The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks 2023
While hatchbacks might normally be used for trips to the shops, the hot hatch power war has resulted in the fastest models being quicker than most sports cars
When the phrase ‘hot hatchback’ was first coined for the more powerful versions of family cars, models such as the Peugeot 205 GTI, Vauxhall Astra GTE and Volkswagen Golf GTI had less than 150bhp and depended on light weight and sharp responses to entertain their drivers.
Fast-forward three decades and the hot hatchback has now evolved almost beyond recognition. With each successive model, power has been pushed up and up in a never-ending war between manufacturers, vying for both customers and bragging rights. By the end of the last decade, models such as the Honda Civic Type R and Renault Megane RS seemed to defy the laws of physics, sending more power to the front wheels than anyone thought possible, without evaporating the front tyres or skating all over the road.
Clever suspension engineering and improved tyre technology ensures the fast Honda and Renault can send more than 300bhp to the wheels, yet still be driven home from the shops with two child seats in the back and a boot full of bags.
To really harness increasing power and shoot off the mark from a standing start, some of the hottest hatchbacks have now adopted four-wheel-drive, including the Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A 45 S. With four tyres biting into the tarmac instead of two, these dominate our top-10 list of the fastest hatchbacks from 0-62mph. But as you’ll see, there’s still a place for front-wheel drive, which some manufacturers prefer thanks to its lighter weight, reduced running costs and lower price tag. Hot hatchbacks are meant to be affordable, after all.
If your focus is on style instead of thrills, take a look at our top-10 list of the best-looking cars, or perhaps you’d rather have both, in which case head over to our round-up of the best sports cars. But if you simply can’t get enough of the all-round ability of a great hot hatchback, read on for our list of the 10 fastest hatchbacks from 0-62mph.
When the latest Audi RS 3 came along to take on the mighty Mercedes-AMG A 45 S, it appeared to have a slight disadvantage. You see, although the 395bhp developed by the Audi’s 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine was mightily impressive, it wasn’t quite as impressive as the 415bhp found in the Merc. Regardless of that, however, the Audi still has the Merc beaten against the stopwatch, taking its crown as the quickest hot hatch on the market.
Thanks in part to Audi’s famous quattro all-wheel-drive system and launch control, 0-62mph takes a supercar-rivalling 3.8 seconds, beating the A45 S by a tenth of a second. Also, a new ‘torque splitter’ allows the car to niftily shift power to each of the four wheels to maintain maximum grip.
This all comes at a cost, however, with top-spec models touching £60,000. However, the Audi makes up for it with a plush yet sporty interior, and touches such as chequered-flag headlight insignias that enthusiasts will love.
The Mercedes-AMG A 45 S might no longer be the fastest-accelerating hot hatch there is, but it remains the most powerful, its 415bhp being a level of power reserved for supercars until fairly recently. Packing the most powerful 2.0-litre engine ever produced, linked to four-wheel drive, its 0-62mph time of just 3.9 seconds and top speed of 168mph is still mind-blowing.
It’s no stripped-out racing car, though. It still features all the Mercedes luxuries and it’s comfortable when you’re driving at lower speeds. While it is an astonishing piece of kit, we’re a little uneasy about the price of a family hatchback starting at over £60,000, although it’s very popular nonetheless. If you’d rather a coupe or estate body, check out the similarly powerful Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S.
Power levels in the very fastest hot hatchbacks had become so astronomical that there was plenty of room below for other high-performance versions to bridge the gap between the fast models and the more humble versions. In the Mercedes A-Class range, that car is the Mercedes-AMG A 35, and it plays rival to cars such as the Audi S3, and Volkswagen Golf R.
Sitting between the A 45 and the 221bhp A250, the A 35 has 302bhp and 4MATIC four-wheel drive as standard, helping it sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds – the same time as the fastest Golf. Despite the performance, the A35 still has the super-luxurious interior Mercedes is now known for, with two large screens and upmarket materials.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI has been regarded as hot hatchback royalty by many over the last few decades. However, with various manufacturers creating more and more powerful hot hatches, the GTI was beginning to almost appear slow in comparison. Enter, the Golf R. Sitting at the pinnacle of the hot Golf lineup, the R shares the same underpinnings and 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the more expensive Audi S3. Here it produces 316bhp (75bhp more than the Golf GTI) and can manage 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds. Some may be unimpressed by the R’s rather flat exhaust note, but it remains great to drive and the 4Motion four-wheel-drive system creates plenty of grip.
