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From the hugely powerful Mercedes AMG-A45s, to the understatedly sporty Hyundai i30Ns, hot hatchbacks are a great balance of practicality and performance. These sportier versions of everyday hatchback run-arounds reflect a taste for the finer things in life without setting the owner far back financially. They’re just the ticket for active people who want to get from A to B and want the adventure to start long before they pick up the tennis racquet, get pedalling on their mountain bike or embark on other sporting escapades.
When you have sports gear, you’re going to bring it with you somehow. A hot hatch is that somehow. The boot space is wide and access to it is easy. Then, when you and your equipment are in the vehicle and you need space, especially headroom, the hot hatch helps you out again.
There’s also the fact these high-performance vehicles have that little something that makes them more drivable and life behind the wheel more enjoyable. Once you drive one, you very rarely look back.
Now it’s time to discuss which ones are the best out there for sports enthusiasts. Strap yourself in and let’s take a look. We get this hot hatchback show on the road with the Golf GTI from Volkswagen.
The Volkswagen Golf GTI delivers 0 to 62 mph in 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 152.8 mph, which makes it a nippy vehicle, but not one that overwhelms you with unbridled take-your-face-off power. The engine houses 229 hp (232 PS) and 273 lb ft (370 Nm) torque up to 4 300 rpm, so pulling power aplenty if you’re carrying bulky sports equipment inside the vehicle or on top of it.
As you’d expect of a Golf GTI, the body is sleek and low. Features such as grills and badges are slightly more exaggerated than on previous versions, which gives the vehicle real presence as you glide up the streets and motorways in it. All the while, some minor adjustments to the steering help the car to handle nicely, translating into optimum pleasure when you drive it.
Prices start from £275
The Audi S1 is a sportier version of the A1 and is a beauty, basically. This four-wheel drive (4WD) with 6-speed manual transmission will carry you from 0 to 62 mph in just 5.8 seconds. The power comes from a 2 L turbo engine with 227 bhp (230 PS) and 272.90 lb ft (370 Nm) of torque so you can transport heavy loads with minimal fuss. Top speed: just over 155 mph.
The vehicle is compact, light and sporty. The steering is direct and responsive. The traction is excellent and the suspension is firm, but you can always soften the latter up a little with the Auto driving mode if the impact from bumps is a little too heavy for your tastes. Driving this car is just how driving a hatchback should be: fun, engaging and safe in the knowledge your hatchback will never let you down. All hail the S1.
Prices start from £12,950
The AMG A45 S can really move, delivering 0 to 62 mph in just 3.9 seconds and a top speed of up to 170 mph… potentially more depending on how you’re willing to spend. A 2 L, four cylinder twin turbo engine that boasts 417 hp (423 PS) and torque just short of 369 lb ft (500 Nm) at 5 000 rpm supplies this. It’s a 4WD affair, too. Basically, it will do the business when you’re packing it with sports gear or heavy loads.
The wide wings, Powerdome bonnet and independent bumper at the front give the A45 S a distinctive feel, conveying bulk but not sacrificing speed, while twin tailpipes and a rear spoiler create the sportiness at the back. The steering is calm, crisp and, as you accelerate, the vehicle gently smooths out the power so that you always feel in control. Nicely done.
Prices starting from £18,950
Honda have produced their R Civic Type with a passion. The engine is a 2L VTEC turbo with 6–speed manual transmission, 320 hp (324 PS) and, from 2 900 rpm, 295 lb ft (420 Nm) of torque. Highly respectable pulling power, in other words. When you accelerate, the vehicle obliges with 0 to 62 mph in 5.8 seconds and little fuss.
The bodywork is bold and aerodynamic features such as short overhangs and wing spoilers allow the vehicle to cut through the streets quicker without sacrificing stability. In terms of performance, the steering is accurate and the vehicle feels solid on the roads, creating confidence behind the wheel. The ride is comfortable, with the suspension soaking up the bumps and imperfections effectively. You’ll always feel in control in this one.
Prices start from £3,700
The Audi RS3 Sportback is a stylish, five-door, 4WD hatchback with 335 litres of boot space and a 2.5 L, five-cylinder petrol engine with 7 speed S-tronic transmission (Audi’s version of dual clutch transmission). The beautiful machinery under the bonnet renders serves up 395 hp (400 PS) and 354 lb ft (480 Nm) of torque at 5 850 rpm. That translates into swift acceleration from 0 to 62 mph in 4.1 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. Pay to remove this upper limit and it soars to 174 mph.
Stylish touches include LED lights projecting the Audi Sport logo onto the ground as you exit the vehicle. The car is roomy inside, accommodating tall adults comfortably, but the real beauty of this vehicle is in the handling. It’s easy to drive and has excellent grip on the roads, with the 4WD giving you that extra level of confidence while you’re out and about.
