage for weekends away. What I hadn’t expected was the real sense of luxury inside,” she said.

“Of course, it’s the power and the way it drives that I really love. In fact, I’m now beginning to hanker after a Focus RS!”

Ford Focus RS

To further meet demand for more practical performance models, Ford has for the first time launched a five-door version of the Fiesta ST, as well as a new ST-Line range of models that boast sporty styling with a choice of powerful and fuel-efficient petrol and diesel engines. ST-Line models include Fiesta, Focus, Mondeo and the recently announced new Ford Kuga.

Dealer SMC Ford, in Gravesend, in Kent, has noticed a real change in the customers who are buying today’s hot hatches.

“We’ve often dealt with customers saying they wanted a sporty looking vehicle, but less attractive equipment levels and reduced practicality can put all but the true hot hatch enthusiasts off,” said Andy Lee, General Manager.

“Ford now offers products that meet their needs, and customers are realising this. With the ST-Line models we can even help those who struggle to insure an ST or RS to still have something sportier, and they’re proving popular already.”

Of course, the boy racer hasn’t disappeared completely. Die-hard hot hatch fans, and drivers who could not afford a hot hatch in their younger years, continue to pile through the showroom doors. And then there are boy racers who have grown up. There was a time when having children and other responsibilities meant leaving their beloved three-door hot hatches behind, but not anymore.

fiestast-redfront

“There remains a hardcore of hot hatch fans who believe nothing with more than three doors is worthy of the description, but as the market, and buyers, have matured I think there’s less of a stigma attached to the five-door bodystyle,” said Dan Trent, editor of popular car enthusiast website Pistonheads, who has previously voiced his thoughts on the demise of three-door hot hatches.

“I’m a perfect example – now I have kids I couldn’t run a three-door car and if a five-door version is the difference between having a hot hatch or not, then I’m all for it!”

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