Greatest 2010s hot hatchbacks
Here are our favourite hot hatchbacks of the 2010s - a golden era for fast family cars
If you’re looking for one of the greatest hot hatchbacks of the 2010s, you’re pretty spoilt for choice. This is the decade that saw hot hatches become more powerful than ever, yet they were also more refined, usable and enjoyable to drive every day.
Compared to these hot hatches, few other cars are quite as capable of blasting round a track, carrying a family and being easy to drive while keeping running costs reasonably low. Today, many of these cars are now at that sweet spot in the used market where they’re old enough to be potential bargains but still have plenty of life left in them.
There’s loads to choose from, so we’ve rounded up our favourite 2010s hot hatchbacks below.
The Audi S1 is sort of an alternative to the Ford Fiesta ST, because of its size, but it’s more premium than the Ford and was quite expensive when new, so it was hard to come up with a direct rival for it during the 2010s. Yet we love it all the same, because it mixed a feeling of quality and secure handling with lots of performance.
The 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine was strong and had loads of torque, plus with 228bhp it was able to take the S1 from 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds. Four-wheel drive was a unique selling point here, as it’s rare to find a supermini with this layout, and it meant the S1 was very secure even in wet weather.
This means it makes a great everyday car for driving in winter and on muddy country roads, though it’s not the most exciting hot hatch to drive.
Most hot hatchbacks have four-cylinder engines, simply because the cars they are based on don’t have space for anything bigger in the engine bay. Yet the BMW 1 Series of the 2010s was rear-wheel drive, which means the engine fits under the bonnet lengthways and there’s no need for a gearbox or driveshafts under the bonnet either.
This means it got a six-cylinder 3.0-litre engine, and it was all the better for it. Power wasn’t stratospheric at 322bhp, but that was a perfect figure for fun on British roads. The engine was smooth, enjoyable to use and torquey from low down, yet still relished revs.
In short it was a perfect match for the M135i’s chassis, and the car is a fantastic all-rounder as a result. It’s smooth, comfortable and quiet when you want it to be yet still performs like a hot hatch should.
Ford Focus RS Mk3
The Ford Focus RS was the ultimate version of the popular family car. The hot ST model was fantastic but the four-wheel drive RS model took it to another level. It featured a 345bhp turbocharged petrol engine, a manual gearbox and a headline-catching ‘Drift Mode’ that enabled sideways skids on track.
What made it great wasn’t the power or the gimmicks, though - it was the way it drove. The Focus RS has a very clever four-wheel drive system that can send up to 70 per cent of power to the rear wheels, which means it has the dynamics of a rear-wheel drive car in many situations, but the traction and control of a four-wheel drive car when needed.
It has quick steering, supportive seats, loads of grip in corners and an exciting engine, which means it’s a thrilling car to drive. The suspension was the only sticking point - the ride was very firm and bumpy roads would send you bouncing up and down in your seat. Yet the RS was still practical enough to use every day, with a big boot and usable rear seats.
Honda Civic Type R FK8
Oh how we sniggered when Honda released its FK8-generation Civic Type R in 2017.
The basic ingredients were far from convincing: preposterous wings, artificial carbon fibre, the fact it had the previous model’s unexceptional engine, plus a body that was bigger and wider than before. But for those drivers fortunate enough to have experienced an FK8, it’s something euphoric. The Type R’s dynamic repertoire isn’t just ‘class leading’, but leaves you speechless as to how it does what it does.
The engine, despite initial reservations, pulls to the redline with crispness and urgency, and is paired with one of the best gearchanges of any modern car. The steering has unmatched directness and precision, the brakes are full of power and feel, and the driving position is perfect.
Yet the best bit is its ride and handling. On the toughest of back roads, the Civic’s levels of grip give you confidence to push harder. And on silky track tarmac, you can put the car into +R mode and enjoy the best circuit-focused hot hatchback of all time.
Hyundai i30 N
Don’t overlook the Hyundai i30 N. It may be based on a humble family hatchback, and come from a brand not previously known for performance cars, but the i30 N is a brilliantly fast, capable and, above all, fun hot hatch that still has room for the family.
