What’s the best hot hatch money can buy? We name our favourites and reveal the ones to avoid at all costs
A hot hatch needs to excel in several areas if it’s to be the crowned the cream of the crop.
First, it must be able to get your pulse racing on a twisty back road; if it can’t get you from corner to corner without the edges of your mouth turning up, it has fallen at the first hurdle. So, handling prowess and power delivery are key here.
Ride quality is also important. A firm ride is inevitable on something so sporty, but the suspension must be able to deal with the worst that British roads can throw at it.
And hot hatches are likely to be used every day of the week, so they also need to possess a practical, comfortable interior and have reasonable running costs.
Best and worst hot hatchbacks
10. Volkswagen Golf GTI
The Golf GTI badge is well known among hot hatch drivers. It’s been around for a long time, and the current version continues the tradition of being fun, fast and easy to live with. It’s more expensive than some rivals, but it does have a high quality interior and impressive resale values.
Volkswagen gave the Golf a facelift for 2017; the GTI gained a mild makeover and an upgraded infotainment system.
9. Audi S3
Like the regular A3 family hatchback, the S3 is a premium car that oozes quality inside and out. There’s a 306bhp petrol engine under the bonnet that makes it one of the quickest cars in this class.
Our pick: 3dr manual
The S3 is not the most exciting hot hatch to drive, and its price can quickly rise if you start adding options, but it has one of the classiest interiors around.
8. Ford Focus ST
The regular Ford Focus is already a very competent family hatchback, so it makes sense that the go-faster version, the Focus ST, is a great all-rounder as well.
Our pick: ST-2
You can have it in either 182bhp or 247bhp forms, but whichever option you choose, you’ll get engaging handling and a great driving position. The interior could do with being a little classier, but it’s still a solid option in this market.
7. Ford Fiesta ST-Line
It may not be the fastest hot hatch, but the Fiesta ST-Line is the most fun you can have in a car for less than £20,000/$28,400. It’s more entertaining to drive than rivals thanks to its sharper steering and better body control.
Our pick: 1.0 Ecoboost 140
The Fiesta ST-Line is also cheaper to insure than rivals. And with its bespoke body kit and chunky alloy wheels, it even looks like a little pocket rocket.
6. Audi RS3
Audi has been locked in a power battle with Mercedes-AMG in recent years, but this revised RS3, which borrows the 394bhp five-cylinder engine from the TT RS sports car, puts the hot hatch firmly in the top spot for outright acceleration.
You’ll need a well-padded wallet to buy and own an RS3, though. If you’re after something more playful and cheaper, check out the BMW M140i and Ford Focus RS.
5. Volkswagen Golf R
The potent Volkswagen Golf GTI is already on this list, and the faster Golf R is even better.
Our pick: 3dr manual
It has 296bhp. four-wheel drive and a 0-62mph time of just 5.3sec. It’s also reasonably practical to use every day, and its interior is top-notch.
4. Mercedes-AMG A45
There’s no getting over the fact that the Mercedes-AMG A45 is an expensive choice. What that price buys you, though, is some blistering straight-line speed and impressive cornering ability.
Combine those talents with a mighty 375bhp engine and a quick automatic gearbox, and this is a very capable hot hatch. Just be aware that most rivals listed here have similar talents for considerably less money.
3. Hyundai i30N
Hyundai has gone from zero to hero with the i30N, bettering established rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST with its first serious attempt at building a hot hatch.
There are two versions: regular and the more hardcore Performance model. We reckon you’ll have more fun on the road in the regular car.
2. Ford Focus RS
We’re well into five-star car territory with the Ford Focus RS. With a total of 345bhp on tap, it’s one of the most powerful hatches around, plus it has four-wheel drive and can sprint from 0-62mph in less than 5.0sec.
The Focus RS is also surprisingly affordable, with a starting price of £31,765/45,106. That makes it significantly cheaper than some of the more premium choices on this list.
1. Honda Civic Type R
The Civic Type R has never been a wallflower, but all that outlandish looking bodywork has a practical purpose – it helps to keep the turbocharged 2.0-litre-engined car glued to the ground. At speed, the Type R feels utterly planted, and although it may be a fraction of a second slower than the Golf R or Focus RS on paper, it doesn’t feel like its lacking in performance when you’re driving it.
Our pick: 2.0 VTEC Turbo GT 5dr
Just as impressive is the practicality of this sizeable hot hatch. There’s enough leg room in the back seats for lankier teenagers, and the boot is massive by class standards, meaning families don’t have to make too many compromises to live with the Type R.
Worst hot hatchbacks
Alfa Romeo Mito Quadrifoglio Verde
The Alfa Romeo Mito Quadrifoglio Verde (QV) falls behind key rivals in too many areas, making it impossible to recommend.
Nissan Juke Nismo RS
Nissan’s sporty crossover offers fast performance, but isn’t very good to drive.
Vauxhall Corsa VXR
The standard Corsa is a great small hatchback, but this performance version has a fidgety ride and needs a better engine.