These are our favourite hot hatches currently on sale. But who will claim the top spot?
28 February 2018

When it comes to the balance of performance, cost and practicality, no other type of vehicle does it better than the hot hatch.

The idea of taking a regular family hatchback and turning it into a performance car has proved hugely popular, especially in the UK. Volkswagen took ownership of the concept with the Mk1 Golf GTI of 1976 and, today, most manufacturers have one of these fundamentally enjoyable cars in their line-up.

From mega-power German luxo-hatches to newcomers from Hyundai, the segment has never offered so much choice. Creating some semblance of order, here are our top 10 picks.

1. Honda Civic Type R

The best hot front-driver of the moment is worth the financial stretch – this is a seriously involving effort from Honda, giving you grip when you need it and adjustability when you want it.

That combination yields sensational agility that, along with a turbocharged engine of formidable flexibility, invites you to exploit everything this car has to offer.

A prettier, less track-biased car with a greater focus on cabin amenities than mechanical matters might have been a bigger seller, but it wouldn’t have been half as compelling. Nor would it be the most exciting hot hatch that can currently be bought new.

2. Ford Focus RS

To find something that corners with the same ability, breathtaking confidence and mind-bending mechanical trickery of the third-generation Focus RS, you'd have to look at a car such as the Nissan GT-R.

This is a Ford that democratises specialness to a degree that you might well buy one solely for weekend use. And yet, beyond a thirsty 2.3-litre engine and seats that are set to high, you can of course live with this car as a daily driver.

Our only qualm is that the limits of its handling prowess are set so high that opportunities to explore them can be fleeting.

3. Volkswagen Golf R

Upping the excitement quota of the Golf GTI while delivering usability alien to the Focus RS is what the Golf R excels at. Indeed, here is a car that blends the sophistication that you’d expect of a Volkswagen with the rawness and sheer driver appeal of the best superheated hatches.

The ride can be a bit brittle and it lacks the aural drama of the old R32’s V6 but, for what it can do, it’s a bargain. In fact, it’s hard to escape the feeling that this 'ultimate Golf' is a cult classic in the making.

4. Mercedes-AMG A45

It’s not particularly surprising that Mercedes-AMG’s most junior offering is characterised by indecent levels of grunt, given that its turbocharged engine makes 376bhp from only two litres of displacement. That it remains driveable, and tractable, is a credit to the engineers.

It is a little short on character, though, and while the chassis develops quite magnificent levels of grip and traction, the A45 is certainly not the most balletic of hot hatches. If you want class-leading point-to-point pace, however, we doubt that will matter too much.

5. Seat Leon Cupra 300

The quickest Leon that isn’t badged Cupra R combines a fizzing turbocharged engine with instant handling poise. With 296bhp, there’s plenty of performance value here, too, but bear in mind that this front-driven chassis is not as adhesive or exciting as some rivals.

You can also get the Cupra 300 with four-wheel drive; this broadens the car's dynamic repertoire, although it’s available only with the estate version.

6. Audi RS3 Sportback

The price of Audi’s most junior RS model is colossal, but what it gets you is a simply incredible 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine and dual-clutch gearbox. It’s a combination that allowed the 395bhp RS3 to hit 60mph in just 3.9sec during Autocar testing and dispatch 100mph in less than 10 seconds. That’s double-take stuff for a hatchback and puts the model into sports car territory.

If there’s a caveat, it’s a familiar one – the quattro four-wheel drive system still doesn't contribute much to handling appeal. That said, cross-country pace is mighty all the same. Fitting the optional adaptive dampers is a must.

7. Volkswagen Golf GTI

The most iconic hot hatch of them all is not as powerful or hardcore as some – far from it – but it remains desirable, superb on the road and great to own.

Breadth is arguably its greatest strength. However, even in its Performance guise, this ultra-composed Golf GTI is no match for the dynamic finesse of a Renault Sport product. And while it’s perfect for every day of the week, it’s incapable of blowing off the cobwebs come Sunday.

If Volkswagen made the Golf GTI a bit more visually appealing and a little more interesting at its limits, then it could give the car the additional joie de vivre it needs to be a real thriller.

8. BMW M140i

Endowing a hatchback with a turbocharged six-cylinder engine still makes for rather a lot of proper, old-fashioned fun and lessens the disappointment that this BMW isn’t as sharp as it needs to be to challenge the most rewarding cars in this class.

Indeed, the rear-drive chassis is nicely balanced but isn't quite the entertainer it should be, and neither does it generate enough grip and poise for the M140i to match the point-to-point pace of the Seat Leon Cupra or four-wheel-drive Volkswagen Golf R

9. Skoda Octavia vRS 245

A little extra power and a dollop more focus make this big Skoda really rorty and engaging to drive. Be in no doubt: this is a car that should be taken seriously. With the optional Dynamic Chassis Control fitted, the estate version finally makes good on the long-running notion that a vRS might just be a no-brainer for anyone whose life has outgrown a conventional hatch.

A lack of all-wheel drive hampers its ultimate appeal, but this car still manages a good compromise between a plush ride and sharp handling.

10. Hyundai i30N

Hyundai has finally waded into the hot hatch brawl. Its first effort, the i30N, is commendably convincing as a driver’s choice and an involving experience.

In higher-end Performance form, it boasts enough grunt to stay at least in touch with the most powerful of its front-driven rivals and even packs a limited-slip differential and adaptive dampers.

However, it is still a car with some clear shortcomings, its biggest being that the commitment evident in its mechanical make-up hasn't been matched by the expert chassis tuning it deserved. There’s also some debate as to whether the i30N's looks are arresting enough.

Our Verdict

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Can the hottest Volkswagen Golf GTI ignite the passion and reclaim its crown now lost to the Ford Focus ST?

Join the debate

Comments
2

28 February 2018

lol no Peugeot 308 GTI and Megane 4 RS but crap like Golf GTI, Octavia RS and I30N, your french bashing makes you lose the little credibility you had

28 February 2018
SuprêmeLion wrote:

lol no Peugeot 308 GTI and Megane 4 RS but crap like Golf GTI, Octavia RS and I30N, your french bashing makes you lose the little credibility you had

Considering Evo Magazine commended both the Peugeot and Renault for their highly involved driving experiences, it’s a shame that autocar continue to undermine these excellent hot hatch offerings in favour of the completely dull Octavia RS. The consistency just doesn’t add up when they give the i30N a three star review and the Peugeot a four but yet don’t list it in the top ten. Both Autocar and their sister site Whatcar? are always bashing French made cars, which is quite confusing when other magazines like Evo have spoken so highly of them. Hopefully the new 508 might change some minds.

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Jaguar E-Pace 2018 review hero front
    Car review
    20 April 2018
    Can Jaguar’s compact SUV bring flair and dynamic polish to a fast-growing class?
  • Audi TT RS Coupé
    First Drive
    20 April 2018
    The Audi TT RS has the looks, a vociferous engine and the supercar-baiting performance, but is it too uncompromising to use as a daily driver?
  • Lamborghini Urus review 2018 hero front
    First Drive
    19 April 2018
    The supercar maker's new 4x4 is massively capable wherever it goes, while being extremely conspicuous and costly while it does it
  • Skoda Kodiaq
    First Drive
    19 April 2018
    High-spec seven-seater Kodiaq begins its family life with a lot to prove — for Skoda and SUVs
  • Ford Focus RS Race Red Edition front
    First Drive
    18 April 2018
    Ford drafts in some tasty extras for this limited-run Focus RS swansong edition