Best hot hatches

Powerful performance at a price you can afford: see our pick of the best hot hatchbacks

BuyaCar team
May 9, 2017

When carmakers first crammed powerful engines under the bonnet of small, practical hatchbacks, they created Britain's answer to the muscle car: the hot hatchback.

These were affordable cars that could comfortably carry passengers and luggage, but also provided sportscar-levels of acceleration. The best offered enough grip and steering accuracy to dart through corners at pace too.

But they fell from favour in the early 1990s as the car's brash image and popularity with thieves caused sales to plunge.

The past few years have seen a resurgence, though. For less than £20,000 you can drive away in a brand new Ford Fiesta ST, with a zippy engine and a gymnast-like ability to change direction in an instant to put a smile on your face, no matter what the journey.

And if you're budget's a bit more, then you can really push the boat out with some quite special cars. 


1. Ford Focus RS

Best hot hatch for all-round thrills

Ford was the hot-hatch king in the 1980s, and little has changed today. Its Focus ST is a fast and fun model, but it's eclipsed by the top-of-the-range RS. There's no mistaking it from outside, thanks to bodywork additions that make the Focus look lower and meaner. And from the driver's seat, that performance from the car's 2.3-litre turbocharged engine is blistering. A four-wheel drive system means that the car has more grip when accelerating, and can go from 0-62mph in less than five seconds.

There's plenty of grip in corners too. Combined with responsive and accurate steering, this is a car that can blast down a back-road, although you can only really use its performance on a racing circuit.

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2. Seat Leon Cupra 300

Best hot hatch for stylish performance enthusiasts

A Cupra badge on the back of a Seat has always been a pretty good indicator of a fun-to-drive car – and this uprated version of the Leon hatchback is no exception. Indeed, this latest hot hatch has taken the Cupra philosophy and boosted it with 300 horsepower.

It's agile in corners, thanks to technology that helps boost grip when you're turning, as well as accurate steering. Plus the modern, sharp styling cuts a real dash on the road that, combined with a grin-inducing sound from the sports exhaust, makes any driver look like they mean business when behind the wheel.

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3. Mini John Cooper Works

Best hot hatch for charm

Mini boasts that its cars all feature go-kart handling, and it's in the John Cooper Works version that the claim is closest to being true. More power, and several other tweaks to its mechanical parts, makes the car the sportiest that the brand offers. It looks the part too, with an air intake slot in the bonner, increased width and a rear wing above the back window. 

It's agile, nippy and steady on a bumpy B-road, making it one of the most enjoyable small cars to drive
See our Mini John Cooper Works buying guide

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4. Mercedes-AMG A45

Best hot hatch for upmarket boy racers

It's the fastest hot hatchbacks on the market, with a 0-62mph acceleration time of 4.2 seconds, but the little Mercedes is sophisticated too. Its well-fitted, carefully designed interior makes the Ford at the top of the list appear to have been assembled from spare parts found in Halfords.

The power is easily manageable, thanks to the car's stability and grip in corners, but this has forced its engineers into a compromise: the A45 has a ride so firm that you seem to feel every bump on the road
See our Mercedes A-Class buying guide

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5. Ford Fiesta ST200

Best hot hatch for scaled-down supermini fun

The Ford Fiesta is Britain’s best-selling car, and the ST version is the most popular hot hatch, thanks to its starting price of under £20,000 and its exceptional blend of performance and agile cornering ability.

The ST200 version boosts power by 10% to 200 horsepower for even faster acceleration. In outright speed, it's still outclassed by more expensive rivals, but none can offer as many smiles for such a low price.
See our Ford Fiesta ST buying guide

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6. Peugeot 308 GTI 270

Best hot hatch for a comfortable ride

Peugeot has been trading on the GTI name since the 1980s when the Peugeot 205 GTI was the hot hatch to have. It’s only now, 30 years later, that its managed to come close to making a car that offers close to the same driving thrills.

Although it’s substantially larger and heavier than the original, the 308 GTI is quick, thanks to its powerful turbocharged engine (0-62mph takes 6.0 seconds) and has sharp, nimble steering, with plenty of grip in corners.

When you don’t feel like pushing on, the 308 GTI settles down to a relaxing and comfortable cruise.

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