Top 10 best hot hatchbacks to buy 2024

The best hot hatches offer giant-killing performance and a gripping drive, all wrapped in a user-friendly package

​Britain loves a good hot hatch. They provide fun, usable performance in an affordable, practical, everyday package. But some are better than others and you’re here to find out which are the best hot hatchbacks on sale today.

There is indeed an excellent selection of hot hatches to choose from at the moment, and our list contains some seriously capable machinery. Better still is that while the performance of hot hatches has increased, the running costs still remain fairly low, meaning you get a great balance of smiles per mile and miles per gallon. Insurance can still be a problem, especially for young drivers, but fuel economy can be better than you might think if you driver in a careful manner.  

Thanks to some clever engineering and modern technology, the latest hot hatches are able to deliver enough performance to embarrass sports cars and even some supercars. Cars such as the Audi RS 3 and Toyota GR Yaris have four-wheel drive to boost their capabilities, while the Ford Focus ST and Golf GTI use trick electronics and front diffs to get the maximum front wheel-drive traction.

The best hot hatchbacks to buy

Our expert road testers have had the joy of driving every hot hatchback that you can buy in the UK, so which are the best to drive while still maintaining their versatile side? Our top 10 reveals all…

10. Cupra Leon 300

The Cupra Leon does everything you want a hot hatch to do – it's fun to drive, extremely rapid, looks good and carries a reasonable price tag. What's not to like? Ok, the brand might be a bit of a mystery to some, but if you do your homework you'll know that the Cupra Leon is a deeply capable, athletic machine that also offers the essential practicality of a great hot hatch. 

When we first tested a Spanish-spec Cupra Leon 300, its supreme grip and poise on track took us - and the Golf GTI Clubsport we pitted it against - by surprise, but we’ve since driven UK models which fell short of that first impression. Still, the Cupra’s 296bhp hauls it from 0-62mph in just 5.7 seconds, and the power is well contained thanks to an approachable handling balance. 

The cabin tech can be fiddly at times, but the Leon’s ample rear legroom and 380-litre boot make this a versatile hatchback with sports car pace.

9. Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport

The latest Golf GTI didn’t immediately capture our hearts like some of the firm’s earlier efforts, but it remains a formidable, well rounded package that sneaks ahead of the Cupra Leon 300 that uses similar VW Group technology. 

The GTI Clubsport feels muscular and urgent on the move thanks to its 2.0-litre turbocharged motor, which sends nearly 300bhp to the front wheels alone. While the latest GTI doesn't tackle undulating b-roads with the finesse of some of its forebears, extensive drive mode options allows you to tailor its responses for different moods, and it always feels surefooted and grippy. The steering is accurate, and provided you keep the entry speed in check, the GTI hooks around apexes very neatly. 

It's a fraction less spacious than the Cupra Leon 300 inside, but the Golf GTI's interior is as intuitive as the base car's - which is to say, deeply frustrating in real terms. The ergonomics and infotainment system lag behind the pack, which is a shame when the car feels well engineered at its core. 

8. BMW 128ti

As a German hatchback, the BMW 1 Series often finds itself being compared with the Volkswagen Golf. So, naturally, the hot, front-wheel-drive 128ti quickly found itself up against the car that started it all, the Golf GTI.

While both cars offer plenty to make them appealing, the 128ti has the edge when it comes to pure driving pleasure. The same turbocharged 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder engine from the MINI Cooper produces 261bhp, and is good for a 0-62mph time of 6.1 seconds and a top speed of 155mph. 

While these may not be the quickest figures in the hot hatch world, when you mix in the 128ti’s relatively low weight, limited-slip differential and tweaked suspension, you’ll probably be having too much fun to really care.

7. Audi RS 3

With Audi moving steadily towards full electrification, it’s likely that the current RS 3 will be the last five-cylinder car to wear the four rings. Fortunately, it is also one of the brand’s best RS models in years, so it would at least mark a fitting end to the era.

The RS 3 produces 395bhp from its 2.5-litre turbocharged motor, so the Mercedes A 45 S has it pipped when it comes to outright power. However, the Audi makes full use of its power thanks to its RS Torque Splitter rear differential. By apportioning up to 100 per cent of rear axle torque to the outside tyre, the RS 3 can pull off balletic powerslides, and allows the driver to indulge in oversteer on the exit of corners. 

When pootling around, the slick double-clutch gearbox, relatively forgiving ride and tech laden interior give the RS 3 an impressively wide operating window, while the swollen body panels give a pleasingly subtle hint at its performance.

6. Toyota GR Yaris

The indomitable Toyota GR Yaris remains an entirely unique proposition in the hot hatch space - a genuine homologation special shot through with motorsport knowhow and expert engineering. Considering the car’s rallying DNA, the exterior is somewhat mundane, but that only extends the Toyota’s appeal for some. 

Powered by a willing 1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine, the GR Yaris puts out 257bhp to all four wheels, and it’s utterly unflappable in all kinds of weather. It feels squat, muscular and taught as it flicks through corners, inviting the driver to carry more speed and commitment to stretch its capabilities. 

