The best hot hatches in 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...

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

Best hot hatches

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

Volkswagen Up GTI 2020 front cornering

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.

Volkswagen Up GTI (cont.)

Volkswagen Up GTI 2020 RHD dashboard

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

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

9. Ford Focus ST

Ford Focus ST long term

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.

Ford Focus ST (cont.)

Ford Focus ST long term

Strong engine
Great driving position
Grippy and balanced

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

8. BMW M135i

BMW M135i front three quarters

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.

BMW M135i (cont.)

BMW M135i xDrive 2019 RHD dashboard

Surefooted handling
Well-judged ride
Excellent infotainment

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

7. Renault Megane RS Trophy

LT Renault Megane RS front

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.

Renault Megane RS Trophy (cont.)

Renault Megane RS - interior

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

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

6. Mercedes-AMG A45

Mercedes A45 AMG 2020 RHD head on cornering

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.

Mercedes-AMG A45 (cont.)

Mercedes A45 AMG 2020 RHD dashboard

Savage acceleration
Immense grip
Quick-shifting automatic gearbox

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

5. Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI 2021 Front 3/4 tracking

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.

Volkswagen Golf GTI (cont.)

Volkswagen Golf GTI 2021 Dashboard

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

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

4. Hyundai i30N

Hyundai i30N 2020 front cornering

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.

Hyundai i30N (cont.)

Hyundai i30N 2020 RHD dashboard

Precise handling
Responsive engine
Well priced and equipped

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

3. Ford Fiesta ST

Ford Fiesta ST front

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.

Ford Fiesta ST (cont.)

Ford Fiesta ST - interior

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

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

2. Honda Civic Type R

2020 Honda Civic Type R front

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.

Honda Civic Type R (cont.)

2020 Honda Civic Type R dashboard

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

The 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

Toyota GR Yaris 2021 COTY

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 a 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.

Toyota GR Yaris (cont.)

Toyota GR Yaris 2021 RHD dashboard

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

Limited rear seat space
Bland interior
Poor rear visibility

Next: 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.

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.

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