Best hot hatch 2022
A good hot hatch offers the practicality of a family hatchback with the performance to rival a sports car.
The recipe is simple: take a more powerful engine, stiffen and lower the suspension to improve the handling, then tweak the styling to give the car a more aggressive stance.
Manufacturers have been using this tried-and-tested recipe to great effect since the Volkswagen Golf GTI burst onto the scene in the 1970s. The brilliant VW helped popularise the hot hatch concept, and rivals such as the Peugeot 205 GTI and Ford Escort XR3i soon followed.
Today, the choice is broader and better than ever. From tiny tearaways like the Volkswagen Up GTI to four-wheel-drive missiles like the Mercedes-AMG A 45 S, there’s a hot hatch for every need. It all comes down to how much horsepower you require and how much you have (or are willing to) to spend.
Our list of the best hot hatches in 2022 should help you narrow down your choice.
Best hot hatch
Toyota GR Yaris
Don’t let the Yaris badge fool you, because this homologation special is far removed from the supermini your aunt drives to the shops. Indeed, the Toyota GR Yaris is essentially a rally car for the road – and shares very little with the standard model. Power is sourced from a 1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine producing 261PS, which is transferred to the road via a four-wheel-drive system with optional torque vectoring. The result is something that turns every commute into a WRC special stage. This isn’t just the most exciting hot hatch on sale today, it’s one of the greatest performance cars of all time.
Ford Fiesta ST
The much-loved Ford Fiesta ST is arguably all the hot hatch you’ll ever need for Britain’s tight, congested and camera-controlled roads. Its peppy 1.5-litre turbocharged engine produces 200PS, which is enough to propel the fast Fiesta to 62mph in just 6.5 seconds. That’s only half the story, though, because the real magic lies in the alert steering, satisfying six-speed gearbox and sharp handling, which combine to make this one of the best B-road cars you can buy. Thanks to a keen purchase price and low running costs, the Fiesta ST is a hot hatch you can buy with your head and your heart.
Honda Civic Type R
Shrinking violets need not apply, because the Honda Civic Type R isn’t a hot hatch for shy and retiring types. If you don’t like the exterior styling – complete with triple tailpipes, fat wheelarches and come-and-have-a-go-if-you-think-yer-hard-enough rear wing – you’ll almost certainly hate the racy interior. However, anyone prepared to look beyond the ‘challenging’ aesthetics will be rewarded with a hot hatch of genuine substance. Highlights include a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine producing 320PS, a limited-slip differential and a fantastic six-speed manual gearbox. The driving position is spot-on, with the whole car seemingly alive with feedback. The Type R is as close as you can get to driving a BTCC car on the road.
BMW purists look away, because the 128ti sends its power to the front wheels. In many ways, this makes the 128ti the most authentic hot hatch BMW has ever built; we see it as the company’s answer to the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Power comes from a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, with BMW using all manner of electronic wizardry to eliminate any hint of torque steer or understeer. Stylish, upmarket and fast enough to be fun, BMW’s front-driven hot hatch is a sublime first effort. Still want that Golf GTI?
Hyundai i20 N
We’re big fans of the Hyundai i30 N, calling it a ‘great performer’ and a ‘remarkable success story’. This success led to the creation of a second N model, this time based on the Hyundai i20 supermini. It might be smaller, but the i20 N feels every bit as enjoyable to drive as its big brother, with power sourced from a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine producing 204PS. It’s equipped with a number of functions dedicated to driver enjoyment including a so-called N Grin Control System. No, we’re not making that up. The i20 N is good enough to wipe the smile off the face of the all-conquering Fiesta ST.
Mercedes-AMG A 45 S
If you ranked hot hatches in order of output, the Mercedes-AMG AMG A 45 S would win the arms race. Its arsenal includes a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine producing a mighty 421PS, an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, and a four-wheel-drive system to harness that ferocious power. This hyper-hatch will hit 62mph in just 3.9 seconds, before going on to reach a top speed of 168mph. At around £50,000, it’s not cheap, but if keeping up with Porsche 911s is your thing, the AMG A 45 S is hard to beat. And that’s before you break out the ‘hot hatches’ pack of Top Trumps.
Volkswagen Golf R
The Volkswagen Golf R could claim the title of the greatest all-rounder on our list of the best hot hatches. It’s like owning a Golf GTI with more power and the reassurance of four-wheel drive, plus the ability to keep up with the mega hatches from Audi and Mercedes-AMG. Its 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine produces 320PS in a less frenzied manner than the Civic Type R, with a seven-speed DSG automatic transmission fitted as standard. A huge amount of grip, a comfortable ride and a long list of standard equipment combine to complete the package. For all-round and all-weather performance, the Golf R is a tough act to beat.
Renault Megane R.S.
The Megane R.S. is on borrowed time, with Alpine taking over as Renault’s sole sporting brand. It’s the end of an era, as Renault Sport was responsible for building some of the greatest hot hatches of the 1990s and the new millennium. The Megane R.S. is a fitting swansong, with power sourced from a 1.8-litre turbocharged engine producing 300PS. A more hardcore Trophy model features a stiffer (some would say too stiff) Cup chassis and a limited-slip differential. Either way, this is a less extroverted alternative to the wild Honda Civic Type R, with more mature exterior and interior styling. The innovative four-wheel steering aids stability at higher speeds.
Audi RS3 Sportback
If you’re after a soulful soundtrack to accompany your hot hatch frivolity, take a look at the Audi RS3 Sportback. It’s powered by a 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine producing a hard-hitting 400PS, which is enough for the RS3 to sprint to 62mph in just 3.8 seconds. There are seven driving modes to choose from, along with an optional RS exhaust system to get the best notes from the five-pot engine. Even a six-figure supercar would struggle to keep up with an RS3 on a B-road, especially if the weather turns a bit ‘British’.
Volkswagen Up GTI
It’s the smallest car on our list of the best hot hatches, but the Volkswagen Up GTI is good enough to upstage many larger and more expensive rivals. A 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine producing 115PS might sound underwhelming, but because the car weighs just 1070kg, the Up GTI manages to, quite literally, punch above its weight. It’s a huge amount of fun to drive, especially in the city, where you’ll nip from roundabout to roundabout like a terrier chasing a tennis ball in the park. That it feels like a modern version of the Mk1 Golf GTI is the icing on a very tempting and affordable cake.
What was the first hot hatch?
Contrary to popular opinion, the Volkswagen Golf GTI wasn’t the first hot hatch. The Simca 1100 Ti and Renault 5 Alpine (called the 5 Gordini in the UK) actually hit the market before the Golf GTI, although the Volkswagen can claim to have popularised the hot hatch concept. Although the Golf GTI was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1975, we had to wait until 1979 for the first right-hand-drive cars. It was worth the wait.
Does a hot hatch need to be front-wheel-drive?
Conventional wisdom dictates that a hot hatch should be driven through the front wheels. This is due to the configuration of early hot hatches such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Peugeot 205 GTI and Ford Escort XR3i. Times change, though, and today’s hot hatches are just as likely to be four-wheel-drive, not least because of the need to harness the performance of an engine producing 300PS or more. Some BMW hatchbacks of the past were rear-wheel-drive, but today’s 1 Series is front-driven.
What’s the greatest ever hot hatch?
It depends who you ask. The agile, lightweight and oh-so-pretty Peugeot 205 GTI is many people’s idea of the best hot hatch – and current prices reflect this. Others will say it’s the Mk1 Golf GTI, or indeed the subsequent Mk2 version, but most people will agree the Peugeot and VW were the best hot hatches of the 1980s. Cars such as the Peugeot 306 GTI-6, Renault Clio Williams and Renault Sport Clio took over in the 1990s, while the current Ford Fiesta ST could lay claim to being the best hot hatch of the modern era.