Best hot hatches: powerful performance and a big boot at an affordable price

See our pick of the best hot hatchbacks

BuyaCar team
Dec 11, 2018

When car makers first crammed powerful engines under the bonnets of hatchbacks, in the mid ‘70s, they created Europe's answer to America’s muscle car scene: the hot hatchback.

These were affordable cars that were practical enough to take a friend or three out for a curry or, with the back seats folded flat, could carry a mountain bike or two for a weekend of mud, sweat and gears. But when it was just you and the open road, a good hot hatch would put a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon on your face.

In the early 1990s, a spate of car crime made all the easier by poor security features meant insurance prices soared, sales stalled and car makers invested little time and energy in creating any more hot hatchbacks.

The past decade has 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. There’s also the stylish Mini Cooper S, a car that delivers as much feel-good vibe on the driveway as it does on the North Coast 500.

With a bigger budget, the desirability and performance of hot hatchbacks kicks into another gear. Cars like the Honda Civic Type-R, Hyundai i30N, and the car that effectively started it all, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, all promise to make a couple of days behind the wheel one of the most enjoyable weekends in memory.

And for those who crave the ultimate in performance, there is a new generation of super-hatches, cars with four-wheel drive, highly tuned engines and more power than a Ferrari F355 from the late 90s.

We've selected the best models that are currently on sale. Here’s where to start your search for a hatchback that puts the scorchio into every drive.

 

Best hot hatches

1. Honda Civic Type R

Best hot hatch for punch in the stomach acceleration

Latest Honda Civic Type R deals from £21,888
Finance from £295 per month

The first thing you’ll notice are the looks. They’re certainly something… but purposeful at least. The bonnet bugles cool the engine and that massive rear-wing actually creates negative lift - just like a race car.

To some, it might be a bit much, but there’s no denying that it works. On the road, it’s savage, and simply catapults you around a corner. It will even brake an inside wheel for you when cornering, to help you get around a corner.

The gearbox is as slick as they come, and it has rev-matching too - which means when you change down a gear, it will blip the throttle for you in order to achieve the best RPM for changing gears.

Under the bonnet it has a 320bhp 2.0-litre engine. 0-62 comes in 5.7 seconds, and max out it’ll do 169mph.
Honda Civic buying guide

 

2. Ford Fiesta ST

Best hot hatch for affordable fun

Latest Ford Fiesta ST deals (current generation) from £16,884
Finance from £234 per month

If you want a car that’s a hoot to drive but won’t leave your bank account smarting from the monthly repayments, not much can better the Ford Fiesta ST.

With a starting price of under £20,000, one of the most enjoyable engines and a grippy, nimble mechanical setup, there is probably a clever-clogs formula that proves it gives you the most performance and fun for your money of any car on sale.

What’s more, the Fiesta ST’s size and speed are perfectly suited to the typical country road, whereas plenty of more expensive sports cars these days are simply too large and too powerful to be anything other than a trophy for posing and parking on the driveway.

The same could be said for the previous-generation Ford Fiesta ST, which was replaced by the current car in 2018. If you don’t mind the dated interior and less comfort, then you can have all the fun, for half the cost: current BuyaCar prices start at £9,199
Ford Fiesta ST buying guide

 

3. Hyundai i30N

Best hot hatch for a reassuringly long warranty

Latest Hyundai i30N deals from £21,979
Finance from £308 per month

When you fall under the spell of a hot hatchback, the chances are you won’t want to give it back at the end of any finance agreement. In that case, it’s good to know that after the typical three-year finance period, anyone who went on to buy outright a Hyundai i30N would still have a further two years of warranty remaining.

Although the terms and conditions of any warranty tend to vary and require careful checks of the small print, knowing that you have two further years of peace of mind, and no limit on the mileage in that time, is reason enough to rise early on a Sunday morning and indulge yourself in another drive.

And what a drive the i30N offers. It’s more fun than a Golf GTI, so long as you choose the Performance Package, which increases the engine’s output to more than 270 horsepower, adds a limited-slip differential to deter wheelspin in corners, and throws suspension damping that can be adjusted at the touch of a button. Nearly-new cars can come with substantial discounts.

 

4. Seat Leon Cupra

Best hot hatch for feisty fun

Latest Seat Leon Cupra deals from £14,995
Finance from £221 per month

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. The highlight of the Cupra is its 2-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine. The 290 horsepower unit is a firecracker, able to send the car surging forward from low in the rev range and maintaining that sense of urgency all the way to the rev limit.

Helping make the most of this performance is the Leon’s roadholding. It’s agile in corners, thanks to technology that helps boost grip when you're turning and the accurate steering allows the driver to place the car precisely on a winding road.

