Currently reading: Top 10 best hot hatchbacks 2024
There are no hitches with our top 10 hot hatches – but which pocket rocket claims the number one spot?

Hot-hatches are the goldilocks performance cars – they're fast, mischievously good fun, whole-heartedly practical and, at least to some extent, affordable. What is not to like?

The recipe has been around for decades, with the flag-bearers variously originating in France, Italy, Germany, Japan and, more recently, South Korea. These are small-ish cars with big-ish engines, as adept on the school run as they are when it comes to getting your adrenaline pumping on a great B-road. We just love hot-hatches.

In the past, the hot derivative of an otherwise ordinary hatchback might have been demarcated only by an extra letter on the boot-lid, or a red pin-stripe across the front bumper. Nowadays, things are different. Manufacturers have enlisted existing performance sub-brands or created entirely new ones in order to support the development of these cars. Think Mercedes-AMG, Hyundai N, Toyota's Gazoo Racing and Ford Performance.

These are serious cars, toting serious powertrain and chassis technologies, but are we nearing the end of the traditional hot-hatch concept?

Increasingly strict emissions regulations mean the recipe is changing. Hot-hatches no longer the overtly affordable performance machines they once were, and although internal combustion still rules the roost, there’s a definite sense that these petrol-engined machines are the last of the breed.

As if to prove the point, there’s an entry in our list that runs on electric rather than unleaded. As a result, now is the time to buy one of these quick and versatile cars before they’re legislated out of existence. 

The question is, which one do you pick? Well, read on as we reveal our top 10 hot hatches.

1. Toyota GR Yaris

Pros: Stunning cross-country pace, genuinely engaging rear-biased driveline, usefully small

Cons: High driving position, engine is more effective than it is soulful

Developed initially as a rally homologation special, the GR Yaris was almost dead on arrival when a WRC rule change meant it was no longer strictly needed. In the past, a car like this would have been pushed into the corner and forgotten about, but current Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda is a proper petrolhead and couldn’t see this motorsport-inspired pocket rocket left to rot.

We can only imagine what it cost to develop this bespoke piece of high-performance art, but the brand’s renewed commitment to delivering desirable driver’s cars meant that it was clearly worth rummaging down the back of the sofa for the extra cash.

Underneath its steroidally enhanced body, the GR Yaris has a 1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine making 257bhp and a four-wheel drive system (with optional mechanical torque-vectoring differentials if you want them) that makes it capable of 0-62mph in just 5.5sec. However, an upcoming update will see those totals rise to 276bhp and 288lb ft, with an eight-speed automatic gearbox optionally available.


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It also has a chassis and suspension (developed with input from Toyota Gazoo Racing's WRC team) that's perfectly tuned for fast B-road driving in just about any weather.

With communicative controls, surefooted cornering balance and an uncanny dynamic composure that eggs you on to greater speeds and more amusement wherever and whenever you can get it, the GR Yaris is a very rare and special affordable performance car of a kind that has fallen out of fashion somewhat, but we're delighted it see it rekindled so successfully.

Read our Toyota GR Yaris review

Save money with new Yaris deals from What Car?

2. Honda Civic Type R

2 Honda civic type top 10

Pros: Driving ergonomics are pedigree sports car in feel, wonderfully tactile chassis, fizzing powertrain loves to spin-out

Cons: Stiff chassis can struggle for traction in the wet, not always the most playful character (whatever the weather), expensive

The previous version of the Honda Civic Type R was one of our favourite hot hatchbacks, so expectations were high for this one - and happily it didn't disappoint. In many respects, that's because it isn't quite as box fresh as you would expect. Like the regular 11th-generation Honda Civic, the exterior and interior are new but the platform is an 'optimised' version of its predecessor's, and that includes the oily bits too.

Under the bonnet, the familiar turbocharged 2.0-litre engine gets a lighter flywheel, revised intake and freer-flowing exhaust that help lift power from 316bhp to 325bhp, while the six-speed manual gearbox has a tweaked gate for even slicker shifting. The dual-axis front suspension and multi-link rear axle are very similar, but the track is now 15mm wider, which works in partnership with a 15%-stiffer bodyshell to combine even sharper handling with greater compliance. This Civic feels like a more grown-up proposition than the old car, even if the BTCC-style rear wing still suggests it's a bit of a hooligan.

It's certainly quick, with 0-62mph done and dusted in 5.4sec and 170mph just about within reach. Yet it delivers this performance with real sophistication and civility. There's no torque-steer unruliness and the chassis combines tenacious grip and cast-iron control with a rare adjustability that allows you to tease and tweak your line through a corner by either lifting off the throttle or trailing the brakes. It's still a car that gets your heart racing and synapses snapping, but it's also one that doesn't make the commute a chore or motorway trips a test of endurance.

