Opinions as split on the exact definition of a hot hatch, and depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different answer.
Some say that as long as it’s in the compact class and has a tailgate, it should count. While there are some out there that place a few more requirements to entry in the hot hatchback club.
To fully qualify as a hot hatchback, it must have under 300hp, be front-wheel-drive only and most importantly, must be relatively affordable. The breed is, after all, a sports car for the people, goes the reasoning.
If you ask us, we belong in the latter camp. Good though mega hot hatches like the Audi RS3 (what an engine) and Mercedes-AMG A45 are (what an engine there, too), they’re not exactly cheap, costing in excess of $300,000. Plus, they’re far too powerful, with all-wheel-drive becoming a necessity in putting all that power to the road.
But we’re big fans of simplicity and relatively modest power here, because as the old saying goes, it’s not so much what you have, but what you do with it. And what the best hot hatchbacks on sale today have is the ability to make a lot out of not very much.
All prices stated below are list prices, before applicable discounts/rebates and optional extras.
BMW’s ability to make great straight-six engines is legendary, which should only make it fitting that one should find its way onto one of its smallest cars. Shoehorned under the bonnet of an otherwise ordinary 1 Series hatchback is a comparatively large 3-litre motor with 340hp. Oh, and it also has rear-wheel-drive, an astounding rarity in the modern age, where most cars in the compact class are front-wheel-drive. The only catch is the M140i isn’t a ‘true’ hot hatchback, in that it wasn’t conceived from the ground up to be a sporty thing, and it’s merely the recipient of grafted-on performance bits from M Division’s options bin. Not that we mind all that much, since the M140i is an absolute hoot to drive, but you’d kind of expect that from a small and powerful rear-driven car.
So you already know that Hyundai can make decent workhorses, but to make a car that evokes as much emotions as a hot hatchback? Well, that’s a little more complicated, though you have to give Hyundai credit for not shying away from the task. And it’s even seen fit to give its first-ever hot hatchback, the i30N a manual gearbox, which is probably the most daring thing yet about the car. At any rate, the i30N checks off a good number of boxes, particularly its power output. Its 2-litre turbo engine develops 250hp, and it’ll sprint from a standstill to 100km/h in 6.4 seconds. And if it matters to you, the i30N undercuts many of its rivals by a fair margin, with its current retail price of $140,999.
Renault Megane RS
While models from Renault’s tuning arm, RenaultSport have a fearsome reputation for making some of the finest hot hatchbacks known to man, consistently impressing journalists and owners alike, they have never found much favour here. Whether it’s down to how they were only available with manual transmissions up until very recently, or just general disdain for the French carmaker is open to debate. What is certain is that RS cars are criminally underrated here. But the new Megane RS is here to right all those ills. With a dual-clutch automatic gearbox, road tax-friendly 1.8-litre engine with a thumping 280hp and French black magic suspension tuning (delivering both comfort and control), plus a new touchscreen infotainment system, the new Megane RS is the most impressive one yet. And that’s saying something.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
The once and future king, the car that defined a genre when it landed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1975. The car that proved that practicality and performance needn’t be mutually exclusive, but even more than all that, it proved that you needn’t to land yourself up to your eyeballs in debt to get something fun. Yes, the GTI may have lost its way in the 1990s and early 2000s, but it’s came roaring back with the fifth-generation model in 2003. The Mk7 Golf may have lost a bit of its exuberance and gained a bit of maturity since then, but it’s gained a whole heap of technology, including adaptive chassis dynamics. A far cry from the original that boasted a rorty engine, tartan fabric sports seats and not a whole lot else.