Renaultsport Clio 182 Trophy

24 Hot Hatches Every Driving Enthusiast Should Own

The term hot hatch refers to a performance version of a hatchback car. These are usually smaller cars, commonly found in the compact and subcompact segments. Hot hatches typically offer great value for money, as they are just as practical as their less powerful siblings but with enough power to put a smile on your face. Speaking of power, hot hatches come in a range of flavors. Some are mild and set up to be fun on twisty roads; others are wild and can give supercars a run for their money.

The concept has been around since the 1970s; during that time, there have been many excellent hot hatchbacks. Here, we’ll look at some of the best ever made. Unfortunately, many of them were never available in the States, but some are old enough to be imported now.

Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Mk1 Golf GTI
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

The Volkswagen Golf GTI is the cool little hatchback that forever changed the automotive scenery. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t the first hot hatch, but it was the first one to get the formula 100% right.

Early cars had a 110-horsepower 1.6-liter engine, which grew to a 112-horsepower 1.8-liter unit in later models. That’s not much power by today’s standards, but in a sub-2000 pound car from the mid-70s with no driver aids or safety features, it made for an exhilarating driving experience.

Peugeot 205 GTI

Peugeot 205 GTI
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

The VW Golf seemed unbeatable for nearly a decade until Peugeot joined the hot-hatch game in 1984 with its 205 GTI. Early cars packed a 115-horsepower 1.6-liter, which was as fun to drive as the Golf, but then Peugeot launched a 130-horsepower 1.9-liter version.

The 1.9-liter is hysterical to drive, offering plenty of performance in a car with the same safety features as a can of sardines. Lift off the throttle mid-corner, and you’ll soon learn everything there is to know about lift-off oversteer.

Renault Megane R26.R

Renault Sport Megane R26.R
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

As you’ll see on this list, the French really know a thing or two about proper hot hatchbacks. The Renault Megane R26.R isn’t the most practical everyday car, but it makes up for that by being fun.

The Megane R26.R has around 230 horsepower, an excellent suspension setup, and optional track-spec Toyo tires. Find a dry, twisty road, and prepare to laugh maniacally until you run out of gas.

Alfa Romeo 147 GTA

Alfa Romeo 147 GTA
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Someone at Alfa Romeo’s headquarters thought fitting a massive 3.2-liter V6 in a small hatchback would be a great idea. They were right! The regular Alfa 147 is cute, but the 147 GTA is a monster.

Alfa Romeo’s V6 Busso engine is famous for its glorious soundtrack. While 250 horsepower doesn’t make the 147 supercar fast, it sure sounds like it is. Driving one of these at the Stelvio pass should be on every gearhead’s bucket list.

Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione

Lancia Delta Integrale
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

Today, Lancia is just a shadow of its former self, and looking at its current lineup, it’s difficult to see how this carmaker once dominated the World Rally Championship.

The Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione is peak Lancia! It was built as a homologation special and is essentially a rally car for the road. A very tunable 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine sent 215 horses to all four wheels, making it a blast to drive in any conditions.

Suzuki Swift Sport

Suzuki Swift Sport
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

The Suzuki Swift Sport is among the most underrated hot hatches on the market. The Swift Sport has been around for three generations, each offering a distinct driving experience.

For the first two generations, Suzuki went with a naturally aspirated 1.6-liter engine that loved to rev all the way to its redline. The latest version has a 1.4-liter turbo engine, and the car is almost like a GR Yaris on a budget.

Renault Clio Williams

1993 Renault Clio Williams
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

The Renault Clio Williams was named after the Formula 1 team, but Williams actually didn’t have anything to do with the car. That doesn’t matter, though, as this is still a great hot hatch.

Renault stuffed a 145-horsepower 2.0-liter engine under the hood, and in a car this tiny that makes for some serious performance.

Audi S3

Audi S3
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Many gearheads have forgotten about the first Audi S3, and that’s a shame because it’s a great car. Unlike other ‘S’ models, the S3 used a four-cylinder engine, specifically the tried and tested 1.8-liter turbo unit found in the Golf and Audi TT, among others.

With 210 horsepower and AWD, the Audi S3 would grip the road and go. This thing was fast, tackled corners like a dream, and it was well-equipped.

Renault 5 GT Turbo

Renault 5 GT Turbo
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

We’re talking about the regular R5 GTT here, not the wide-bodied, mid-engined homologation special. When it first emerged, it was lighter and more powerful than the lightweight Peugeot 205 GTI.

