Best cheap hot hatchbacks

Need a car that delivers on power as well as practicality? You could do worse than these cheap hot hatches

There comes a point in every motorist’s life where the need for a practical car becomes inescapable. For some it happens the moment they pass their test, while others manage to hold off for a while longer until growing families and stretched finances take their toll.

But while the inevitable will catch up with almost everyone, that shouldn’t mean that you have to do without a car that’s fun and engaging to drive. Fortunately manufacturers understand this conundrum, which is why the hot hatchback exists to bring us driving thrills combined with real-world usefulness.

And if you can fulfil these criteria while keeping your expenditure down, then you really are onto a winner. The used car market is awash with cheap hot hatchbacks, meaning that there should be something out there for everyone across a wide variety of budgets.

What model you go for really does depend on what your priorities are. For example, something like a Volkswagen Golf GTI from 2005 will give you 197bhp to play with on your local B-road, and will still accommodate five passengers in a way that a Mazda MX-5 simply can’t.

Stretch your budget to £7,000 and a Renaultsport Megane 250 will give you even more power and an excellent chassis to reign it all in. The Volkswagen Golf R shows just how far the hot hatch segment has come, with its 296bhp turbo 2.0-litre engine and four wheel-drive. 

This list features a range of new and used cars to help you find the perfect car whatever your budget. As with any used car, a thorough inspection and test drive is advised before you part with any cash. Remember that if a deal is too good to be true, it probably is, and that paying a little extra for something that has a full service history, and evidence to prove a lifetime of careful maintenance and sensible road use, is probably worthwhile.

But with the right approach and realistic aims, you’ll be whizzing around in your own cheap hot hatch before you know it.

Best cheap hot hatches...

Renaultsport Megane

  • We found: RS250 (2010/60-reg, 69k miles)
  • Price new: £23,735
  • Now: £7,150
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 247bhp
  • Economy: 34.0mpg
  • CO2: 195g/km
  • Euro NCAP: 5 stars (2008)

The Mégane RS250 was one of the best hot hatches of its day. Its punchy engine loves being revved hard, and thanks to its 340Nm of torque, the car covers 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds. The standard chassis delivers great agility.

The track-focused RS250 Cup also falls within this price bracket but, due to its firmer suspension, limited-slip diff and Recaro bucket seats, it’s not so forgiving in daily use. For keen drivers, though, this is a small price to pay.

Peugeot 308 GTi

  • We found: 270 by Peugeot Sport (2016/16-reg, 54k miles)
  • Price new: £28,025
  • Now: £13,000
  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 268bhp
  • Economy: 47.1mpg
  • CO2: 139g/km
  • Euro NCAP: 5 stars (2015)

Peugeot knows a thing or two about building a hot hatch, and the 308 GTi by Peugeot Sport gained big plaudits for its ability. It isn’t as extreme as, say, Honda’s Civic Type R, but it delivers a brief close to that of a VW Golf GTI – exciting, yet still easy to use every day.

The thrills come courtesy of a cracking 268bhp 1.6-litre petrol turbo – enough for a six-second 0-62mph time. While the ride can be a little firm at slow speeds, the tight body control really comes alive on a twisty road.

Just over £13,000 will secure a 16-plate model with around 30,000 miles; that’s a lot of performance for the money. It’s worth trying before you buy, though; some people find it hard to get along with the i-Cockpit, which places the dials above a small steering wheel.

Suzuki Swift Sport

  • Model: Suzuki Swift Sport (12-reg, 77k miles)
  • Price new: £11,549
  • Now: £1,995
  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 123bhp
  • Economy: 39.2mpg
  • CO2: 175g/km
  • Euro NCAP: 4 stars (2005)

When it was launched in 2006, the Swift Sport felt like a pleasingly simple warm hatch, thanks to its revvy, naturally aspirated 1.6-litre engine, lightweight build, sporty interior and terrific handling.

That feeling is only emphasised now that we live in a time when even a fast Ford Fiesta has a 197bhp turbo engine. In the Swift it’s all about enjoying the performance at sensible speeds (and a sensible price), backed by Suzuki’s fine reputation for reliability.

SEAT Leon Cupra R

  • Model: SEAT Leon Cupra R (2004/04-reg, 119k miles)
  • Price new: £17,890
  • Now: £1,990
  • Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl, 222bhp
  • Economy: 32mpg
  • CO2: 211/km
  • Euro NCAP: 4 stars (1998)

The original SEAT Leon Cupra R was based on the Mk4 Volkswagen Golf, but improved on its ancestor with sharper handling and a sportier feel overall. At the time it was considered somewhat of a bargain, thanks in no small part to a kit list that included a CD multichanger, climate control, sports seats and heated mirrors as standard.

Performance was terrific too: 222bhp (up on the early car’s 207bhp) provided great acceleration via the six-speed manual gearbox. It was easier to drive than some of the leading hot hatches of the time too, although perhaps not as practical or as spacious in the rear.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

  • Model: Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk5 3dr (05/05-reg, 159k miles)
  • Price new: £20,495
  • Now: £2,200
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 197bhp
  • Economy: 35.3mpg
  • CO2/tax: 189g/km/£290
  • Euro NCAP: 5 stars (2004) 

Seriously quick thanks to its 197bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine, composed and comfortable on long journeys, but also sharp enough to be genuinely entertaining on a challenging B-road, the Mk5 Golf GTI was a real return to form for Volkswagen

It still looks good today and the interior feels relatively modern. Find a good Mk5 GTI and you’ll have a practical car that can make you smile. 

Ford Fiesta ST

  • We found: ST-2 3-door (2016/65-reg, 44k miles)
  • Price new: £18,765
  • Now: £8,600
  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 180bhp
  • Economy: 47.9mpg
  • CO2: 138g/km
  • Euro NCAP: 5 stars (2009)

Hot hatchbacks don’t get much better than the Fiesta ST, a car whose talents stretch far beyond its reasonable asking price. The latest version is widely regarded as the best yet, but the previous-generation model is still an excellent choice. In fact, many people prefer the character of its punchy but revvy four-cylinder engine

Few cars offer such a well-judged combination of performance, agility and outright fun as the ST; it’s a vehicle that can be enjoyed close to its limits at sensible speeds, all the while offering levels of tactile feedback that can put many more expensive sports cars to shame.

Volkswagen Golf R

  • Model: Volkswagen Golf R 5dr manual (14/14-reg, 55k miles)
  • Price new: £30,600
  • Now: £14,500
  • Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 296bhp
  • Economy: 38.9mpg
  • CO2/tax: 165g/km/£195
  • Euro NCAP: 5 stars (2012)

Some people scoffed at the prospect of a £30,000 Golf, so it’s a measure of just how good the R is that it made that sum seem quite good value.

Here, after all, is a perfectly practical family hatch that can sprint from 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds (or 4.9 seconds if you have the DSG dual-clutch auto). Meanwhile, its four-wheel-drive system delivers massive grip but not at the expense of adjustability, making it endlessly fun to drive. 

Next, read our list of the best cheap sports cars...

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