Top 10: 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.....

19 Jan 2020 13:06

A budget of £20,000 will buy you an excellent new family car, according to What Car? New Car Buying.

Hot hatch compilation image

But we on the used cars desk are always looking for ways to make your money go further.

You might be surprised to learn that for less than the cost of a sensible, mid-range 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.

What that particular car is will be revealed later, but for now, settle back and enjoy our list of the top ten best used hot hatches currently available, along with the one that you should avoid. 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.

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10: Audi S3

Audi S3

For the more discerning hot hatch buyer who doesn’t wish to boast about the performance of his or her car, there’s the Audi S3. Aside from a few S3 badges and a quartet of tail pipes, there really isn’t much to differentiate it from the regular A3.

But behind the plain 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.

10: Audi S3 - interior

Audi S3 - interior

The interior is incredibly classy, befitting a car that cost well over £35,000 when new. Today, you can pick one up for almost half that price. True, the S3 may not be the most engaging hot hatch to drive on a twisty road, but in daily stop-start commuting, there’s a certain amount of enjoyment in knowing that few around you can get up to speed as quickly.

We found: 2016 Audi S3 5dr, 25,000 miles, £18,000

9: Mini 3dr Cooper S

Mini 3dr

The latest Mini hatchback has been a roaring success, and the Cooper S version has helped build that popularity, thanks to its cheeky character, stylish interior and darty handling.

9: Mini 3dr Cooper S - interior

Mini 3dr

It’s not the fastest of hot hatches and its boot is nowhere near as big as some of its rivals', but it makes a great commuter car, plus it has a responsive 192bhp (or 228bhp if you go for the full-fat John Cooper Works - JCW - model) 2.0-litre engine and finds plenty of grip, so you’ll still be able to have a lot of fun.

We found: 2018 Mini 3dr Cooper S JCW, 8000 miles, £17,995

8: Suzuki Swift Sport

Suzuki Swift Sport

The little Suzuki Swift Sport is another cheeky small car with an eager engine, beefed-up sports suspension and grippy tyres. It even weighs less than a tonne, so despite having only a 138bhp 1.4-litre engine, it can scamper from 0-62mph in 8.1sec.

8: Suzuki Swift Sport - interior

Suzuki Swift Sport - interior

You won’t find a high-quality interior, but there are figure-hugging sports seats and all the equipment you'll really need. It should prove durable, too.

We found: 2019 Suzuki Swift Sport, 6000 miles, £15,490

7: Honda Civic Type R

Honda Civic Type R

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 its innovative 2.0-litre VTEC engine also turbocharged to produce 306bhp – all of which goes to the front wheels.

7: Honda Civic Type R - interior

Honda Civic Type R - interior

Despite what you might think, this isn't a recipe for disaster; this Type R version of the ninth generation Civic is almost unflappable on track, and it has an R+ mode for when you want to turn the fun up to 11.

We found: 2016 Honda Civic Type R GT, 25,000 miles, £17,500

6: Volkswagen Golf R

Volkswagen Golf R

The Volkswagen Golf R is the chalk to the Civic Type R’s cheese, having very understated looks and absolutely no histrionics. However, beneath the surface lurks a 296bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and a four-wheel-drive system, as used in the Audi S3.

6: Volkswagen Golf R - interior

Volkswagen Golf R - interior

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. Admittedly, it's not quite as pleasurable to drive as the slower GTI, because it simply doesn’t involve you very much in the process, but it is devastatingly quick, and that performance is very easy to access safely.

We found: 2017 Volkswagen Golf R 3dr, 19,000 miles, £19,500

5: Skoda Octavia vRS

Skoda Octavia vRS

Think of the Skoda Octavia vRS as a Volkswagen Golf GTI with a bigger body and you won’t be too far off the mark. Both use the same platform and 227bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, but there are subtle differences that set them apart.

Firstly, the steering in the Octavia vRS is lighter still than it is in the Golf GTI. This means it’s even easier to drive and manoeuvre in car parks, which is perhaps a good thing, considering it's just over 41cm longer.

5: Skoda Octavia vRS - interior

Skoda Octavia vRS - interior

Thanks to all that extra length, the Octavia vRS has a more spacious rear seat area and a cavernous boot, making it the perfect fast family car. It isn't quite as sharp to drive as the Golf GTI and will understeer sooner through corners, but this is small potatoes given the fact that it's considerably more practical.

We found: 2019 Skoda Octavia vRS DSG, 9000 miles, £19,500

4: Renault Mégane RS

Renault Mégane RS

If the other cars you’ve seen so far aren’t quite hardcore enough and you don't have children, are single or have an understanding partner, the Renault Mégane RS could be just the car you’re looking for.

Despite not having a turbocharger, its 2.0-litre engine still puts out a mighty 275bhp – although not before you’ve wrung it towards its redline. This is therefore a car that requires maximum commitment to get the best from it.

4: Renault Mégane RS - interior

Renault Mégane RS - interior

If you find one with the Cup chassis or in Trophy specification, you'll need to be able to forgive a rock-hard ride, too. For some, this will be too much to live with, but for others, it will be worth it for the razor-sharp handling it also engenders.

We found: 2016 Renault Mégane RS Trophy, 15,000 miles, £18,795

3: Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen Golf GTI rear

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.

3: Volkswagen Golf GTI - interior

Volkswagen Golf GTI - interior

This is 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.

Lumpy roads and potholes don’t ruffle the composure and an effective electronic differential helps to tighten your line in sharp corners. Couple that with near-perfect interior ergonomics and you have a crushingly competent hot hatch.

We found: 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance Pack 5dr, 20,000 miles, £19,995

2: Ford Fiesta ST

Ford Fiesta ST

We’ve seen a number of small hot hatches on this list, but they’ve lost out to bigger, faster machines. However, the Ford Fiesta ST packs a punchy turbocharged 1.6-litre engine that puts out 178bhp.

That’s impressive for a small car, but in actual fact, the Fiesta ST can get closer to 200bhp for brief periods of overboost, making it a remarkably rapid performance car.

2: Ford Fiesta ST - interior

Ford Fiesta ST (2013-2017) - interior

Find an ST-200 version and you’ll have the finest example of hot Fiesta yet made, because it produces even more power and has shorter gear ratios, enabling it to accelerate faster.

We found: 2017 Ford Fiesta ST-2, 12,000 miles, £14,950

1: BMW M140i

BMW M140i

The M135i, is a previous winner of our Hot Hatch of the Year trophy, and the revised M140i model is even better value. You can find plenty of less-than-two-year-old examples on the second-hand market for less than £20,000, which is surprising when you realise that these cars cost £36,000 when new.

1: BMW M140i - interior

BMW M140i - interior

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.

What’s more, you can get it in five-door form, making for a practical family car. And when you don’t need it for playing taxi driver, you can unleash all that power on your favourite road and revel in the playful nature of the rear-wheel-drive chassis. It won’t be cheap to run, but when you’re saving this much money over the new cost, why not take the plunge?

We found: 2017 BMW M140i 5dr, 20,000 miles, £18,950

So what about the used hot hatch to avoid...?

Vauxhall Corsa VXR

Vauxhall Corsa VXR

The standard Vauxhall Corsa is a decent small car that’s good value for money.

Vauxhall Corsa VXR - interior

Vauxhall Corsa VXR - interior

But this hot VXR version needs a better engine, sharper handling and an improved ride. We recommend giving it a wide berth.

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