Top 10 Best Hot Hatch Cars
We love a hot hatch here in the UK. In fact, it’s the biggest market globally for small, fast, hatchback cars in the world. Why? It’s hard to say.
It could just be due to the amount of incredible tight, twisty B-roads we have snaking their way across the length and breadth of the country, or that we just love to go fast in affordable cars with excellent handling.
But which are the best hot hatches to buy? Read on for our top picks…
When you think about it, the hot hatch makes total sense. Sports cars with similar power like the Mazda MX-5 or the Toyota GT86 are low to the ground with limiting visibility of the road ahead. They’re also incredibly small and impractical for the majority of day to day use.
Cars with more power like a Porsche Cayman cost three or four times as much, and will most likely see you getting points on your licence when you just start hitting their ‘fun’ level.
So let’s take a look at our top 9 best hot hatches, whether they’re small or mid-sized, we’ll even touch on the ‘warm-hatch’ along the way.
Our top 9 best hot hatches to buy are:
- Hyundai i30N
- Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport
- Renault Megane RS Trophy
- Abarth 595
- Suzuki Swift Sport
- Vauxhall Adam S
- Ford Fiesta ST
- Honda Civic Type R
- MINI Cooper S John Cooper Works
- Volkswagen Golf R
1. Hyundai i30N
Possibly the hot hatch of the moment, the i30N is, in fact, Hyundai’s first effort at creating a rapid hatchback. When they first announced it was in development many scoffed, who would buy a quick Hyundai?!
Now the i30N has hit the streets those doubters have well and truly been silenced. The first properly fast Hyundai is the epitome of the hot hatch. Anyone could drive this thing, it could be easy to miss its fire breathing point to point abilities when driven in its standard setting.
The ride is comfy, it feels nippy but not scarily so, it’s a general runabout. Put it into ‘N’, and it changes from Jekyll to Hyde in an instant. The dampers become solid, the ride now race car levels of firm, the exhaust perks up giving you rally Group B style pops and bangs.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine launches the i30N to 62 in 6.1 seconds, that’s quick.
Forget the rest, the Hyundai i30N is the hot hatch of choice. It beats the current Type R and Megane RS with ease. Just don’t go for the lower powered 250 PS version, make sure you pay the extra to get the i30N Performance, it gives you more power with the active exhaust, electronically limited slip diff and bigger wheels.
Price: From £29,495
- Rare, very few on the road
- Unrivaled 5-year warranty
- £30k for a Hyundai?!
- Five-door only
2. Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport
Now this car isn’t on sale anymore, Peugeot killed it off in 2018 due to emission regulation changes. You can, however, find plenty on the second-hand market, many with low mileage and less than a year old.
Don’t get this 208 GTi confused with the normal, non-Peugeot Sport version. The general, run of the mill 208 GTi is pretty naff. That’s why Peugeot released the BPS model.
One thing about old school hot hatches is the way they handle. The balance of power, steering and grip are always perfect. You can have fun with them, unsettle them mid-corner, get the rear sliding and correct it with ease before you go through a hedge backwards. It’s what they’re all about, and what most hot hatchbacks miss these days.
The 208 GTi BPS picks up that formula and brings it into the 21st century.
With a 1.6 litre turbocharged engine, 0-62 can be had in 6.5 seconds, and the goodies it packs compared to the normal GTi include a wider track by 22mm at the front and 16mm at the rear, it’s also 10mm lower with stiffer dampers and springs.
Go test drive one, you’ll have a blast, and with sales numbers being on the low side they’re undoubtedly going to become collectable in the future.
Price: £14,000 for a 2018 model
- Sublime balance of power & handling
- Limited numbers so will hold value better
- Few colours available
- Hard to distinguish on the used market
3. Renault Megane RS Trophy
Renault has somewhat dropped the ball of late in terms of their Renault Sport brand. The current RS Clio is dog awful, and the new Megane isn’t a patch on the old one.
It’s bigger due to being a five-door and they’ve had to implement trick rear wheel steering to get around its size. To that end it can feel like it’s driving for you at times, you get a slight correction on turn in like the Focus RS gives… it’s unnatural.
Thankfully Renault has remedied this weird steering feel with the Trophy model of the Megane by upping the speed which the rear steering swaps from turning with or against you.