Renault strapped a Garrett turbo to the 1.4-liter engine, producing 113 horsepower that would rapidly move the 1,874 lb car. Renault made some improvements over the years, resulting in 118 horsepower. It was a lot of fun, but the poor build quality caused more than a few headaches.

Mk2 VW Golf GTi

Mk2 VW Golf GTi
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Volkswagen realized they had to up the ante to keep up with all the exceptional hot hatches emerging from France, and in 1984, the Golf GTi Mk2 arrived. The first models were powered by the 112-horsepower 1.8-liter found in the Mk1, but soon, there was a 139-horsepower 16-valve version.

The ultimate Mk2 Golfs were undoubtedly the supercharged G60 models. The regular G60 produced 160 horsepower, which was sent to the front wheels. The AWD Rallye version used the same engine, but the body was much wilder, with large, boxed arches. It’s also one of the rarest Volkswagens ever.

Ek9 Honda Civic Type R

Ek9 Honda Civic Type R
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

In the mid-1990s, Honda wanted to get in on the lucrative hot hatch market, and the first Civic Type R was a total game changer. Honda dug deep and fully utilized its extensive motorsport experience when creating the iconic CTR.

The Civic Type R’s heart was in the form of the B16 1.6-liter 4-cylinder VTEC engine. It would scream its way to 8,200 rpm and push out 182 wild Japanese stallions in the process. Unless you have seriously deep pockets, you can forget about buying one today.

Toyota Corolla GT AE86

Toyota Corolla GT AE86
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Many hatchbacks develop near-cult-like followings, but few can match the AE86 and its legion of fans. As the hero car of the anime show Initial D, the AE86 Corolla can now fetch close to supercar prices.

Under the hood, the Corolla GT has a twin-cam 1.6-liter engine that produces 125 horsepower in stock form. The RWD AE86 is tons of fun to drive, but it still drives like a Toyota from the 1980s, not an Italian exotic from the 2000s, so we’d argue that the current prices are a bit inflated.

Ford Escort RS Cosworth

Ford Escort RS Cosworth
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

There are quite a few fast Fords that could be on this list, such as the Escort RS Turbo or Fiesta XR2, but one we definitely couldn’t ignore is the Escort RS Cosworth. The Cossie was one of the most sought-after cars of the 1990s and 2000s, and today they cost a fortune.

Strictly speaking, the Escort Cosworth wasn’t actually based on the Escort at all. It’s built on a modified Sierra platform. Anyway, with a highly tunable 2.0-liter turbo engine that sent its 225+ horsepower to all four wheels, the Escort Cossie would punish supercars with a much higher price tag.

R53 Mini Cooper GP

R53 Mini Cooper GP
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

The new, supercharged Mini had some issues, but most were ironed out by 2006, its last year in production. That’s also the year they released the first limited edition GP model.

The Mini Cooper GP had a unique bodykit, better Recaro front seats, the rear seat was removed along with some other things to lower its weight, and power was increased from 170 horsepower to 215. Mini only built 2,000 cars, and as far as R53 Minis go, this is the best of them all.

Ford Fiesta ST

Ford Fiesta ST200
Image Credit: Ford.

Hatchbacks never really got the same attention in the States as they did overseas. One fantastic hot hatch that did make it to the American market is the Fiesta ST. This is a proper old-school, analog hot hatchback but in a modern wrapping.

The Fiesta ST’s turbocharged 1.6-liter engine sends a very decent 197 hp to the front wheels via the 6-speed manual gearbox. It’s no match for sports cars on the straights, but find a twisty road, and it’ll leave them in its dust.

Nissan Sunny GTI-R

Nissan Sunny GTI-R
Image Credit: Rutger van der Maa/WIkiCommons.

Nissan built the Sunny GTi-R as a rally car homologation special from 1990 to 1994, directly competing with the Lancia Delta HF Integrale and the Ford Escort Cosworth.

While it was never as good as those two legends, it wasn’t far behind. Like its competitors, the Nissan had a turbocharged 2.0-liter and all-wheel drive, which meant its 227 horses never struggled for grip.

Peugeot 306 GTI-6

Peugeot 306 GTI-6
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Some will argue that the Peugeot 306 GTI-6 is the best hot hatchback ever emerging from the French carmaker’s factories. We’re not entirely convinced that it’s better than the 205, but we certainly agree that the 306 GTI-6 is one of the all-time greats!