Prices start from £15,500
The M135 boasts a 2L four cylinder — it used to be six cylinders — twin turbo engine and delivers 0 to 62 mph in 4.8 seconds. The 306 horsepower and 332 lb ft (500 Nm) of torque really get behind the vehicle, allowing it to cope comfortably with heavy loads. The transmission is 6-speed automatic, which allows the vehicle to go that little bit faster and add extra reliability to the automobile.
Overall, the performance is good. The steering isn’t too heavy and there’s just the amount of feel in it to make you comfortable that all is as it should be. The vehicle is stable on the road, coming in and out of corners well, and the suspension earns its pay fair and square making sure things don’t get too bumpy.
The M135 may have downgraded its engine by a few cylinders on the original, but the performance is one up on the earlier version. The result is a smoking hot hatchback with good handling and which goes easy on the eye, too.
Prices start from £13,250
The Hyundai i30N is all about balance. The 2 L GDI turbo, petrol engine delivers 240 hp (250 PS) — or 271 hp (275 PS) if you plump for the Performance version —and torque of 260 lb ft (353 Nm) at 1 450 to 4 700 rpm. Putting your foot down in this one will see it hit 0 to 62 mph in 6.9 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. Meanwhile, the vehicle offers more space inside than your average hot hatch, making it a neat little piece of kit for a sports outing.
The bodywork is subtle, with the rear spoiler, side dents and an exclusive front grill and sculpted bumper giving the car an understated sportiness. Meanwhile, in terms of handling, the steering is nicely weighted and comfortable and you can feel how firm the grip of the car is on the road. The suspension is fairly firm, too, but you can adjust it gets a little too firm for your liking. The car feels pretty planted on the ground and, overall, you can look forward to a decent ride when you get behind the wheel of the vehicle.
Prices start from £13,000
The Ford Focus ST – available as a five-door hatchback or an estate — accelerates fast with 0 to 62 mph in under 6 seconds. Step forward the 2.3 L EcoBoost four cylinder engine with 276 hp (280 PS) and 310 lb ft (420 Nm) of torque and take a bow for this, carrying the car forward with any heavy loads, equipment or passengers inside its roomy interior nicely. The diesel engine version is a less powerful beast, with 187 hp (190 PS), but can still shift if you want it to.
The steep rear spoiler lends the car a sporty aesthetic, while the tailpipes at either side of the back not just add to the sportiness but offer practicality for towing. Meanwhile, the experience the wheel is pleasant. The steering is comfortable, feeling lighter at slow speeds and firm at higher ones, and the car holds the ground well. If the road does get a little rocky, you’ll find the car easy to control. The suspension is balanced… firm but not overly so and you won’t dread your next ride in the slightest. It’s lovely stuff this car.
Prices start from £1,000
If you want a stylish hot hatch that won’t overwhelm you with its speed but will still do the job, look no further. The Suzuki Swift Sport packs an engine power of 129 hp (131 PS) and a torque of 173 lb ft (235 Nm) at 5 000, coming from a 1.4 L four cylinder Boosterjet Hybrid engine. The car reaches a top speed of 130 mph and accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in 9.1 seconds.
Gorgeous metallic paintwork, ‘under spoilers’, a rooftop rear spoiler and wide-space exhaust tips bestow the sporty aesthetic on this five-door hunk. It’s light, at 975 kilos, and the car’s lower suspension gifts the body with extra aerodynamic powers.
Out on the road, the steering is direct, well weighted and inspires confidence. The car stays sufficiently upright in corners to make you calm and there’s a reassuring depth to the vehicle’s overall handling. Suzuki have tweaked the suspension slightly to make it a little firmer, but haven’t gone overboard with this, thankfully, and the still ride remains comfortable throughout.
Prices start from £2,300
Often available in customary yellow, the Renault Mégane is a handsome devil, with 280 hp (284 PS) and 288 lb ft (390 Nm) in torque coming from a 1.8 L turbo engine. An entry level R.S. will hit 0 to 62 mph in 5.8 seconds and power towards a top speed of 158 mph. The interior is roomy, with boot space of around 384 litres, and folding down the back seats increases space to some 1 247 litres, creating plenty of room for sports equipment.
The handling is sweet. Renault’s four-wheel steering technology increases steering accuracy and agility, especially around corners, and makes tasks such as parking in tight spots much easier. It’s a zippy set of wheels and remains sporty while retaining a sense of style, rather than parading around with outlandish or aggressive sports-car-like features. All in all, it’s a nice–handling hot hatch for a serious driver.
Prices start from £2,500
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