Best hot hatches 2021

What's the best hot hatch money can buy? Here we count down our current top 10 – and reveal the models that are best avoided...


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What Car? team

Best hot hatches

A great hot hatch needs to excel in several areas if it's to be crowned the cream of the crop.

First, it must be able to get your pulse racing on a twisty back road; if it can’t get you from corner to corner without the edges of your mouth turning up, it has fallen at the first hurdle. So, handling prowess and power delivery are key.

However, hot hatches are likely to be used every day of the week, so they also need to possess a practical, comfortable interior, have reasonable running costs and not be so firm that you quickly tire of them.

Below, we count down our current top 10 – and reveal the models to avoid. And don't forget, if any of them take your fancy, our New Car Buying service could potentially save you thousands.

10

Volkswagen Up GTI

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£15,605

RRP from £16,140 to £16,540

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The Up GTI's chirpy little three-cylinder engine serves up just enough performance to be interesting, while its precise, meaty steering allow you to make the most of the grip on offer. Sure, there are plenty of hot hatches that are sharper and more involving, but not at the Up's bargain price.

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Pros

  • Gutsy turbocharged engine
  • Precise steering and grippy chassis
  • One of the cheapest hot hatchbacks you can buy

Cons

  • Lumpy ride around town
  • No real infotainment system
  • Low Euro NCAP rating
9

Ford Focus ST

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£28,602

RRP from £30,250 to £34,710

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You get strong performance, grin-inducing handling and decent ride comfort with the Focus ST. What's more, it's spacious enough to serve as a family car and the interior is well equipped. Unfortunately, it’s priced in contention with the Honda Civic Type R and, as good as the Focus is, it can't hold a candle to that car’s breadth of talents.

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Pros

  • Strong engine
  • Great driving position
  • Grippy and balanced

Cons

  • Pricier than a Civic Type R, Megane RS and i30N
  • Rivals have classier interiors
  • Steering could be better
8

BMW M135i

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£35,782

RRP from £37,685 to £41,015

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With a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and four-wheel drive, the M135i is more conventional than its six-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive predecessor, the M140i. However, it's still a lot of fun, the ride is surprisingly comfortable and it has a very classy interior.

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Pros

  • Surefooted handling
  • Well-judged ride
  • Excellent infotainment

Cons

  • Engine could sound fruitier
  • Safe rather than exciting handling
  • Gearbox can be hesitant
7

Renault Megane RS Trophy

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£29,461

RRP from £32,560 to £51,455

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The Megane RS isn't the fastest of hot hatches, but boy is it agile in the corners, thanks to standard rear-wheel steering. It's also a quiet cruiser by the standards of the class, but it's no longer the bargain it once was now that it's available only in range-topping Trophy form.

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Pros

  • Agile handling (particularly with Trophy chassis)
  • Cheaper than many rivals
  • Quiet cruiser by hot hatch standards

Cons

  • Straight-line performance is nothing special
  • Not the most practical hot hatch
  • Driving position isn't perfect
6

Mercedes-AMG A45

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£48,862

RRP from £51,195 to £57,195

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The A45's figures are mightily impressive: 415bhp (in range-topping S form) and 0-62mph in 3.9sec, despite relying on a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. What's more, it's not just ballistically fast in a straight line, but agile and entertaining through the twisty bits. Only its huge price stops it from finishing higher.

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Pros

  • Savage acceleration
  • Immense grip
  • Quick-shifting automatic gearbox

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • So-so interior quality
  • Some less capable rivals are even more fun
5

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Few fast hatchbacks are as easy to live with as the Golf GTI, and that is why it remains a very desirable option. It's easily a better all-rounder than the Focus ST and Megane RS, but the very best hot hatches outgun it for thrills and speed.

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Pros

  • Relatively strong performance
  • Precise steering and tidy cornering
  • Quiet and comfy for a hot hatch

Cons

  • There are rivals that offer more thrills
  • Digital engine note
  • Quite pricey for the performance offered
4

Hyundai i30N

Hyundai has gone from zero to hero with the i30N, because this is its first ever hot hatch, yet it betters the efforts of plenty of manufacturers who've been building them for decades. It will really put a smile on your face and is great value.

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Pros

  • Precise handling
  • Responsive engine
  • Well priced and equipped

Cons

  • Not as fast as some rivals
  • Bland interior
  • Tight rear knee room
3

Ford Fiesta ST

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£20,813

RRP from £21,950 to £23,300

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With a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine under its bonnet, the latest Fiesta ST isn't short of punch; in fact, it puts out 197bhp, meaning you can cover the 0-62mph sprint in just 6.5sec. It also offers superb handling and a great driving position, and all for a low price, making it easier to forgive the bouncy ride.

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Pros

  • Fun to drive with loads of grip
  • Cracking engine
  • Great driving position

Cons

  • Bouncy ride
  • No option for automatic emergency braking
  • Steering could be better
2

Honda Civic Type R

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£33,593

RRP from £34,320 to £34,320

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The Civic Type R has never been a wallflower, but all the outlandish-looking bodywork on the latest version has a practical purpose, helping to keep this turbocharged 2.0-litre-engined car glued to the ground. It offers awesome performance and precise handling, yet it’s also a practical and comfortable everyday car.

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Pros

  • Thrilling, capable handling
  • Awesome performance
  • More comfortable and practical than most rivals

Cons

  • Terrible infotainment system is only saved by standard fit Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Lots of road noise
  • There are cheaper options
1

Toyota GR Yaris

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£29,995

RRP from £29,995 to £33,495

Our number one is a truly special machine that feels tailor-made for tackling a British B-road. With its small proportions, clever four-wheel drive system and firecracker of an engine, its performance is incredibly accessible, yet it's also fast enough to frighten thoroughbred sports cars. For pure driving thrills, hot hatches don’t get any better than the GR Yaris.

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Pros

  • An absolute riot in the bends
  • Scintillating straight line performance
  • Competitive finance deals

Cons

  • Limited rear seat space
  • Bland interior
  • Poor rear visibility

And the hot hatches to avoid...

Abarth 595
Abarth 595 2020

The go-faster version of the Fiat 500 is startlingly quick and wonderfully stylish. Unfortunately, this isn't backed by composure in corners and the bouncy ride can become extremely wearing. Read our review

Skoda Octavia vRS
Skoda Octavia vRS Hatchback 2020 Front 3/4 tracking

If you're looking for a swift and practical family car, the Octavia vRS might appeal, but it doesn't excite in the bends, which is a serious problem for a hot hatch. Read our review

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