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So why doesn't it top this list? Well, for starters, Honda has hiked the Type R's prices, and significantly so. The previous version started at around £33,000, but you will need (are you sitting down?) £50,000 for this one. Just take a moment for that to settle in. And even if that figure doesn't put you off, you will struggle to find one, as UK imports will be in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

Read our Honda Civic Type R review

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3. Hyundai i20 N

25 Hyundai i20 n 2021 rt on road front 0

Pros: Wonderfully focused handling, natural off-throttle adjustability, grown-up but still fun-loving

Cons: Ride-quality does a fair impression of the rigid old Cup-chassis'd hot Renaults on some roads

Hyundai suddenly became very hard to overlook as a purveyor of affordable performance cars, and the i20 N rally-inspired supermini was the main reason why. Note, however, that Hyundai in early 2024 stopped production of the i20 and i30 N models, though they still feel new enough to warrant inclusion on this list.

The junior N model is a simpler and more direct attempt at a classic hot hatchback than the bigger i30 N. Being smaller and lighter helps, of course. But it also uses a conventional limited-slip differential in place of an active one, a punchy but not domineering 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, a six-speed manual gearbox in place of any clever dual-clutch automatic and good passive dampers, rather than adaptive ones.

The results are really very effective indeed. This car has the carefully honed, extra-purposeful character of a genuine rally-stage exile. Its body control, high-speed precision and composure and steering precision are all of an order you rarely find in a car this size, and its ground-covering pace is greater than you would expect of a car with only 201bhp to put to use.

The i20 is impressively roomy and well equipped, too, given the strides its maker has taken these past 10 years in drawing level with the best small cars that Europe can offer. Some will find it a bit too grippy, precise and compose, while others will appreciate that it's a less hyperactive take on the junior hot hatch than the Ford Fiesta ST. Not that it matters very much, because the Fiesta has been axed.

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Read our Hyundai i20N review

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4. Ford Focus ST

3 Ford focus st top 10

Pros: A seriously versatile hot-hatch, more expressive in its steering and handling than most, chunky engine adds soul

Cons: Handling is a little cartoonish compared to, say, the Civic Type R, manual gearbox isn't the best around

The Blue Oval has had some memorably brilliant, chart-topping hot hatchbacks over the last couple of decades – and while the current Focus ST isn’t quite as sharp and involving as the Yaris and Civic above, it absolutely honours the fast Ford legacy. It’s a good deal more affordable than the Civic, too.

Although STs are typically slightly subordinate hot hatchbacks, Ford hasn't held back with the make-up of this one because there was never going to be a Focus RS for this generation. It's the first Focus ST with adaptive dampers and the first with an electronically controlled limited-slip differential for its driven front axle, the latter being something that remains fairly rare on cars of this price point and which certainly adds to its handling appeal.

If you want an even more specialised and hardcore prospect, there's the Ford Focus ST Track Pack with its very special, manually adjustable coilover suspension, bigger brakes and lightweight alloy wheels wrapped in Pirelli P Zero Corsa rubber. It takes the ST's dynamic recipe to even greater heights for body control and handling incisiveness – although it's hardly cheap, at £3000 extra.

The Focus ST has direct, agile handling, purposeful-feeling firm body control and abundant vocal and motive performance-car character. It's the kind of hot hatch built to make even the more mundane road miles enjoyable, and it succeeds at that – although it lacks the outright grip and performance of some fast Fords of old.

Perhaps that's the right balance for an ST model: more the effusive everyday road performance car than the really purposeful, big-hitting track machine. It's not quite enough to make this car our ultimate hot hatchback of the moment, but it's a very strong contender all the same. If you're tempted, put your order in now. The smaller Ford Fiesta ST has already died, along with the standard Fiesta, and the Focus range is due to be axed in 2025.

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Read our Ford Focus ST review

Save money with new Focus ST deals from What Car?

5. Mercedes-AMG A45 S

4 Mercedes amg a45s top 10

Pros: Outrageously fast in any circumstances, 'junior Nissan GT-R' personality shines through, comparatively opulent cabin

Cons: Outrageously expensive, overly complex chassis-configuration universe

Let the following statement sink in: the Mercedes-AMG A45 S is a four-wheel-drive hot hatchback that costs more than £60,000 and has a 2.0-litre four-pot that makes 416bhp and 369lb ft. Not only does that mean Affalterbach's most rabid hot hatch has the most powerful series production four-cylinder engine on the planet, it also has a engine with a higher specific output than that of the Ferrari 488 Pista. It is, in a sense, utterly ridiculous.

