Best hot hatches 2024 – the most fun, and the ones to avoid

A great hot hatch needs to combine driving fun with everyday usability. So, which models do it best – and which are best avoided?...

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by
George Hill
Published13 February 2024

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 raise a smile then it’s fallen at the first hurdle. Here, handling prowess and power delivery are key. Equally, it must serve as excellent everyday transport, providing practicality, comfort and reasonable running costs.

We assess every hot hatchback on sale by driving thousands of miles on the road and on our test track. But because they also serve as everyday workhorses, we put their practicality to the test by filling them full of passengers and their luggage, and we assess their fuel economy, value for money and likely ownership experience. All the areas that matter to the hot hatch buyer, in other words.

Best hot hatches 2023

After all that extensive testing, we've concluded that the Mercedes-AMG A45 is the very best hot hatchback you can buy – but to find out which version we recommend and which rivals are worth considering, you'll need to keep reading.

Remember, if any car here takes your fancy, you can follow the links to read our in-depth reviews, or see how much you could save by searching our best hot hatch deals pages. 

Our pick: A45 S 4Matic+ Plus 5dr Auto

0-62mph: 3.9 sec
MPG/range: 30.7mpg
CO2 emissions: 208g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 370 litres
Insurance group: 40E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

  • Very expensive
  • Audi RS3 is more comfortable
  • Infotainment controls could be easier to use

As well as being the very best hot hatch on sale today, Mercedes-AMG A45 might just be the finest alarm clock, too – because it’s precisely the kind of car you’ll find yourself waking an hour early for, just to head out for a drive.

You’ll cover a lot of miles in that hour, because its 415bhp engine is coupled with grippy four-wheel drive to enable a 0-62mph time of just 3.9sec – remarkable performance in a car that’s relatively comfortable and can carry six carry-on suitcases. Features like AMG sports seats, a flat-bottomed sports steering wheel and AMG-specific digital dials all add to that incredible driving experience.

It’s worth noting that because the A45 is at the scorching end of the hot hatch market, you’ll find the Audi RS3 more civilised and the BMW M135i cheaper. But few blend such savage performance with playful handling and an upmarket look and feel. Supercar performance has rarely been more accessible.

Read our in-depth Mercedes-AMG A45 review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • One of the cheapest hot hatches
  • Easygoing neutral handling plus lots of grip
  • Faster than a Ford Fiesta ST

Weaknesses

  • Slightly less playful handling than the Fiesta ST
  • Smaller boot than rivals
  • So-so infotainment system

Hyundai is a relative newcomer to the hot hatch market, but it's already making big waves. The i30 N that's further down this list was a huge statement of intent, yet the smaller i20 N is even better.

The Hyundai i20N feels much sharper than the Volkswagen Polo GTI and is both more civilised and easier to drive close to its limits than the Ford Fiesta ST, yet, it's cheaper than both of these rivals to buy.

What’s more, it should be relatively cheap to run (we averaged 40mpg during our time with one) and reliable. Plus, it comes with the benefit of Hyundai’s five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty.

In short, the i20N harks back to the days when hot hatches kept costs low and enjoyment high, and that's why we love it.

Read our in-depth Hyundai i20N review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Bonkers acceleration
  • Sounds fantastic
  • Remarkably comfortable with adaptive suspension fitted

Weaknesses

  • Expensive to buy
  • Some rivals are even more agile through the corners
  • Limited interior options for UK buyers

In a hot hatch world where 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engines are the norm, the existence of the five-cylinder, 2.5-litre Audi RS3 Sportback should be savoured. And not just because of the eye-widening performance – 0-62mph in 3.8secs, top speed up to 180mph – rather because it sounds utterly glorious.

Yet like the Mercedes-AMG A45, the RS3 is remarkably comfortable given its searing pace, and thanks to four-wheel drive and a snappy automatic gearbox, it’s as easy to bumble around town as it is to make the most of its performance. The five-door bodystyle means it’s practical to use every day, although the boot is smaller than regular versions of the Audi A3.

