What Car? Car of the Year awards 2011 - Hot hatch contenders
What Car? Awards 2012 website
Best buy less than £15,000
Renault Twingo Renaultsport 133 Cup
List price £12,100
Target Price £11,451
Remember when hot hatches were all about cheap thrills? Renault clearly does, because that’s exactly what you get from its Twingo Renaultsport 133 Cup.
This budget belter is only slightly longer than its nametag – it’s powered by a 131bhp 1.6-litre engine that loves to be thrashed, and is an absolute hoot on winding roads.
Even the regular Twingo Renaultsport features a lowered and stiffened chassis,
but the Cup version drops it even farther, so it darts from corner to corner with virtually zero body lean.
Beefy 17-inch alloys and a chunky bodykit ensure it looks the part, too, while the no-nonsense interior features figure-hugging sports seats and other Renaultsport props.
True, you don’t get many mod-cons (air-conditioning isn’t even an option on the Cup), but Renault hasn’t skimped on safety kit, fitting stability control and four airbags.
Fiat’s stylish 500 Abarth was also in contention in this price category. However,
the Twingo is almost £3000 cheaper after discounts, and it’s a lot more fun to drive.
Best buy £15,000-£20,000
Renault Clio Renaultsport 200 Cup
List price £16,810
Target Price £14,730
Take a look at the cars Renault has beaten to win this second sub-category and you’ll realise just how special its Clio Cup is.
The same sort of money buys Mini’s Cooper S, which combines go-kart handling with retro style and is now more desirable than ever, thanks to a new engine that’s more efficient and more powerful.
Then there’s Volkswagen’s Polo GTI – a civilised yet fun hot hatch that looks every inch the mini Golf GTI and comes with an F1-style paddle-shift gearbox.
Neither gets your heart racing like the Clio, though. Power comes from a rev-hungry 197bhp 2.0-litre engine, so it feels brisk rather than blistering when the revs are south of 5000rpm.
However, drop a couple of gears and drive the Clio Cup like it’s meant to be driven, and its awesome pace, rib-crushing grip and razor-sharp steering will have you grinning like a dental model.
Sure, it likes a drop of unleaded, but if you haggle hard with your Renault dealer it starts to look like an absolute steal.
Best buy more than £20,000
Renault Mégane Renaultsport 250 Cup
List price £23,650
Target Price £21,826
As we reach the highest price bracket, you might notice there’s a bit of a theme developing. If you’ve got more than £20,000 to spend, the best hot hatch you can buy is yet another Renault.
For starters, the Mégane 250 Cup offers phenomenal performance and a beautifully balanced chassis that delivers masses of feel and grip. However, it’s not some track-focused special that’s a pain to live with every day – standard equipment is generous, it’s quiet at speed and the ride is reasonably comfortable.
If you’re after something even more civilised then we’d head straight for the nearest Volkswagen dealer because the latest Golf GTI mixes speed and agility with fantastic everyday usability and an impeccable image.
Alternatively, if power is your top priority then the Golf R and Seat’s Leon Cupra R should be on your list with their 260bhp.
Does this make them more entertaining than the Renault, though? Absolutely not. It’s much lighter than both these rivals, so it’s not only more agile but also every bit as fast.
Featured in this story
- Supermini contenders
- Supermini winner
- Small family car contenders
- Small family car winner
- Family car contenders
- Family car winner
- Estate car contenders
- Estate car winner
- MPV contenders
- MPV winner
- Safety Award
- Security Award
- Ultra-low-carbon car winner
- Hot hatch contenders
- Hot hatch winner
- Coupe contenders
- Coupe winner
- Open-top contenders
- Open-top winner
- Performance car contenders
- Performance car winner
- Crossover contenders
- Crossover winner
- 4x4 contenders
- 4x4 winner
- Compact executive contenders
- Compact executive winner
- Executive car contenders
- Executive car winner
- Luxury car contenders
- Luxury car winner
- Car of the Year 2011 winner
- Car of the Year 2011 gallery
- What Car? Car of the Year on Video
- A word from our sponsors