Be that as it may, there's still a phenomenal – not to mention usable – driver's car lying beneath all its wings, fins and flares. Straight-line performance is undoubtedly immense, but more of a surprise is how well-mannered its complex, steroidal driveline is when you're simply tooling about. Body control is rock-solid at speed, but there's genuine compliance in the chassis too. Grip is outstanding, meanwhile, and the accuracy, weighting and textural feedback from its electrically assisted steering rack is easily up there with the best in class.

As a multi-talented hot hatchback, the A45 S is undoubtedly a triumph. But priced as it now is up beyond £50,000, it has wandered so far from the realms of relative affordability that these cars are supposed to champion that crowning it class champion would have been a touch problematic. Still, what a fantastic machine it is. And if such a pricey Merc is a step too far, we would direct you to the Volkswagen Golf R rather than the AMG A35, which isn't quite so impressive, despite its similar looks.

Read our Mercedes-AMG A45 S review

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6. Audi RS 3

Pros: Stellar five-pot engine, surprisingly fine-riding, prodigious all-weather performance

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Cons: Gloomy interior, very expensive

Is the idea of an Audi A3 that’s capable of 180mph more or less absurd than one that might cost you as much as £65,000 after options? 

There is something extraordinary about even the very proposition of the latest generation of ultra-hot Audi hatchback. For a start, it has a cracking, characterful five-pot motor fit to grace to engine bays of dedicated sports coupes (as it does in the TT RS). Then there is the new torque-vectoring back axle, which operates in a similar way to that of the AMG A45 S and can, in certain conditions, result in a longitudinally engined hatchback that can be genuinely steering on the throttle.

The RS 3 combines these elements with a chassis that is controlled but far from brittle, and perhaps that is the real magic of this recipe. It's fundamentally usable day-to-day, despite the wild performance on offer and a very punchy exterior aesthetic. That said, the Merc edges it in our estimations owing to its warmer cabin and more feelsome driving experience.

Read our Audi RS 3

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7. Volkswagen Golf R

5 Vw golf r top 10

Pros: Superbly sure-footed, relaxing company on the motorway, can exhibit rear-drive-style antics

Cons: Soft seats and high driving position undermine any sense of intent, those RWD antics feel synthetic

Volkswagen's highly regarded super-Golf, the four-wheel-drive Golf R, has taken a big step forward in this latest form. Unlike 20 years ago, when the V6-engined R32 vied with the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA to be the very hottest of hot hatchbacks that could be bought with a full factory warranty, the latest one isn't quite the fiercest car of its kind. Its 316bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine still gives it significant bragging rights, mind.

And it has other weapons. Most Golf Rs come on adaptive dampers, which can switch between B-road ironing and teeth-rattling modes at the touch of a screen. Meanwhile, the fully torque-vectored four-wheel drive system can juggle drive not just front to rear but also asymmetrically across its rear axle. Tick the right options boxes and the car will even offer a drift mode, as well as increase in the speed limiter's ceiling to 168mph (both are part of the R Performance Pack, although we wouldn't bother, since it's a bit of a gimmick).

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The Mk8 R takes on quite a different character to the Mk7. It has lost some of the just-so compromise of suppleness, stability and pace that made the last version of the car so popular, while even greater body control and adhesion have come in to make up the balance - and greater driver involvement too, albeit only if you really probe at the car's limits.

For those who liked the 'one fast car for every journey' charm of the Mk7, the Mk8 may feel a little too serious and perhaps just a touch aloof at lower speeds. But there's no denying that the car's outright dynamic capabilities have expanded by quite a way. That rear diff gives it staggering agility, and in the softest damper mode, it rides remarkably well.

As in every Mk8 Golf, the touchscreen-heavy control interface takes a bit of getting used to, and it can be slow to respond, but the incoming Mk8.5 facelift promises to address that.

Read our Volkswagen Golf R review

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8. Volkswagen Golf GTI

7 Vw golf gti top 10

Pros: Smart and understated by the standards of many modern hot-hatches, enjoyably simple in concept, surprisingly quick and very composed

Cons: Lacks the near-perfect blend of ride and handling of the old Mk7

Previous versions of Volkswagen's long-lived Golf GTI have featured prominently in this line-up of the greatest affordable performance cars, but this one is a slightly different kettle of fish.