The Mercedes is more nimble through the corners, and the Golf R is significantly cheaper to buy, but the Audi RS3 remains a tough hot hatchback to fault.

Read our in-depth Audi RS3 review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Savagely fast
  • More fun than the Audi S3 and BMW M135i
  • Comfortable ride, especially with optional adaptive suspension

Weaknesses

  • Won’t thrill you like the very best hot hatches
  • Lacklustre interior and infotainment for a car of this price
  • Relatively expensive to buy and run

The Golf R is the kind of hot hatchback we love – exciting to drive when you're pressing on, but perfectly civilised when you're not.

You see, being based on the regular Volkswagen Golf, it offers plenty of space for your passengers and all of their luggage, yet also offers more feedback through corners than the rival BMW M135i and the mechanically-similar Audi S3.

The Golf R's four-wheel drive system also aids traction, yet you can feel power being sent to the rear wheels to help the car rotate on the way out of corners.

Indeed, if it had a smarter interior and a less frustrating infotainment system, the latest Golf R might rise even higher up this list.

Read our in-depth Volkswagen Golf R review

With a turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine under its bonnet, the Ford 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. 

And crucially, it's brilliant fun in the corners. All models get three driving modes (Normal, Sport and Track) to cater to different conditions, and a standard-fit Performance Pack includes a limited-slip differential to help maximise traction through corners.

The Fiesta ST may not be the bargain hot hatch that it once was – some rivals including the Suzuki Swift Sport and Hyundai i20N will cost you less – but it remains one of the best to drive. And while new Fiesta STs are still available, you'll need to be quick because Ford ended the car's production last year.

Read our in-depth Ford Fiesta ST review

Our pick: 40 TFSI e Sport 5dr S Tronic

0-62mph: 7.6 sec
MPG/range: 256.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 26g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 280 litres
Insurance group: 24E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Very fast and capable
  • Easy to live with
  • Slick-shifting gearbox

Weaknesses

  • Not the cheapest hot hatch out there
  • Fiddly infotainment system
  • Audi's so-so reliability record

The Audi S3 may not deliver the ultimate driving thrills of some hot hatchback rivals, but it counters with impressive point-to-point pace. 

It’s absurdly rapid in a straight line, and there’s always plenty of grip on offer in corners. That’s partly down to the accuracy of the S3’s steering, and the assured nature of its four-wheel drive system. It never feels intimidating, unlike some hot hatch rivals such as the Honda Civic Type R or Toyota GR Yaris.

While the closely related Volkswagen Golf R is a better all-rounder, the S3 isn't far behind – and it has the obvious allure of a premium badge and a more upmarket interior.

Read our in-depth Audi S3 review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Superb build quality
  • Sporty handling
  • Class-leading infotainment system

Weaknesses

  • Mercedes A-Class is safer
  • SE trim not that well equipped
  • Road noise at speed

The BMW 128ti is essentially a pared-down version of the BMW M135i, with front wheel drive rather than four-wheel drive and a detuned version of that car’s turbocharged 2.0-litre engine.

On paper, you might think these factors count against it, but they don’t; the 128ti is lighter and more agile, and it benefits from a bespoke suspension set-up, stiffer anti-roll bars and revised steering.

If you're looking for the most thrilling BMW 1 Series you can buy, and one that is guaranteed to have you smiling after every journey, then this is it. It's also eminently usable as family transport, benefitting from the same high-quality interior and decent space as the standard 1 Series.

Read our BMW 128ti review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Precise handling
  • Responsive engine
  • Well priced and equipped

Weaknesses

  • Automatic gearbox can be slow
  • Bland interior
  • Tight rear knee room

Hyundai went from zero to hero with the i30 N, because it had never previously built a hot hatch, yet managed to better the efforts of plenty of manufacturers who've been churning them out for decades. 

Like the regular i30 family car, the i30 N isn’t the most spacious of hatchbacks, but it does come with precise handling, a responsive 2.0-litre petrol engine with 276bhp, and plenty of pulling power.