In ‘Race’ mode it now happens at 62 MPH instead of 37, so it’s well quelled when attacking some B-roads. And now you don’t notice that extra turn in from the rear at all.
Powered by a 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine the Trophy makes 296 BHP, 20 more than the standard model. There’s a new exhaust system, stiffer suspension and anti-roll bars combined with a limited slip diff. Weight has also been shed thanks to a new front brake setup, all this makes for a 0-62 time of 5.7 seconds.
Ultimately the Megane RS never feels particularly rapid. Too big and hunkered down to throw around and have fun with like its predecessor, it never quite hits the mark.
- Rear steering feel lessened
- Lots of tweaks for the extra money
- Expensive and less power than a Type R
- Doesn’t feel all that ‘special’
4. Abarth 595
More of a warm hatch then on fire, but the little Abarth 595 is such fun we just had to include it.
Around town you can want for nothing more than this. It’s punchy and small, meaning you can dart in and out of traffic with ease.
The 1.4-litre turbocharged engine makes 145 BHP meaning you’ll hit 62 from a standstill in 7.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 130 MPH…but maybe not around town.
You don’t get such things as limited slip diffs in a car this size, it’s simply not needed. Abarth does, however, have a trick system which brakes the inside wheel in corners as a differential would, this helps you maintain speed and grip through the bends.
Due to the 595’s size urban MPG is still rated at 32, which is pretty good considering the performance.
And if this isn’t enough pace for you, then the Essesse version bumps power to 180, adds Koni shock absorbers and an even louder Akrapovic exhaust system.
Price: From £16,495
- Feels rapid even if it’s not that quick
- More potent models can get pricey
5. Suzuki Swift Sport
At the cheaper end of the market is the Suzuki Swift Sport, another ‘warm’ hatch it’s still worth being in our top 9. It’s one of those cars that you can drive on the edge yet still feel perfectly safe as you aren’t going that fast…because you can’t.
Under the bonnet is a 1.4-litre boosterjet turbo petrol engine making 138 BHP, but the whole car weighs just 970 kg, which means the Swift Sport is very near the magic figure of 150 BHP per ton, which officially makes the performance ‘fun’.
0-62 is 8.1 seconds, one of the slowest in our top 9, but don’t discount it just yet.
Get the Swift Sport on any decent country lane, and you’ll soon see how much fun it is. This new turbo engine means you don’t have to work it as hard as the last generation model, which is a blessing and a curse as the Swift Sport loses a little bit of driver engagement.
Either way, the handling is sweet, the power is well balanced and not enough to lose your licence with.
- Great kit levels
- Super lightweight
- More expensive than the old model
- Not quick
6. Vauxhall Adam S
Another car you can’t buy brand new anymore, and one that got some awful star ratings in original reviews purely down to its price.
It cost £17,000, which put it squarely in line with the Abarth. But it didn’t have the cache, credentials or style to warrant that price tag. It was pretty much the same cost as the then leader of the pack Ford’s Fiesta ST.
Now they’re on the second-hand market they’re a bargain. A 2015 model with around 25,000 miles on the clock can be had for £9,000. Roughly half the cost they were new.
The Adam S was fitted with a 1.4 turbo engine which made 148 BHP and had a 0-62 time of 8.5 seconds, plenty fun enough for around town. It’s got brakes taken directly from a Corsa VXR, uprated springs, dampers and rear axle.
Handling is spot on for a diminutive hatch, it’s darty, feels light and can be driven foot to the floor 24/7 without worrying about speeding… much.
You can fully turn off the traction control when you want to be a bit of a hooligan, and it loves to spin its front wheels, so get ready to buy tyres every 9,000 miles.
Make sure you find one that has the optional big bucket Recaro seats, these were an extra £2,000 and really make the Adam S feel special.
Price: Around £9/10,000
- Super exclusive – they hardly sold any
- Superb handling
- Non-bucket seat interior feels basic
- Exhaust lacks any sound
7. Ford Fiesta ST
Every man and his dog’s favourite hot hatch, you’ll see them on every street corner. But there’s a reason why everyone, their brother and uncle, buys a Fiesta ST – they’re pretty darn good!
The latest version has even lost a cylinder, and it’s still pretty good. The 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine makes more power than the last generation Fiesta ST, 197 BHP to be precise. That means a rapid 0-62 time of 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 144 MPH.