Volkswagen went in search of greater handling response and driver appeal with the eighth-generation of its hot Golf but had only questionable success in finding it. Meanwhile, it adversely affected the sweet-riding, easy-to-use temperament that the GTI has traded on for so long, introducing an unwelcome firmness to its ride.

None of which need suggest that this GTI wouldn't make a good, enjoyable everyday driver. Its 242bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine remains a little short on power compared with the rest of the cars here, and it could feel a little keener-revving at times, but it makes for strong and responsive thrust, which the chassis allows you to deploy pretty freely. The car's new firmer springing makes it work better on smoother surfaces than typical UK country B-roads, but adaptive dampers do allow for some adjustment of the ride. Steering is newly pacey but still a little light and numb; undemanding in everyday use but not as absorbing as it might be.

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In GTI Clubsport trim, the car's key vitals rise to 296bhp and 295lb ft, its final drive ratio is reduced and its suspension is firmed up. It becomes a more grippy, direct and incisive-handling car without losing much by way of everyday cruising habitability but still not the best-balanced or the most exciting or involving driver's car in this list.

Crucially, in all its forms, the GTI has lost its chameleon-like ability to match your mood whatever the road or occasion.

A facelifted Golf is due soon, which should fix some of the issues with the Golf's multimedia screen but which will also mean the end for manual gearboxes in the GTI.

Read our Volkswagen Golf GTI review

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9. Hyundai i30 N

8 Hyundai i30n top 10

Pros: Rorty engine, mobile rear axle, solid build quality and value for money

Cons: Can ride harshly, not as interesting or rewarding to drive hard as its little brother the i20 N

Hyundai clearly wasn't interested in half-measures with its first N-branded performance model, the i30 N. This was the car it hired former BMW M Division engineering supremo Albert Biermann to help make and then poured huge R&D resources into. And although there are one or two caveats to admit, it didn't go to all that trouble in vain.

The i30 N has surprising hardcore temperament and a real sense of performance purpose, neither of which you expect from a car maker with so little previous experience in the segment. There's a really old-school flavour to the weight in its controls and about the gravelly boost in its power delivery and the increasing firmness in its damping.

If anything, Hyundai went too far with the hardcore tuning of this car, as its firmest and most aggressive suspension, steering and drivetrain modes are too uncompromising and make it a hard car to read. There's also arguably too much choice in the fine-tuning, with Hyundai proudly boasting of thousands for possible settings, which can prove overwhelming when all you want to do is drive. 

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But at its best, when set up for pragmatic ease of operation rather than out-and-out grip, the i30 N is an involving, balanced, genuinely appealing driver's car.

Even so, it’s a shame that Hyundai no longer offers the slow-selling entry-level 247bhp version that featured smaller wheels and was shorn of some of the more powerful model’s sharper edges. Sure, it lacked the bar room bragging rights, but it was a sweeter and more balanced package.

Read our Hyundai i30 N review

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10. Cupra Born

10 Cupra born top 10

Pros: Well-sorted balance of ride and rear-drive handling, nicely judged level of performance on most UK roads

Cons: Conservative ESP tuning limits the fun, as does the lack of an engine in some respects

It doesn't quite have the outright muscle of the others in this list, but this Cupra makes this top 10 on merit rather than as a makeweight that has any positives suffixed with the phrase 'for an EV'. Not only does the Born look the hot hatch part, it drives it too. There's real talent here.

Based on the same platform as the Volkswagen ID 3, the Born gets a rear-mounted motor that delivers up to 227bhp and instant torque. It feels genuinely quick up to 60mph, and while accelerative force diminishes beyond this point, few fast car fans will be disappointed. It also steers keenly, with quick turn-in and poised, low-roll handling that allows it to scoot through a series of corners quickly and accurately - although a little less intervention from the electronic safety net would help unleash some of its rear-drive balance.

Elsewhere, it does the other hot hatch things well, with a spacious and versatile interior plus decent everyday comfort and refinement. Better still, with the larger 77kWh battery, the Born promises a very respectable 341 miles on a charge.

Read our Cupra Born review

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James Disdale

James Disdale
Title: Special correspondent

James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.

For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.

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Add a comment…
si73 27 September 2021
Surprised the i20N isn't listed after it fared so well in the road test and best affordable drivers car test.
jameshobiecat 27 July 2021

The following cars should be removed from the list as they are not hot hatchbacks:

- Mercedes


- Renualt (Since Facelift)

- Audi

Spotted the common issue?

Peter Cavellini 9 February 2019

What about....?

 Now that we’ve decided or Autocar has are the top ten, what’s top three ugliest...?