The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks
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 like the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Peugeot 205 GTI and Vauxhall Astra GTE 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 in a never-ending war between manufacturers vying for customers. By the end of the last decade, models like 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 over 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 A45. 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.
We’re now living in an era of hot hatchbacks with more than 400bhp, which was a level of power reserved for supercars until fairly recently. The four-wheel-drive Mercedes-AMG A45 is a very impressive piece of engineering; not only is it the most powerful factory-built hot hatchback ever, but it has the most powerful 2.0-litre engine ever produced. In top-spec ‘S’ guise, the A45 pumps out 415bhp for a 0-62mph time of just 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 168mph.
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 more than £50,000 - although we expect it to be very popular nonetheless. If you’d rather a coupe or estate body, check out the similarly powerful Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S.
You can think of the Audi S3 as the baby brother to the Audi RS3, with a smaller 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and ‘just’ 306bhp. Despite the power deficit to the RS3, 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.
Mercedes’ previous hot hatchback, the A45 AMG, sold so well that there was scope for a second fast A-Class to rival cars such as the Audi S3, leaving the A45 to tackle more powerful rivals like the Audi RS3.
The 302bhp Mercedes-AMG A35 fills the gap between the A45 and the 221bhp A250 in the standard A-Class range. The A35 has four-wheel drive as standard, helping it sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds - just a tenth of a second behind 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.
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), but even the standard 1 Series is better to drive than the car it replaces. 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.
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 accompany the brand’s return to the World Rally Championship in 2015. 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 - but have instead opted for more traditional features such as a six-speed gearbox and analogue dials. Make no mistake, the GR is a very different car to its far more sensible sibling and it's all the better for it.
The Megane RS was added to the range around two and a half years into the Megane’s lifespan, and there are now three to choose from. The 275bhp RS model has a focus on handling; RS Trophy models feature a chassis inspired by Renaultsport racing cars and an extra 21bhp, and the RS Trophy-R is a two-seat lightweight track special that’s closer to a Porsche Cayman than the cars on this list.
The first two models offer four-wheel steering, which allows the rear wheels turn slightly to improve the car’s agility. It’s a feature that’s usually reserved for far more expensive cars but was removed from the RS Trophy-R to save weight. In fact, the weight-saving for the Trophy-R went so far that its badges are hollow and buyers have the option to forego fog lights. You can even get carbon-fibre wheels and, with all the options ticked, the Megane RS Trophy-R has an eye-watering price of over £70,000. The 1.8-litre engine is shared across the range and manages 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds for the RS, 5.7 seconds for the RS Trophy and 5.4 seconds for the RS Trophy-R.
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 new lineup, 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, 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.
The arrival of the latest Ford Focus ST means Ford has a place on this list once again. Using a retuned version of the Ford Mustang’s 2.3-litre petrol engine, the ST gets from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 155mph. It now has 276bhp, putting it in contention with the Hyundai i30N and Renault Megane RS. Handily, the standard Focus is the best-driving family hatchback currently on sale, and the ST gets a set of upgrades including faster steering and firmer suspension.
Speccing the optional Performance Pack brings it up another notch, although the ST is also available as a more practical estate, and with a diesel engine. While frugal, the diesel takes an extra two seconds to cover the 0-62mph sprint, so it doesn’t seem as well suited to the ST’s character.
The fourth front-wheel-drive car to appear on our list is the mighty Honda Civic Type R, which is fractionally faster than the SEAT Leon Cupra, Peugeot 308 GTi and Hyundai i30 N, taking 5.9 seconds to get from 0-62mph. It might have to scrabble to get traction off the starting line, but with 316bhp from its 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, the Type R is far from slow. In fact, its incredible 169mph standard top speed is the highest of any car here, and we suspect even the four-wheel-drive Ford Focus RS would struggle to lap a dry track as quickly.
Honda has focused on handling, reduced weight and aerodynamics to improve its performance, hence the multitude of vents, flaps, spikes and a huge rear wing. Thanks to adjustable dampers with a comfort setting, the Type R is also easier to live with day-to-day than the old model.
When the very first Mini Cooper was introduced to the world in 1961, it quickly became synonymous with driving fun. Fast forward 60 years to the latest MINI John Cooper Works GP and you have a car that is considerably bulkier than the original but one that is an incredibly strong performer.
A 304bhp, turbocharged 2.0-litre engine propels the MINI from 0-62mph in a blistering 5.2 seconds. Semi-slick tyres, a massive rear wing and an upgraded suspension help it to excel in the department that arguably matters the most for a MINI - the handling.