The cars that best combine the performance of a sports car with no compromise on hatch practicality
What do you look for in a hot hatchback? Pulse-raising handling on a curving B-road? The sort of acceleration that will take you back to your crazy years?
Certainly, these two elements are important, but what about everyday comfort? Especially in Britain, you’ll need suspension that can absorb some pretty big bumps, but you don’t want it too soft or you’ll lose that fine handling edge that sets a hot hatch apart from the herd.
Because you’re likely to be using the car every day of the week, you’ll want the same sort of do-it-all practicality that the ‘herd’ cars have. And you’ll definitely not want bank-busting running costs.
As want lists go, it’s one of the toughest to get right. Here’s our considered view on the ten cars that do the hot hatch thing best.
10. Audi S1
Put a 228bhp engine and a four-wheel drive system into a shopping car and the results are spectacular. In terms of pure acceleration, the S1 will outstrip a Ford Focus ST and VW’s Golf GTI, and it will stick to a line in quick bends. The cabin quality is typically excellent but the ride is a bit hard and the steering is dull.
9. Audi RS3
Stepping up from the S1 is the RS3, powered by the TT RS’s 394bhp five-cylinder engine that again gives this hot Audi storming acceleration. RS3s are not cheap to buy or run, though, and if you prefer a little more entertainment for your money you might prefer BMW’s M140i or Ford’s Focus RS.
8. Ford Focus ST-2
Take one of the best all-round family hatchbacks, add a 182bhp or 247bhp engine and you’ve got a fine all-rounder in the Focus ST. Either model is great fun with joyful handling and a smashing driving position. The ST lacks a little finesse in its interior but it’s still a clever choice in the class.
7. Volkswagen Golf GTI
Dearer than many of its rivals, but rewarding in the quality of its interior and the slowness of its depreciation, the Golf GTI has been satisfying driving enthusiasts and everyday motorists alike for nearly half a century. Quick but also undemanding as a daily driver, the 2017-facelift GTI got an infotainment upgrade.
6. Audi S3
Another quick Audi in our list, the S3 has a 306bhp petrol engine and a four-wheel drive setup for clawing grip and traction in a wide range of conditions. Like the other Audis here though it misses out on the delivery of pure motoring adrenalin and it can quickly get expensive if you start ticking option boxes.
5. Volkswagen Golf R
Our second Volkswagen Golf is a sort of über-GTI with 296bhp, four-wheel drive and a 0-62mph time of 5.3 seconds. Still with all the practicality and interior quality of a regular Golf, the Golf R is available on surprisingly affordable finance deals.
4. Mercedes-AMG A45
The Mercedes-AMG A45 is far from a bargain offering, but if you’re prepared to splash the cash your reward will be massive straightline speed and grippy cornering. The beefy 375bhp engine is nicely matched by a quick-action automatic gearbox.
3. BMW M140i
BMW’s M series cars have lost some of their sporting focus in recent years, but the M140i remains pretty true to the original ethos. It is outrageously fast not just in a straight line but also around corners. The chassis is packed with feel and it’s as much fun to drive at moderate speeds as it is at crazy ones.
2. Ford Focus RS
Another high-power 4WD hatch, the Focus RS has a mighty 345bhp engine that gives it the ability to zoom from 0 to 62mph in less than five seconds. It’s surprisingly attainable too, with prices beginning at £31,765, putting it very much towards the cheaper end of this list.
1. Honda Civic Type-R
The styling won’t appeal to everyone, but few will remain unmoved by the driving experience provided by the new Civic Type-R. The turbocharged 2.0-litre-engined Civic may be slightly slower than the VW Golf R or Ford Focus RS but it more than makes up for that by feeling wonderfully glued to the road. It’s quite a large car too, so there’s a lot of room both inside and in the boot. Tremendous performance, secure handling and practicality make this our favourite hot hatchback.