What we were looking for
Affordable, accessible thrills. Agility is more important than outright acceleration, but running costs and safety matter, too. Our winners must also look the part.
Mini Cooper S
List price 16,025
Target Price 15,870
The Cooper S was a clear winner last year and, despite some healthy new competition from Vauxhall and Honda this year, it's the same story in 2008.
First, the Mini's driving appeal and out-and-out chic make it ultra desirable. These are backed up by the addition of BMW's Efficient Dynamics technology which helps reduce CO2 and so enhances its green credentials and financial attractiveness.
Sure, there are faster hatchbacks in a straight line, but they'll cost you a bomb to run by comparison and, when the road starts to twist and turn, the Mini will show a clean pair of treads to the best of them.
Hot hatches are all about having fun behind the wheel, and if you want bigger thrills than driving a Cooper S, you'll need to take up an extreme sport.
The Mini is exceptionally agile and quick, aided by its low weight, and the incisive steering gives the driver the confidence to exploit the car's abilities.
There's no need to sacrifice comfort, either. The Cooper S has surprisingly supple suspension and is much quieter at speed than the previous version. The seats are supportive and there's plenty of adjustment so you can find the ideal driving position.
This second-generation Cooper S has been around for more than a year now, and unless you look very closely, you'd be hard pressed to tell it apart from the first BMW-made Mini, which hit the roads in 2001.
Take a peek at others cars launched seven years ago and the Mini looks fresh. Its retro design means it will probably still look good in another seven years.
Lots of performance usually means lots of pollution, but not so with the Cooper S. Its CO2 output is just 149g/km - that's roughly the same as a 1.3-litre Ford Ka. That will save you a bundle on tax.
It isn't cheap to buy at nearly 16,000, and you won't be able to haggle much off the price because demand is so strong. However, that will work in your favour when you resell it: the Mini should be worth a substantial 62% of its original value after three years.
You'll save at the pumps, too. The Cooper S will do 45.6mpg on average, so not only is it an outstanding hot hatch, it'll cost you less to fuel than most rivals.
To top things off, the Mini's five-star Euro NCAP adult crash rating and six airbags mean it should do a great job of keeping you safe in an accident.
Hot hatches don't come any better than this Mini.
Vauxhall Corsa 1.6 16v SRi 3dr
List price 13,625
Target Price 12,378
Honda Civic Type R GT
List price 18,627
Target Price 18,627