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Best used hot hatches for less than £20,000
A budget of £20,000 could buy you a sensible family car, or you could inject some excitement into your life with one of these 10 used hot hatchbacks...
In the exciting world of hot hatches, a budget of £20,000 is enough to get you into some seriously cool used performance machines. For less than the cost of a sensible, mid-range, new Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf you could buy a hot hatch that’s less than two years old, produces two-and-a-half times as much power and can accelerate from 0-62mph in half the time.
So, settle back and enjoy our list of the top 10 best used hot hatches currently available. Some are stealthy and sophisticated speed demons, others are more hardcore track day weapons, and a few are inexpensive and just plain fun. It’s a varied list, but that just means there’s something to suit all tastes.
For the more discerning hot-hatch buyer who doesn’t wish to be too flashy about the performance of his or her car, there’s the Audi S3. Aside from a few S3 badges and the four tail pipes, there's not much to differentiate it from the regular A3. Behind the unassuming exterior hides a 296bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, as well as four-wheel drive, so the S3 has prodigious traction for the 'traffic light grand prix', if that's your thing.
- Terrific performance
- Four-wheel-drive dependability
- High-quality interior
- Rivals are more exciting to drive
- Can be a little cramped in the back
- Running costs could be high
The current Mini hatchback has always been a rip-roaring success, and the hot Cooper S version is a wonderfully dynamic car. Its cheeky character, stylish interior and nippy handling make it one of the most loveable and fun hot hatches on our list. Plus, the Cooper's 2.0-litre petrol engine gives you 192bhp to play with, which pushes it from 0 to 60mph in just 6.8sec and on to a top speed of 146mph. It's a true pocket rocket.
- Fun to drive
- Low running costs
- Not as practical as some rivals
- Some cheap materials inside
The little Suzuki Swift Sport is another cheeky small car with an eager engine, beefed-up sports suspension and grippy tyres. It weighs less than a tonne, so despite having only a 138bhp 1.4-litre engine, it can scamper from 0-62mph in 8.1sec. You won’t find a high-quality interior, but there are figure-hugging sports seats and all the equipment you'll really need. All in all, the Swift Sport offers fun driving dynamics and exceptional value – not to mention mild-hybrid technology in post-2020 cars.
- Perky engine
- Less than 1000kg in weight
- Plenty of equipment
- Tiny petrol tank
- Front seat comfort over long distances
- High boot load lip
If you don’t mind the huge spoiler, aggressive bumpers and flared wheel arches of the Civic Type R, you’ll be rewarded with one of the lairiest hot hatches around. It’s the second most powerful car on this list, with an innovative 2.0-litre VTEC engine that's turbocharged to produce 306bhp. This Type R version of the ninth generation Civic is almost unflappable on a track, and it has an R+ mode for when you want to turn the fun up to 11. You'll have to shop around to find one on our £20,000 budget, but it'll be worth it.
- Wonderful engine
- Agile handling
- Plenty of performance
- Divisive looks
- Ride is too firm
- Steering not as sharp as some
The Volkswagen Golf R is the chalk to the Civic Type R’s cheese, with very understated looks and absolutely no histrionics. Beneath the surface lurks a 296bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and a four-wheel-drive system, as used in the Audi S3. Like the S3, the Golf R has little trouble getting all that power down off the line, but it has lighter steering so it feels a bit more nimble. It's devastatingly quick, and that performance is very easy to access safely.
- Very quick
- Comfortable and refined
- High-quality interior
- Expensive to buy
- Some rivals are more fun to drive
Hyundai hit it out of the park with i30N, and it's clear from how this car looks, drives and sounds that the manufacturer was serious about kicking up a storm in the segment. With 271bhp in Performance form, it's quick enough to thrill, while its exhaust is raucous enough to make you grin from ear to ear – without making your neighbours frown, of course. It's fun on a twisty road and practical, too. While not every example on the used market is less than £20,000, some are within a grand or two, so get haggling.
- Sweet and precise handling
- Responsive engine
- Comfortable ride for a hot hatch
- Well equipped
- Interior is bland
- Performance version doesn’t have the pace of rivals
- Boot is smaller than a Golf GTI or Civic Type R
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is the car that does everything, and the one that every other brand tries to emulate yet never quite manages to. One moment it's a classy hatchback that quietly, comfortably and efficiently deals with the daily grind, the next it’s a rapid point-to-point sports car that few twice-as-expensive models can keep up with. That's partly down to the 227bhp 2.0-litre engine fitted to GTIs equipped with the Performance Pack, but the excellent chassis dynamics play their part, too. It's a crushingly competent hot hatch.
- Great handling
- Strong performance
- Some rivals are a keener drive
- Expensive, even used
The Renault Mégane RS gets a 1.8-litre turbocharged engine packing 276bhp in standard form, and 296bhp in Trophy guise (a variant not quite near enough our budget just yet). Even with the base amount of power, it has plenty of pace. More importantly, it's tremendous fun and effortlessly capable when you're in the mood for a spirited drive. While the excellent previous generation Mégane RS is available for well within our budget, this latest version is just on the cusp, so you'll have to shop around.
- Great agility
- Wonderful noise
- Good performance
- Firm ride
- Rear space and boot not the largest
The M135i is a former hot hatch category winner in our Used Car of the Year Awards and the revised M140i model is even better value. Most other hot hatches come with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but the M140i has a stonking 335bhp twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six, making it the fastest car in this list by some margin. You also can revel in the playful nature of the rear-wheel-drive chassis, so it's a real blast to drive. What’s more, you can get it in five-door form, making for a practical family car.
- Terrific performance
- Lively handling
- Reasonably practical
- Unsettled ride
- Steering could be more communicative
This previous-generation Ford Fiesta ST – the winner of the hot hatch category in our 2022 Used Car of the Year Awards – captures the essence of what makes this class so great. At its heart, it's a driver's car. The punchy 1.6-litre turbocharged engine puts out a healthy 178bhp (rising to 197bhp for periods of overboost) giving it strong performance, while its handling is an impressive balance of confidence-inspiring grip and smile-inducing fun. It's also practical, fuel-efficient and affordable. If you want an exciting hot hatch for under £20,000, the Fiesta ST is our go-to.
- Engaging handling
- Quick steering
- Slick gearbox
- Driving position awkward
- Ride can be uncomfortable
- Old-fashioned infotainment
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