Best hot hatchbacks

Last updated: Jan 7, 2016

We arguably have a team of passionate VW engineers to thank for what we now call the hot hatchback. Ever since the MkI Volkswagen Golf GTI was first dreamed up in the seventies as an ‘after-hours’ project, the idea of fast, affordable small cars has really taken off.

It didn’t take much to make a hot hatch in the early days – some coloured trim, new wheels and a punchier engine was enough. So other manufacturers were quick follow Volkswagen's lead by spawning their own hot hatches, including the Peugeot 205 GTI, Ford Escort XR3, Vauxhall Astra GTE and Renault 5 Turbo.

Today, hot hatchbacks are big business. Almost all major manufacturers offer spiced-up versions of the their top-selling superminis and family cars these days – some with enough power to worry much less practical and more expensive dedicated sports cars. 

Modern hot hatches are also much safer, more comfortable and better equipped than their predecessors, but they remain fast and great fun to drive in equal measure.

There are distinctly different sub-categories of hot hatch, too, from hugely powerful top-end models like the Audi RS3 Sportback, to more mature offerings such as the Skoda Octavia vRS and small, cheap and simple cars like the Ford Fiesta ST.

To find out which one is right for you, keep reading for our definitive countdown of the best fast hatchbacks on sale today.

Ford Focus ST hatchback

Ford has a long history of making brilliant hot hatchbacks, so it’s no surprise to learn that the Ford Focus ST has few compromises. It blends driving fun, a sweet engine, useful practicality and unexpected comfort in one very appealing package. Compared to the similarly sized Volkswagen Golf GTI, it’s a bargain, too. The ST range includes a diesel version alongside the powerful petrol, offering better fuel economy and lower running costs. In fact, that version offers the widest range of abilities: it’s only fractionally slower than the petrol and promises to return 67mpg. There’s even an estate model if you need extra boot space. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5
Price 
£22,745 - £27,895

Ford Fiesta ST hatchback

The Ford Fiesta ST offers everything the Focus ST does, but in a smaller package. It couples excellent performance with everyday usability and great value. It launches from 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds and has a top speed of 137mph, and while other hot hatchbacks have clever suspension or fancy gearboxes, the Fiesta ST is a relatively simple car. As well as being easy to drive, it’s just as spacious, stylish and easy to live with as the standard Fiesta. Its suspension is firmer than other models in the range and fuel consumption is also higher, but that’s the payoff for a car that’s this fun to drive. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5
Price 
£15,645 - £22,745

SEAT Leon Cupra hatchback

Even though it shares plenty of parts with the iconic VW Golf GTI, we actually prefer the SEAT Leon Cupra. You get more power than the Golf, it can be cheaper than the Golf and you get the bragging rights of a car that (before the Honda Civic Type R came along) set the fastest front-wheel-drive lap around the infamous Nürburgring circuit in Germany. You can have it as a sporty three-door SC coupe, a practical five-door or even an ST estate. Plus, the Leon Cupra is fairly cheap to run, with up to 44mpg fuel economy possible. Read more.

Key points

4.5 / 5
Price 
£28,380 - £31,790

Suzuki Swift Sport hatchback

Like the Fiesta ST, the Suzuki Swift Sport keeps things simple yet fun. It’s a cheap, light and enjoyable little car that’s an excellent choice for first-time hot hatchback owners. With a 0-62mph time of 8.7 seconds, the Swift isn’t the fastest car here, but its major trump card is value for money. Along with costing around £3,000 less than a Fiesta ST, it sits in a much lower insurance group and offers a similar amount of standard equipment. Read more.

Key points

4.5 / 5
Price 
£10,999 - £14,499

Skoda Octavia vRS hatchback

Probably the most mature choice in our hot hatchback top 10, the Skoda Octavia vRS is a perfect option if you have a family. Using the petrol and diesel engines from the Golf GTI and GTD, it has a larger body, which means more interior space and a much more generous boot. The Octavia isn’t quite as much fun to drive as smaller hot hatches, but Skoda continues to perform well in our annual Driver Power owner satisfaction survey and its price is competitive compared to those of smaller rivals. Read more.

Key points

4.3 / 5
Price 
£24,460 - £27,970

Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

Although it’s only in sixth place on this list, the Volkswagen Golf GTi is an excellent. It’s credited with inventing the hot-hatch concept back in the seventies and this latest generation is the best yet. It has loads of performance on tap, along with a practical interior, generous boot and a sharp design. The basic GTI has been joined by several derivatives, too: the diesel GTD offers almost the same performance as the petrol GTI, but with lower running costs. The GTI is also available as a convertible and there’s a GTE hybrid version, too. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£27,495 - £33,995

Honda Civic Type R hatchback

This has to be the most outrageous-looking hot hatchback on sale today. The space-age Honda Civic Type R has been a long time coming and is the latest in a series of very good performance cars from the Japanese brand. Not only is it extremely practical, it also has huge amounts of grip thanks to all those fins and spoilers. The engine isn’t as characterful as those in previous Civic Type Rs, but it’s incredibly powerful and makes the car very fast – so much so that it holds the current lap record for a front-wheel-drive car around the Nürburgring. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£30,000 - £32,300

MINI hatchback

In this case, we’re talking about the excellent MINI Cooper S, which really does deliver on its maker’s promise of driving like a go-kart. The steering is sharp and full of feel and the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is a peach. It has plenty of spoilers and scoops to give a racy look, as well as helping the aerodynamics and engine cooling. The car is available with a six-speed manual gearbox or an excellent automatic, which, unusually, improves fuel economy. Read more.

Key points

4.1 / 5
Price 
£14,075 - £21,400

Audi RS3 Sportback hatchback

The Audi RS3 Sportback is by far the most powerful and quickest car on this list. With 362bhp on tap and a 0-62mph time of 4.3 seconds, the RS3 is eye-wateringly fast. Four-wheel drive also makes it as sure-footed as a rally car on almost any surface, which means you can throw it into fast corners with confidence. It’s well built inside and just as practical as the standard A3 Sportback on which it’s based, but the biggest caveat with the RS3 is its price – £40,000 for what is basically a small hatchback is a lot of money. Read more.

Key points

4 / 5
Price 
£40,795

Vauxhall Corsa VXR hatchback

The Vauxhall Corsa VXR has grown up a bit since the previous generation, but it’s still one of the more ‘juvenile’ hot hatchbacks on this list. It’s loads of fun to drive, though, as well as being more powerful than a Ford Fiesta ST – but it’s slower from 0-62mph and not as economical, practical or comfortable. It’s a brilliant car for B-road blasts and even trackdays, but not very suitable for use every day. Read more.

Key points

4 / 5
Price 
£16,795 - £19,200