While the inside of the Golf is certainly smart, it feels slightly less exciting and luxurious than the equivalent Audi. The digital instrument cluster makes the cabin feel modern, however the touch-sensitive climate controls can be frustratingly fiddly. VW has provided the Golf R with plenty of standard equipment such as Matrix LED headlights, adaptive cruise control and grippy sports seats. Yet, some items such as a reversing camera are bizarrely only available as paid extras; and with the options list as extensive as it is, you can easily specify a Golf costing upwards of £50,000.
You can think of the Audi S3 as the baby brother to the Audi RS 3, with a smaller 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and ‘just’ 306bhp. Despite the power deficit to the RS 3, tenacious four-wheel-drive traction gets it from 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds.
The figures above might sound familiar because the S3 is essentially a Volkswagen Golf R in business attire. The Golf is hardly a bad place to spend time but the Audi is even classier inside, with the S3’s virtual cockpit interior meaning there’s plenty of the latest technology to accompany the comfy, Nappa leather upholstery.
Topping the new BMW 1 Series range is the M135i, which has swapped from rear-wheel drive to four-wheel drive for the first time. Despite having 33bhp less than the outgoing BMW M140i, BMW’s xDrive system means it’s just as quick from 0-62mph as before, with a time of 4.8 seconds.
Enthusiasts may complain about the move away from rear-wheel drive and a six-cylinder engine (the M140i was the only hot hatchback to feature this configuration), and in truth the M135i could be more exciting. The M135i is still equally comfortable at a trackday or cruising on the motorway, and we don’t think the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine sounds too much worse than the 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine in the old car.
The Type R badge has been worn by quite a few different Honda models down the years, but it’s the Civic hatchback with which the moniker is most synonymous. And the latest version of the Civic Type R is arguably the best yet, with aggressive looks, scintillating handling and tyre-shredding performance.
Tyre-shredding enough, in fact, to make this list. The Type R’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine develops 325bhp. That’s enough to hurl it from 0-62mph in just 5.4 seconds, and onto a top speed of 170mph, making it the fastest front-wheel drive car on our list. Not to mention one of the most exciting.
Specify your Hyundai i30 N with the standard six-speed manual gearbox, and it wouldn’t even come close to making this list, with a 0-62mph sprint time of 5.9 seconds. However, specify it with the eight-speed dual-clutch DCT automatic transmission instead, and remember to engage launch control before you set off, and no less than half a second is cut from that figure, bringing it down to just 5.4 seconds. That matches the Civic Type R despite the Hyundai having just 276bhp from its turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, although the i30 figures lower in this list due to having a lower top speed of 155mph.
That DCT gearbox brings other benefits, too, not least the ‘N Grin Shift’ function, which at the press of a button, gives you maximum acceleration for up to 20 seconds. Slightly gimmicky, perhaps, but entertaining nonetheless.
When originally designing the GR Yaris, Toyota made it clear that this was to be a fully rally-inspired road-going car in order to maximise the firm’s performance in the World Rally Championship. Fortunately, the world’s most powerful three-cylinder engine and an adjustable four-wheel-drive system help the GR Yaris to live up to these expectations, even exceeding them in some areas.
The three-cylinder engine delivers a very impressive 257bhp, which allows the GR Yaris to sprint from 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds. Unlike many of their other models, Toyota hasn’t put too much emphasis on technological features in the GR, unless they assist in driving performance and pleasure, such as rev-matching. Instead, it has opted for more traditional features such as a six-speed gearbox and analogue dials. Make no mistake, the GR is a very different car from its far more sensible hybrid-engined sibling and it's all the better for it.
The Golf GTI is a stalwart of the hot hatch scene, but it was starting to get beaten by faster and better-value alternatives. VW has answered by giving the GTI a dose of touring car excitement. The GTI Clubsport is at the top of the GTI line-up, with aggressive styling, a great chassis and an increased power output of 296bhp, resulting in 0-62mph in just 5.6 seconds.
As has always been the case with Golf GTIs, this latest-generation car is still easy to use everyday. A 10.25-inch infotainment screen dominates the dashboard and has crisp graphics. Practicality is rather good, too, with five doors and a 374-litre boot, so the GTI should prove just fine for shopping runs or even trips away with luggage, all while you’re having great fun behind the wheel.
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