An £850 Performance Pack gives you a limited slip diff between the front wheels and a tiny shift light on the dash that tells you when to change gear. It also gives you launch control, in case you really need launch control in a hatchback.
Sadly, the chassis feels a little more grown-up than the last ST, the tyres are wider and stickier as well as the whole thing being a tad heavier. That means it’s less playful, but still a rapid hot hatch by any mark.
Price: From £20,700
- Can drive on two cylinders to save fuel
- Lots of tech for the money
- Boring looks
- Everyone has one
8. Honda Civic Type R
This current generation Civic Type R is lauded as one of the best in a long time. It melds everyday driveability with incredible levels of performance. Think of it as the Hyundai i30N but turned up to 11.
Powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, the Type R makes a whopping 316 BHP and 400 Nm of torque. That’s enough to shoot it to 62 in just 5.7 seconds.
Pretty rapid for a front wheel drive hatchback, even a Golf R can only muster 5.1 seconds with its all-wheel-drive setup.
This FK8 model is also a lot softer than the old FK2, it’s less raw and can be comfortably used day to day. Its predecessor felt like a rock-hard race car by comparison.
Some like that, others hate it. If you want a true race car for the road, then look up a second-hand FK2, if you want something you can live with in old age, get the FK8 and don’t look back.
Adaptive damping means the Civic tightens up when in +R mode, while comfort softens it allowing the absorption of the lumps and bumps our roads here in the UK are known for. You also get rev matching on the downshifts in +R which is a nice touch.
Unlike larger hot hatches the Type R remains playful, you can unstick the rear end and use the weight of the car mid-corner to have fun.
- Great balance
- Playful characteristics
- Styling won’t be to everyone’s tastes
- Model with Sat Nav costs an extra £2,000
9. Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works
Last, but by no means least, is the latest iteration of a car with heritage going back to the ’60s, the Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works.
Unlike a normal Cooper S the JCW versions are that bit more hardcore, tweaked for the track but useable on the road.
Under your right foot, you have 228 BHP from a 2.0-litre twin turbo petrol engine and gives a 0-62 time of 6.3 seconds.
Springs and dampers have been adjusted on the JCW compared to the Cooper S, hollow anti-roll bars save weight, and electronically adjustable dampers are standard.
Grip isn’t as good as it could be due to lacking Pirelli Cinturatos, you can swap these for Dunlops, but Michelin tyres are recommended for the perfect amount of grip.
The gearbox can be notchy and going from first to second can lead to hitting the middle ground of the gate, or going into the grey area that soon becomes reverse.
Although the performance may be blistering, the JCW never feels engaging, it misses out on that little bit extra that makes it special. Something the ultra-common Fiesta ST oozes by the bucket load.
- JCW Pro Exhaust sounds incredible
- Extra skirts look great
- Lacking that special feeling
- Don’t buy the convertible. It’s wobbly, and the JCW package is wasted on it
10. Volkswagen Golf R
A top 10 list of hot hatchbacks wouldn’t be complete without a Volkswagen Golf. Instead of the GTi we’ve decided to opt for the fire breathing R version.
They’re common as muck these days thanks to some incredibly cheap lease deals a few years ago. At one point it worked out cheaper to lease an R than it did a GTi.
Its 2.0 litre TFSI engine has recently been detuned a little, thanks to the new WLTP regulations. It now produces 296 BHP and 380 Nm of torque, which gives it a potent 0-62 time of 4.5 seconds.
That’s in part due to its trick all-wheel drive system, one that’s combined with the renowned seven speed DSG gearbox. Gone is the manual of a few years ago.
In terms of it’s driving dynamic it’s rapid. It will flatter any driver with the grip it affords in the wet or dry. Acceleration is on tap whenever you need it, being greeted with a big shove in the back no matter the speed.
But the thing is, it’s not exciting. It can’t match the engagement of the Civic Type R, nor the adaptability of Hyundai’s i30 N. You don’t feel like a cog in a machine, it’s just a fast car.
- Amazing levels of grip in the wet
- Decent build quality
- No manual option
- Lacking character
Hot hatches not for you? We’ve got you covered
We’ve got plenty of other guides for you. Whether you are looking for a more normal hatchback, or something else entirely. Why not check out: