Best hot hatch 2024
Car manufacturers have been making go-faster hatchbacks for more than four decades. The hot hatch formula is simple: take a practical family hatchback, upgrade the oily bits, make it go faster, improve the styling, then have some fun on your favourite B-road.
Today's hot hatches have come a long way since the first cars hit the streets in the 1980s. Back then, a typical hot hatch was front-wheel drive, lightweight, slightly more powerful than the standard version and most likely adorned with some go-faster stripes.
Buy a hot hatch today and it could be four-wheel drive, feature an engine producing as much as 400PS, and boast the kind of tech we could only dream of in the ’80s. In time, the best hot hatches will almost certainly be electric.
For now, our list of hot hatchbacks features cars with petrol engines. Have fun!
Best hot hatch
Toyota GR Yaris
Don’t let the Yaris badge fool you, because this homologation special is far removed from the small hatchback 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. Be quick, because the Fiesta's days are numbered.
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 329PS, 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 smaller Hyundai i20 hatchback. It 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 £63,500, it’s not cheap, but if keeping up with a Porsche 911 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 GTI Clubsport
The GTI Clubsport sits between the standard GTI and R in the range of Volkswagen Golf hot hatches. As such, it offers the best of both worlds. You don't get the all-weather reassurance of the Golf R, but the Clubsport has a harder edge than the standard GTI, thanks to suspension lowered by 10mm, uprated springs and dampers, larger brakes and a retuned limited-slip differential. Not to mention the extra 55PS, increasing the output to 300PS. It's just a shame that the Clubsport isn't available with a manual gearbox, but that's one of only a few complaints.
If the Golf GTI is a bit too sensible for you, then the dramatic looks of the Cupra Leon could be a viable alternative. Under the surface, those two cars share much, including the 300PS turbocharged engine and the high levels of fun behind the wheel. It’s the VZ2 model that we’re a particular fan of (the Leon range includes other engines and a plug-in hybrid) as it offers the most exhilarating experience, where the other models feel a little too grown up. Three trim levels are available to suit different budgets but all come with plenty of extras, which makes the Leon a great family car when it’s not being pushed hard.
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’.
Hyundai i30 N
Four decades ago, it would have been madness to suggest that Hyundai could boast two models on a list of the best hot hatches, but here we are. The i20 N might be the new kid on the block, but the larger i30 N can teach the upstart a thing or two. For a start, its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine produces a mighty 280PS, which is enough for a 0-62mph time of just 5.4 seconds if you opt for the excellent N DCT eight-speed dual clutch transmission. Select the right driving mode and the exhaust will snap, crackle and pop like your favourite breakfast cereal.
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. While 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 to arrive on our shores. 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 have 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 and Toyota GR Yaris could battle it out for the title of best hot hatch of the modern era.