Best hot hatchbacks

Last updated: Jun 25, 2014

We have a team of Volkswagen engineers to thank for the fast hatchback phenomenon that is often called the hot hatch. Back in the 1970s, the German engineers put their private time to good use by modifying a standard Volkswagen Golf to be faster in a straight line as well as being more fun in the corners. By 1975, it had been christened the VW Golf GTI and had gained new wheels, sporty red exterior trim - making its debut at that year's Frankfurt Motor Show.

The GTI would go on to be a huge success and other manufacturers followed Volkswagen's lead by spawning their own hot hatches including cars such as the Peugeot 205 GTI, Ford Escort XR3, Vauxhall Astra GTE and Renault 5 Turbo.

Nowadays, hot hatches have grown to be safer, more comfortable and better equipped than their ancestors, but one thing remains the same – they’re still great fun to drive. To find out which one could be right for you, keep reading our definitive countdown of the best fast hatchbacks on sale today.

Ford Fiesta ST hatchback

The Ford Fiesta ST is our 2014 hot hatchback of the year thanks to its excellent performance, everyday usability and great value. It can get from 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds and has a top speed of 137mph. While other hot hatches use sophisticated gearboxes and fancy suspension, the Fiesta is a relatively simple car. As well as being easy to drive, the ST is just as spacious, stylish and easy to live with as the standard Fiesta. Although the suspension is firmer than other models in the range, and fuel consumption’s also higher, that’s the payoff for a car that’s this fun to drive. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5
Price 
£17,250 - £19,250

Suzuki Swift Sport hatchback

The Suzuki Swift Sport follows the mould of the Fiesta ST – keeping things simple, but fun. Our 2012 hot hatchback of the year’s small dimensions and firm suspension make it an excellent car if you want to have fun on a twisty back road. With a 0-60mph time of 8.7 seconds the Swift isn't the fastest hot hatch, but it still feels pretty quick. The Suzuki’s trump card is its low price, which means it undercuts most of the competition without lacking a generous list of standard equipment. Read more.

Key points

4.5 / 5
Price 
£13,999 - £14,499

Ford Focus ST hatchback

As a bigger hot hatch the Ford Focus ST offers more straight-line performance than either the Fiesta or the Swift, with impressive figures of 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 154mph. Available only as a five-door, the Focus may not have the same youthful image of some of its rivals, but if you have to carry passengers on a regular basis, you’ll soon appreciate those extra doors. For extra space, you can opt for the Ford Focus ST estate - with a bigger boot and a more practical interior. Throw in the Focus’ comfortable suspension, logical dashboard and the fact that it undercuts the Volkswagen Golf GTI by around £3,000, and you’ll understand why the Focus is one of our favourite fast hatchbacks. Read more.

Key points

4.4 / 5
Price 
£22,195 - £25,995

Skoda Octavia vRS hatchback

The Skoda Octavia vRS is an excellent choice if you have a family thanks to its roomy cabin and large boot. It uses the same petrol and diesel engines as the VW Golf GTI and GTD.,The larger body means the Octavia isn’t as much fun to drive on a twisty back road, but it feels more grown up than many of its rivals thanks to its conservative looks both inside and out. The Skoda’s price means it undercuts most of the competition, while all models should be reliable too thanks to a strong performance in the 2013 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey. Read more.

Key points

4.3 / 5
Price 
£23,755 - £25,410

Peugeot 208 GTi hatchback

When the Peugeot 208 GTI went on sale in 2012, the brand hoped to capture some of the magic of the old Peugeot 205 GTI, which is still considered one of the best hot hatchbacks ever built. Peugeot has spruced up the exterior of the standard car and the 208 GTI gets a new grille, larger alloy wheels, a roof spoiler, GTI badging and a twin exhaust. It’s not all show and no go, though, because the 208 can manage 0-60mph in 6.8 seconds and has a top speed of 143mph. The Peugeot’s also fun to drive, although it’s not as sharp as the Fiesta ST. Read more.

Key points

4 / 5
Price 
£11,245 - £21,995

Volkswagen Golf GTI hatchback

It was the Volkswagen Golf GTI that introduced the idea of fast performance in a practical hatchback way back in the 1970s. The current model is available as a three-door or five-door hatchback, and has a practical interior, with decent space and plenty of cubbyholes. It is great fun to drive, with lots of grip and very little body roll – making the GTI particularly easy to drive quickly. Optional extras like the DSG automatic gearbox add to the GTI’s appeal, but they can send the list price soaring. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£26,580 - £28,650

BMW 1 Series hatchback

We would normally expect BMWs to be fun to drive, well built and good to look, but the BMW M135i also represents excellent value. The engine is almost 50 more powerful than the VW Golf GTI and helps the car from 0-60mph in just 5.1 seconds. It's more expensive than a standard BMW 1 Series, and costs around £5,000 more than the Golf, but the BMW’s rear-wheel drive set up means it is the most fun-to-drive car on this list. Read more.

Key points

4.3 / 5
Price 
£17,775 - £31,375

Kia Pro_cee'd GT hatchback

Regular readers of Carbuyer will know the huge improvements Kia has made in recent years, and the Pro_cee’d GT is the company’s first attempt at a fast hatch. With 201bhp, it isn't as powerful as some of the cars in this list, but it's still plenty fast enough for most people – doing 0-60mph in just 7.4 seconds. It also has relaxing suspension and comfortable seats, as well as being good looking, reliable and relatively cheap to run. Kia’s strong seventh place in our Driver Power 2013 satisfaction survey and the manufacturer’s seven-year warranty add up to another excellent car from Kia. Read more.

Key points

3.8 / 5
Price 
£19,995 - £22,695

Renault Megane Renaultsport hatchback

Keen sports car fans may scratch their heads at why the Renaultsport Megane placed so low in this list - but bear with us. If you want a car that is excellent fun to drive, and you are prepared to compromise on comfort, then the Renaultsport Megane is a great choice. Infact, the Megane is so adept at going quickly – with a 0-60mph time of 6 seconds, top speed of 158mph and razor-sharp handling – it won’t even feel out of place on a race track. Where it could get a little wearing is on the motorway, when its stiff suspension and noisy cabin can make it a chore to drive over long distances. Read more.

Key points

3.6 / 5
Price 
£25,930 - £36,430

MINI hatchback (2006-2014)

The MINI Cooper S is another car that is excellent fun to drive, but could be more practical. If fun handling is what you’re looking for then the MINI will not disappoint, but try to squeeze in more than a weekly shop and you'll start to see its downsides. The MINI is quick, with a 0-60mph of 7 seconds and a top speed of 142mph, but the small body also makes it quite tiny on the inside. It's actually quite good value for money - and with a new model on the way, now could be the time to secure a good deal on the current car. Read more.

Key points

3.5 / 5

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