The 306 GTI-6’s 2.0-liter engine produced 164 horsepower that went straight to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox. Like you’d expect from a French hot hatch from this era, it was fun and agile – a proper driver’s car.

Toyota GR Yaris

Toyota GR Yaris
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Toyota has built a handful of fun hatchbacks over the years and also created some iconic rally homologation specials. With the GR Yaris, the Japanese carmaker combined the two into one spectacular package.

The GR Yaris is wider than the regular model, with only three doors instead of five. Under the hood, it has a turbocharged three-cylinder 1.6-liter engine that sends 270 horses to all four wheels via a 6-speed manual. Cars like this are what makes Toyota one of the most outstanding manufacturers at a time when everyone is moving towards SUVs, EVs, and automatic transmissions.

Renaultsport Megane Trophy R

Renaultsport Megane Trophy R
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

The Renaultsport Megane Trophy R is a barely road-legal race car. Renaultsport went full-on obsessive here, as proven by the adjustable Öhlins dampers and extreme weight-saving measures.

Strangely, it’s much more poised than its looks and specs will have you believe. It doesn’t feel like a car built for the track at all; it’s surprisingly good on the road. Comfortable isn’t a word we’d use to describe it, but it’s set up to handle European backroads without visiting a chiropractor’s office after every drive.

Citroën Saxo VTS

Citroën Saxo VTS
Image Credit: WikiCommons.

Another great little hot hatch courtesy of the French. The Citroën Saxo VTS was one of the hottest hatches of the 1990s and early 2000s. These days, most are in desperate need of some TLC, so finding a cheap one shouldn’t be difficult.

The Saxo VTS had a 1.6-liter 16-valve engine that sent around 120 horsepower to the front wheels. That’s not much power these days, but in a small car that weighs around 2,000 lbs, it was ok back in the day. It also had an excellent chassis, and the Saxo was a blast on a nice mountain road.

Mk1 Ford Focus RS

Mk1 Ford Focus RS
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Unfortunately, Ford never released the original Focus RS in the States. While later versions were available, some enthusiasts will argue that the Mk1 is the best of the bunch.

The Ford Focus RS was nothing like the regular Focus. It had a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, a limited-slip diff, and a revolutionary front suspension system known as “Revo-knuckle.” There were also a ton of other performance upgrades to separate it from the everyday Focus. It may only have front-wheel drive, but the Focus RS has put many a supercar to shame around a racetrack.

Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Volkswagen has kept updating the Golf over the years. However, the Mk3 and Mk4 versions were soft and bloated. When it was time to design the Mk5, VW decided to correct this and make the GTI great again.

The Mk5 GTI has a four-cylinder, 2.0-liter turbo engine that sends 200 wild horses to the front wheels. Its handling was also improved compared to its predecessors. The GTI’s glory was restored, and it even has endless tuning potential.

Renault Clio RS 182

Renaultsport Clio 182 Trophy
Image Credit: Jake Thomas/WikiCommons.

The Renault Clio RS 182 may be tiny, but it’s still a monster. It offers outstanding driving dynamics, and the drivetrain was so well put together that it’s almost hard to believe it’s French.

As the name suggests, the Clio RS 182 has 182 horsepower. That’s all courtesy of a 2.0-liter engine, and the power is sent to the front wheels via a manual transmission. Over the years, other versions were made, with varying power and equipment, but the 182 with the Cup kit is the one we’d go for.

Mk4 Volkswagen Golf R32

mk4 VW Golf R32
Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Yes, we’ve already mentioned that the Mk4 Golf was bloated, soft, and underpowered. But we were talking about the GTI, not the R32. While the Mk5 GTI is much better than the Mk4, we’d rather have the Mk4 R32 than the Mk5 R32.

The engine is basically the same in both cars, but it sounds more raw and raspy in the Mk4. Volkswagen also gave the Mk4 R32 the perfect bodykit. It’s aggressive but not too in-your-face. The 3.2-liter engine sent 240 horsepower to all four wheels, and the R32 was also the world’s first production car with a dual-clutch gearbox.

Andre Nalin

Author: Andre Nalin

Title: Writer

Bio:

Andre has worked as a writer and editor for multiple car and motorcycle publications over the last decade, but he has reverted to freelancing these days. He has accumulated a ton of seat time during his ridiculous road trips in highly unsuitable vehicles, and he’s built magazine-featured cars. He prefers it when his bikes and cars are fast and loud, but if he had to pick one, he’d go with loud.

Similar Posts