Our comprehensive list runs down the very best hot superminis and compact hatchbacks you can buy today
22 November 2018

You can’t help loving a pocket rocket, can you?

In fact, a well-executed one is often just about the best way to have as much fun on the public road as possible without being in and danger of upsetting the local constabulary.

While the ability to travel reasonably briskly in a straight line is of some importance here, it’s keen handling and an easily exploitable chassis that really marks out the best pocket rocket; as well as its ability to provide the most amount of laughs for the smallest amount of money. 

When it comes to giving a supercar a bit of a bloody nose on a winding Welsh B-road, the pocket rockets included in this list would be the ones we’d go for.

1. Ford Fiesta ST

With the release of this latest Fiesta ST, Ford shoots back to the peak of our pocket rocket top 10. True to previous form, the Blue Oval has excelled itself with its new fast supermini, which now offers an even more compelling mix of affordable handling thrills and everyday usability. 

Not only did it take the crown at the 2018 Britain’s Best Affordable Driver’s Car shootout, it also only narrowly missed out on a full five-star road test rating. It’s been a pretty good innings for the Fiesta ST so far, then.

But it isn’t without its faults. The new three-pot motor, for instance, is plenty punchy enough and commendably smooth, but lacks some of that feisty character you’d expect from a hot-hatch engine. The cabin is also a bit ho-hum, while the ride on harsh B-roads is still a touch too busy.

On the right roads, in the right conditions, though, there aren’t many other cars that offer such compelling pace and handling zest for as little money as the Fiesta ST. It’s a brilliant driver’s car.

Our Verdict

Ford Fiesta ST 2018 road test review hero front

Can Ford reclaim the hot hatchback crown with a Fiesta ST that’s missing a cylinder - or have rivals like the VW Polo GTI regained ground?

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2. Toyota Yaris GRMN

Tuned by Toyota’s motorsport division, Gazoo Racing, the Yaris GRMN is a unique proposition among its peers, namely because of what sits beneath that rather gaudily decaled bonnet. 

The supercharged 1.8-litre four-pot is a thing of effervescent magnificence; eager to be revved out and absolutely brimming with character. That it lends the little Yaris a pretty serious amount of punch is an added bonus. 

But for a handful of dynamic flaws, the Yaris GRMN could have grasped the top spot. Of the cars here, it’s arguably one of the most engaging to steer down a challenging road, but its tall stature and lack of front end grip can make it a bit of a handful at times. 

It’s expensive, too, though with only 80 examples of this particular pocket rocket available in the UK, it should at least hold its value.

3. Volkswagen Polo GTI

The latest Polo GTI is no longer just a spicier trim level for VW’s ever-popular supermini, there’s now a very credible performance car on offer here.

It shares its engine with the legendary Golf GTI - albeit here in a slightly lower state of tune - lending it a fairly potent level of performance, while the sophistication of its chassis allows for excellent composure and impressive dynamism on even the most battered British roads.

It is a car that handles with supreme confidence in its abilities but, for all of its strengths, does leave you wanting just a little bit more in terms of character. And that’s arguably what cars of this type are all about, isn’t it?

4. Suzuki Swift Sport

This third-generation Swift Sport marks something of a departure from its predecessors. For starters, its previously zesty naturally aspirated motor has been swapped out for a more charmless turbocharged unit, while an increase in pricing now sees it facing off against the likes of Ford’s excellent new Fiesta ST, which is not only the better driver’s car, but more powerful too. 

Still, there’s plenty to like here. The Suzuki feels just as agile as you’d expect a peppy supermini to be, and responds nicely to mid-corner throttle and brake adjustments. The driving position is pretty spot on, too, and there’s a heap of standard kit for the money.

5. Mini Cooper S

A more upmarket and refined take on what a compelling pocket rocket can be.

It’s a touch softer around the edges than the most focused cars in this class - the Fiesta ST and Yaris GRMN are far sharper packages in this respect - but as an all-rounder, it does itself a lot of favours.

It won’t be as taxing or tiresome to drive about town as those cars, while out on some proper B-roads there’s still an abundance of the go-kart handling characteristics that Mini has always been renowned for, despite the fact these BMW-era ones have grown considerably.

6. Volkswagen Up GTI

The Up GTI is by no means the most powerful car to be included in this list, or the most sophisticated from an engineering point of view. In fact, most of the cars included here would likely run rings around it on a twisting B-road.

But to knock it down for such reasons would be to almost miss the point of its existence. The fact that it can extract a huge amount of laughs from its driver at reasonably low speeds - all for less than £14,000, we might add - is what the little Up GTI is all about.

Its rorty and eager three-pot motor is charming, and its willingness to be thrown about on twisty B-roads at speeds that’d pose no threat whatsoever to your licence is something you’d find difficult to get tired of. That it looks as great as it does is an added bonus.

7. Abarth 595 Competizione

If there’s one thing the Abarth 595 Competizione isn’t short on, it’s character. On start up, its 1.4-litre turbocharged four-pot burbles into life, with an aggressive timbre that seems entirely at odds with the beefed-up Fiat 500’s rather cutesy image. That it lends the steroidal city car rather impressive straight-line performance is an added bonus.

However, there are a few flies in its ointment. For starters, it’s pricey next to more accomplished pocket rockets, and it’s not quite as dynamically well-sorted - often washing into understeer. The interior is also cramped, and the driving position isn’t great. 

It’s a bit of an exercise in form over function, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had here.

8. Vauxhall Corsa GSi

The GSi is currently the hottest Corsa model Vauxhall offers, at least until it decides to breathe life back into its VXR performance division, which has been on something of a hiatus for a while now.

The GSi packs a 148bhp four-pot motor under its bonnet, so it’s by no means the least powerful car included in this list. It’s not the most comfortable car either, being at times overly firm, but it does at least respond well to being flung down a particularly twisty stretch of B-road with little in the way of body roll. Standard equipement is decent, too, although that engine doesn’t pull quite as hard as you might like it to.

At a shade under £19,000, it’s priced almost identically to the Fiesta ST, although the car from the Blue Oval will better it in almost every likely scenario.

9. Kia Picanto GT-Line S

Kia’s funky little city car has received a sporty new exterior and punchy 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder motor in a bid to turn it into something of a Volkswagen Up GTI rival.

With just 99bhp on tap, the Picanto GT-Line S isn’t the fastest car on this list, but in this application that motor feels plenty punchy enough, while its short wheelbase and upright body don’t prevent it from feeling well tied down on the road.

While it’s not quite as fun on the road as the livelier Up GTI, but the Picanto GT-Line S still makes for a well-sorted, attractive pocket rocket.

10. Peugeot 208 GTi

Peugeot may not list the 208 GTi as being on sale on its website any more, but a tidy used example of this French pocket rocket will still be a properly enjoyable little car.

With respectable thrust provided by its 205bhp 1.6-litre four-pot, the 208 GTi is suitably brisk and light on its feet, but perhaps not quite as sharp as some of the more focused cars included on this list.

That said, the 208 GTi is more about usability than outright thrills, and for those after a fast supermini that’s not only comfortable to use around town but also enjoyable on the right roads, the Peugeot shouldn’t disappoint.

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