It also features a growling exhaust note which will have you rolling down the windows to listen at every opportunity, and a snappy six-speed manual gearbox to really put a smile on your face.

It's well equipped, too, with 19in alloy wheels, LED headlights and adaptive cruise control featuring among its standard kit. That the i30 N will also cost you less to buy than the rival Ford Focus ST or Honda Civic Type R is the cherry on top of an already enticing cake.

Read our in-depth Hyundai i30N review

Our pick: 1.0 EcoBoost Hybrid mHEV Titanium 5dr

0-62mph: 10.2 sec
MPG/range: 54.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 118g/km
Seats: 5
Insurance group: 15E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Well equipped
  • Great driving position
  • Even more fun with the grippy Track Pack

Weaknesses

  • Infotainment system can be fiddly to use
  • Interior is a bit low rent
  • Steering is inconsistently weighted

The regular Ford Focus is one of the best-handling family cars on sale, making it an excellent starting point for a hot hatch. 

So, where does the Focus ST version differ? Well, the key differences include a 276bhp 2.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine that’s happy to be revved hard, plus a limited-slip differential to help you get the most traction out of corners. 

In essence, it’s great fun to drive while retaining the practicality of the regular Focus. However, the steering can be inconsistently weighted at times, and the rather low-rent interior might put you off. The BMW M135i, for example, has a nicer interior and features an infotainment system that's easier to get along with.

Read our in-depth Ford Focus ST review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Decent practicality
  • Tidy cornering
  • Quiet and comfy for a hot hatch

Weaknesses

  • Some rivals offer more thrills
  • Quite pricey for the performance offered
  • Unintuitive infotainment system

The latest Volkswagen Golf GTI is outgunned by the very best hot hatches when it comes to outright thrills and speed. It’s also quite pricey considering the performance on offer.

However, it does nail the balance of everyday usability. The ride, for example, is surprisingly supple for a hot hatch (especially with the optional adaptive suspension fitted), and performance is closer to the more powerful Honda Civic Type R than you might think. Plus, its boot managed to swallow five carry-on suitcases in our tests.

Unfortunately, the GTI is no longer available with a manual gearbox, so instead you have to make do with a seven-speed automatic gearbox. This is a shame, because the manual was ultimately more fun to use.

Read our in-depth Volkswagen Golf GTI review


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And the hot hatches to avoid...

Abarth 595

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

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

FAQs

What defines a hot hatch?

A hot hatchback is a performance variant of a small car or family car, which is typically designed for everyday use. In most cases, they are front-wheel drive with a front-mounted petrol engine. To help maximise performance and fun, they usually have a more powerful engine than the regular version, as well as upgraded suspension and braking systems to help improve cornering. Hot hatchbacks can be visibly distinguished by their sharper, more aggressive styling, too.

What is the most fun hot hatch to drive?

Fun can be measured in lots of different ways. If you're looking for the most powerful hot hatchback, then the answer is the Mercedes-AMG A45 S. When it comes to choosing the best everyday hot hatch, little comes close to the Volkswagen Golf R. If you want a car equipped with a slick manual gearbox, there's also the Ford Fiesta ST, Ford Focus ST and Hyundai i20N.

What is the fastest hot hatch?

If by fastest you mean the hot hatchback with the quickest 0-62mph sprint time, then the answer is the Audi RS3. This hot hatch can hit 62mph from a standing start in just 3.8sec, faster even than all-electric hot hatchback rivals such as the Abarth 500e. It's as well that the RS3 is quick off the line, since its 340bhp petrol engine is actually slightly down on power compared with some other hot hatchbacks.

Which is the most powerful hot hatchback?

With 415bhp available from its turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, the Mercedes-AMG A45 is the most powerful hot hatchback you can buy. It deploys that power well, too, achieving a 0-62mph sprint time of 3.9sec. A quick-shifting automatic gearbox and immense grip from its performance tyres helps to transfer that power to the road. The engine loves to rev, too, with peak power not arriving until you hit 6750rpm.

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