It has a powerful 271bhp 2.0-litre engine that sounds good, a snappy manual gear shift and loads of driving modes to play with, plus it’s a joy to drive on a twisty road, if a little on the firm side. The softest setting on the adjustable dampers is the only one that’s really usable on UK roads, but that’s okay.
The i30N is understated and good value, yet it’s more fun than a Golf GTI, just as practical and has more of a sense of humour. The interior could be better - the materials look a bit cheap in places - but the infotainment is great and it’s roomy enough to work as a daily driver.
Peugeot 208 GTi by PeugeotSport
The Peugeot 208 GTi by PeugeotSport is another supermini hot hatch that proves you don’t need lots of power to have fun. With 205bhp it’s hardly slow, but the Peugeot is all about its handling - in bends its small size and light weight mean it’s a joy to throw around.
It’s grippy, poised and above all, fun to drive. You can keep things smooth and enjoy the swift acceleration out of bends, or throw it into corners and enjoy the adjustability of the chassis. The quick steering means it’s very responsive, too.
The thing that lets it down is the awkward driving position and tiny steering wheel, which can be uncomfortable for some drivers - but others get used to it quickly enough.
Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy-R
It was the best-driving Megane in the range and the successor to the excellent Megane R26.R of the 2000s. Strong performance, loads of grip, direct steering and an incredibly adjustable and enjoyable chassis set-up meant it was a revelation, especially on a track - and many owners treat them more like sports cars than hot hatchbacks.
It’s understandable given that there are only two seats, but that also means there’s a huge boot. It’s mainly the firm suspension set-up that prevents its use as a daily driver, plus the fact that it’s now an appreciating classic car cherished by its owners.
SEAT Leon Cupra R
Cupra is now a brand of car in its own right, but it was models like the SEAT Leon Cupra R that made it an appealing sub-brand in the first place. The 2010s Leon Cupras were closely related to the Volkswagen Golf GTI, with the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, but tuned to produce up to 306bhp in this later incarnation.
It’s front-wheel drive and has a distinct character that separates it from the Golf GTI - it’s more engaging in corners but is slightly stiffer over bumps. It looks sharper than the Golf, both inside and out, and the extra power had its own appeal - it was as powerful as a Golf R but was front-wheel drive like the GTI, which helped keep prices down.
It was a bargain performance car for a big part of the 2010s, although in the latter part of the decade other contenders outdid it. On the second-hand market it still represents great value in many cases.
Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7.5
Hot hatchbacks should be all things to all people. That means they need to entertain on the right road, but still be usable every day. For mundane tasks such as the work commute and school run, as well as the occasional B-road blast or impromptu track day, no car better fits this bill than the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
The last-of-the-line Mk7.5 mixes comfort and quality with 242bhp, 0-62mph in 6.2 seconds and a classy image that few of its rivals can match. Pick one with the sought-after Performance Pack and you’ll get some welcome added punch, bigger brakes and a limited-slip diff, without any trade-off in the ride. The tech interface also far surpasses the laggy, unresponsive set-up in the newer Mk8.
Some may ask: ‘why not the R?’. Sure, it’s faster, has four-wheel drive and prodigious cross-country pace – but herein lies the problem. Use the Golf R to its full potential on the road and you’ll lose your licence quicker than you can say ‘300bhp hyper-hatch’.
Volkswagen up! GTI
This was a back-to-basics, small, light, manual model that put the driver at the heart of the process of having fun, and best of all, it cost less than £14,000 for a three-door model - a five-door was also available.
It used a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo engine with just 113bhp, but it had a good chunk of torque. It was weight that was key to the car’s appeal. At a little less than a tonne and sitting 15mm lower than a regular up!, the GTI had impressive grip and agility, too.
Yet like any good hot hatch, it also did the mundane things brilliantly well, with enough quality and comfort to use the GTI every day. It was a true VW GTI in this respect and could return as much as 50mpg.
Which 2010s hot hatch is your favourite? Tell us in the comments section below...
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