For those who’d prefer this performance to be delivered with more fanfare, the Civic Type R requires more thought to thread down a damp B-road, and ultimately, offers marginally higher rewards. Nevertheless, the GR Yaris is a triumph from behind the wheel - so much so that we can forgive its dated infotainment system and slightly cramped cabin. 

5. Ford Focus ST

Ford’s stunning Fiesta ST is no longer available to buy new, but its big brother, the Focus, still has plenty of the Fiesta’s magic, and wraps it all up in a more practical package as an added bonus. The Focus ST is a car that feels like it’s constantly tugging at the leash – a car that relishes being driven hard, and never lets you forget it. 

It’s at its best in Track Pack form; adjustable coilovers, lightweight wheels and Pirelli P Zero tyres add a rawness to its attitude, and sophistication to the chassis that put it among the best hot hatches. The 276bhp four-cylinder engine has strong performance, but the augmented sound won’t suit everyone.

Unlike any other entry on this list, the Focus ST is also available as an estate if you need the extra practicality – and there’s nothing cooler than a performance estate.

4. Hyundai i30 N

Hyundai hit the ground running with its i30 N, becoming an instant favourite thanks to its sharp handling. It also introduced us to a whole new level of configurability, allowing its driver to perfectly set up the car for their own skill level and taste. 

What you’d always find is a wonderfully interactive driving experience, with great steering feel and an underlying chassis balance that lets the rear join in the fun if you so wish. Its issue lies with the engine, which can feel a little flat, and the fact that the Honda Civic Type R just drives harder, faster and with even more engagement – although admittedly that now comes at quite a price premium. 

It’s the steering, chassis, brakes and interior spec that set the i30 N aside, though; in all these respects it’s right up there with the very best. And for just over £35,000, it’s also exceptionally well specified inside, making it great value for money.

It features myriad customisable settings accessible through its eight-inch touchscreen, including an electronically adjustable limited-slip diff, adaptive dampers, a switchable exhaust and even rev-matching. 

3. Mercedes-AMG A 45 S

Mercedes and Audi have been quarrelling over the title of the ultimate hyper-hatchback for two generations now, but while the recently updated A 45 S has the previous RS 3 to go up against, for now it has the class to itself. 

The Merc still has one of the most powerful mass-produced four-cylinder engines ever fitted in a hot hatch; the 416bhp 2.0-litre unit runs hot, with three cooling systems, including assistance from the cabin’s air-con system. This makes the A 45 a highly strung beast, but then its chassis isn’t any different, with a fantastically fluid feel to the suspension and playful all-wheel drive system. There’s still something to be desired when it comes to feel, but we can’t argue that it’s not impressive, and it remains a brilliant hot hatch.

2. Hyundai i20 N

The supermini hot-hatch class might be shrinking, but Hyundai’s first and likely last offering is the brilliant i20 N. This car is all about pure enjoyment, from the aggressive engine to the playful chassis balance. Its extroverted driving experience is mirrored by the styling and interior. 

The 1.6-litre turbocharged, four-cylinder petrol unit produces 201bhp and 275Nm of torque, and is paired with a terrifically smooth six-speed manual 'box. There's plenty of aural drama too, with the snarly engine sounding particularly aggressive and urging you to push on.

Hyundai's small hot hatch is all the more appealing when you consider its starting price of a little under £27,000. Factor in the generous levels of standard kit, and the i20 N is a package that really starts to make sense. 

When you really dig into them, the chassis and powertrain don’t quite have that magical depth of supermini icons of the past, such as the RenaultSport Clio 197 Cup. But the Korean hot hatch is a fantastic modern alternative with only one real caveat: Hyundai doesn’t look set to reboot the i20 N alongside the wider range’s facelift, nor can you place a custom order of the current model. So it’s best to get in quick to ensure you grab one before they all disappear.

1. Honda Civic Type R

Getting straight to the point, the Honda Civic Type R operates on a different plane that, for now, is unmatched by any rival. This hatchback, with five doors, a manual gearbox and front-wheel drive might sound mundane, but in reality each of those elements is as finely honed as they would be in a Porsche 911 GT3

Some people might say the new car’s firmer ride quality makes the current Type R drive with less fluidity than the old model, but with that comes a level of resilience that will have you pounding down even the most challenging of British back roads without worrying about anything other than the thrill of the drive. That combines with a brilliantly laid-out interior and much more pleasing styling, so be in no doubt that the Civic Type R is one of the hot-hatch greats. 

Top 10 best hot hatchbacks 

  1. Honda Civic Type R
  2. Hyundai i20 N
  3. Mercedes-AMG A 45 S
  4. Hyundai i30 N
  5. Ford Focus ST
  6. Toyota GR Yaris
  7. Audi RS 3
  8. BMW 128ti
  9. Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport
  10. Cupra Leon 300

If you’re looking for maximum thrills, read our list of the fastest accelerating cars in the world...

Shane is responsible for looking after the day-to-day running of the Auto Express website and social media channels. Prior to joining Auto Express in 2021, he worked as a radio producer and presenter for outlets such as the BBC.

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