We'll start off with one of the most recent mid-engined hatchbacks, the Volkswagen GTI W12 650 concept. VW rolled out the concept for the brand faithful in 2007 at the GTI Festival in Wörthersee, , having whipped it up in no time. The formula was simply insane: a Golf with the rear seats ripped out and replaced by a twin-turbo, six-liter W12, driving a whopping 650 horsepower and 530 lb-ft of torque through a faux-paddle-shifted six-speed automatic to the rear wheels. To keep the spooled twelve cool, the boys from Wolfsburg added all manner of ducts and fans, making the W12 650 concept the meanest-looking GTI ever. And while it was purely a concept car, the GTI W12 actually ran, and ran fast. Mercy.
#2 Austin/Rover/MG Metro 6R4 Group B rally car
Rally cars may seem like powerful beasts today, but today's WRC and S2000 machines pale in comparison to the rally equipment of the 70's and 80's. Among the most insane were in Group B, a formula so dangerous it claimed several fatalities and the handle "killer B's" before the FIA killed off the class after only four years. But between 1982 and 1984, a whole slew of mid-engined hatchbacks were made by a variety of automakers' racing departments. There were too many to include them all, but the list includes the Daihatsu Charade De Tomaso 926R, Lada Samara EVA, Lancia Delta S4, Moskvich 2141-KR, Peugeot 106 & 205 T16, Renault 5 Turbo, Skoda 130LR and Talbot Horizon. What you see above, however, is the Metro 6R4. Developed by Williams Grand Prix Engineering, the Metro 6R4 bore only a passing resemblance to the staid budget hatch on which it was ostensibly based. It alternatively wore Austin, Rover or MG badges under the British Leyland umbrella, and drove up to 380 horsepower from its mid-mounted 3-liter DOHC quattrovalve V6 to all four wheels. The engine was so advanced that it ended up, in twin-turbo form, powering the Jaguar XJ220 supercar.
#3 Renaultsport Clio V6
Nobody does hot hatches like Renault, and the French automaker's sport division has cranked out their fair share of mid-engined monsters. You'll see more of 'em farther down the list, but we'll start with the Renaultsport Clio V6. Like most of the others in this compilation, the Clio V6 started as a fairly ordinary budget hatchback, but from there all bets were off. The same gearheads responsible for Renault's many F1 titles dropped a V6 into the little hatchback's trunk and tuned up the suspension to proper performance standards with a little help from Tom Walkinshaw Racing. The 3-liter V6 drove 252hp to the rear wheels, which propelled the Clio V6 to sixty in 5.9 seconds. Poor power-to-weight meant that the mid-engined version wasn't much faster than the more conventional Clio 172 Cup on which it was based, but the bottom line is that the Clio V6 is the only one here that was actually offered commercially. And that's why we love it.
#4 Sbarro Ferrari Super 8
While most of the crazy hatchbacks on this list were converted from ordinary hatchbacks into exotic supercars, our fourth entry went the other way. Conceived and executed by the enigmatic Franco Sbarro, the Super Eight was unveiled at the 1984 Geneva auto show. Sbarro started with a Ferrari 308 GTB, with a shortened frame and custom bodywork. The standard 3-liter 260hp V8 drove through a five-speed manual to...you guessed it...the rear wheels. Only one example was said to have been built, in follow up to the Super Twelve that was powered by two Kawasaki 6-cylinder motorbike engines.
#5 Ford Festiva SHOgun
As far as budget hatchbacks go, the Kia-built Ford Festiva was about as ordinary as they came. The perfect car, then, to turn into an exotic, and hot-rodders Chuck Beck and Rick Titus did exactly that. Replacing the standard four-banger, Beck and Titus took the Yamaha-developed 3-liter V6 from the Ford Taurus SHO and dropped it behind the front seats. The requisite chassis mods followed, and hilarity ensued. The car could hit 60 in 4.6 seconds, cover the quarter mile in 12.9 and reach 1g of lateral acceleration. Only seven examples were made, each of them in a different color. Jay Leno owns the silver one, and it just so happens that it's the car he drove to work the day he replaced Johnny Carson. (Photo courtesy of Jay Leno's Garage.)
#6 Renault Megane Trophy concept
We were on hand when Renault pulled the sheet off this concept car at this year's Paris auto salon, and it has presence to spare. Although billed as a concept, the Megane Trophy was tipped to preview the new spec racer for the World Series by Renault. The French automaker, indisputable king of the mid-engined hatch, said the car was capable of lapping the track about as fast as a Porsche 911 GT3, which is quite a benchmark. Based on the new Megane III, the Trophy featured a 3.5-liter Nissan-sourced V6 driving 360 horsepower to the rear wheels through a six-speed sequential. And man, what a body.
#7 Nissan Micra R
Nissan picked up the torch in 2004 with the Micra R concept, packing a 265hp race-spec engine in the trunk that could propel the one-off to sixty mph in under five seconds and on to a top speed in excess of 150 mph, which was assuredly a terrifying prospect in a little hatchback like the Micra that's more used to curbing outside the shoestore or taking adolescent schoolgirls to class.
#8 Toyota Aygo Crazy
This past summer, Toyota proved that the mid-engined hatch was still alive and well with the Aygo Crazy. The car essentially crossed a micro-hatch with an MR2, placing a turbocharged 1.8-liter four in the back, surrounded by a roll cage, but no power brakes, power steering, traction control or ABS. 197 horsepower in a 1000kg package was good enough for a spring to sixty in less than six seconds. And while it was a bold statement for Toyota to build the concept, it wasn't bold enough to actually offer it to the public.
#9 MTM Audi TT Bimoto
Our penultimate entry pushes the boundaries of even this extreme sub-segment. Unlike the factory-prepared competition and concept cars populating most of the rest of this list, this unique Audi was built by an aftermarket tuner. And instead of moving the front engine on the standard model to the back, MTM opted to supplement it with a second engine. The pair of 1.8-liter turbo fours drove 505 horsepower through a pair of six-speed manuals to all four wheels, propelling the special TT to a Nardo speed record of 245 mph, hitting sixty in 3.1 seconds along the way.
#10 Matra Murena
In the 1960's and 70's, Chrysler undertook an ill-fated foray into the European market by acquiring a handful of small brands in England, France and Spain. The mid-engined Matra Bagheera was one of their products, but plagued by rust, it was replaced by the Murena - the first production vehicle to feature a galvanized steel spaceframe, overlaid with composite body panels. By the time the Murena had reached production, however, the brand was sold to Peugeot parent company PSA. The Murena featured three-across seating, but unlike mid-engined exotica like the McLaren F1, the seats were arrayed in a bench with conventional offset steering and a middle seat that folded flat into an arm-rest. The Murena ceased production after only three years on the market after Chrysler sold its European assets and the factory that produced the Murena switched to producing the Espace minivan, initiated by Chrysler but acquired, with the rest of the Matra brand, by Renault. In an odd twist, Renault would end up building a one-off mid-engined concept based on the Espace years later with the 820hp V10 from the Williams-Renault F1 car, which warrants honorable mention at the end of our list.