You can adjust the car to suit your mood with the adaptive driving modes. These let you calm the car down, such as when piling on the miles on the M1, or switch to the maximum fun mode – Cupra – for those times when you just want to go for a drive for driving’s sake.

 

5. Ford Focus RS

Best hot hatch for a thrlling ride

Latest Ford Focus RS deals from £24,490
Finance from £356 per month

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.

From the driver's seat, performance from the car's 2.3-litre turbocharged engine is blistering. A four-wheel drive system delivers eye-opening grip when accelerating and the ability to whip through corners at an exhilarating rate. It can accelerate from 0-62mph in less than five seconds.

Combined with responsive and accurate steering, this is a car that can blast down a back-road, although you will have to put up with stiff suspension that gives a choppy ride. Head for the race track, and you’ll be able to put the car’s unique Drift Mode to the test, which lets you pull the sort of moves that could put The Stig out of work.

 

6. Volkswagen Golf R

Best hot hatch for all-round sophistication

Latest Volkswagen Golf R deals from £15,990
Finance from £236 per month

The Volkswagen Golf GTI is good but the Golf R is better. With a more powerful, 310 horsepower engine, four-wheel drive to maintain traction and the option of a Performance Pack - which brings lighter wheels, uprated brakes, a larger roof spoiler and removes the electronic top speed limiter – it provides searing performance without ever bringing the driver out in a cold sweat.

That’s because its roadholding is not only responsive but also surefooted. So a commute to the office, on a cold and frosty morning, is just something the R takes in its stride. Better still, strap on a roof rack, clamp some skis in place and drive to the ski slopes, where the hottest Golf yet will prove that you don’t need a Land Rover to get places, just a set of winter tyres. And you’ll have a lot more fun in the process.

 

7. Mini Cooper S

Best hot hatch for cheeky charm

Latest Mini Cooper S deals from £8,700
Finance from £121 per month

Mini boasts that its cars all feature go-kart-like handling, and it's in the Cooper S version of the hatchback that the claim is closest to being true. This is a car in which you feel connected to the road beneath, yet when you’re not in the mood for driving like an extra from The Italian Job, there’s one of the funkiest cabins of any car to enjoy.

From the outside, it looks the part too, with an air intake slot in the bonnet, deep front spoiler, twin exhaust pipes poking out of the middle of the car and a hunkered stance that suggests this Mini is all about having fun.

On a bumpy B-road, it proves to have just the right mix of performance, suspension comfort and responsive roadholding, making it one of the most enjoyable small cars to drive, alongside the Ford Fiesta ST.

 

8. Renault Megane RS

Best hot hatch for tight turn-ins

Renault has previous in creating hot-hatches. Most enthusiasts would agree that it has one of the best back-cataloguea of epic hot-hatchbacks, and luckily, this Megane lives up to that hype.

276bhp ensures it’ll hit 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds, and the engine feels strong in any gear. It sounds good for a two-litre too, plus it has four-wheel-steering, meaning the rear-wheels can turn (ever so slightly) the opposite way to the front, really digging you into a corner.

Looks-wise, it’s up there with the best on the market. That rear-diffuser is pure racing car, and large-alloy wheels fill those massive arches.
Renault Megane buying guide

 

9. 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 the French car maker has come close to making a car that offers that same, heady blend of spine-tingling handling and grin-inducing performance wrapped up in a family-friendly package.

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 direct steering, while the chassis has plenty of grip in corners.

When you don’t feel like pushing on, the 308 GTi settles down to a relaxing and comfortable cruise. Not something your could ever say about the original 205.

10. Audi TT RS

Best hot hatch for a swish interior

Latest Audi TT RS deals from £40,995
Finance from £483 per month

This might surprise some, but the TT is actually a hatchback, although its coupe shape ensures that it’s not as practical as the other cars on this list. What it lacks in practicality, it makes up for it in power though - as it has a five-cylinder 2.5-litre engine with 400hp. Four-wheel-drive and launch control come together so it can propel itself to 62mph from a standstill in 3.7 seconds.

On the outside, its bigger, bolder, and altogether louder than regular versions. Being an Audi, it’s a bit more high-end inside than other cars on this list. Hardback leather sports seats, suede steering wheel, and Audi’s virtual cockpit (inch screen instead of traditional roundels) ensure this.

Purists will be annoyed that it doesn’t come with a manual gearbox, and the four-wheel-drive system is geared more towards safety than lairyness. However, the TT is the most serious performance car on this list, which should at least get some people salivating.
Audi TT buying guide

        

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