What Car?'s best hot hatches 2020 (and the ones to avoid)

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 the crowned the cream of the crop.

Mercedes AMG A45s

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 also they 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.

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10: Audi RS3

Audi RS3 front

The RS3 may not be the sharpest hot hatch to drive, but it's incredibly fast, thanks to a 394bhp 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine that's also used in the TT RS sports car.

Four-wheel drive ensures it has incredible all-weather traction, and its interior is the most opulent of any hot hatch.

10: Audi RS3 - interior

Audi RS3 - interior


- Incredible all-weather pace

- High-quality interior

- Good practicality 


- Less involving than main rivals

- Expensive than main rivals

- Expensive to buy and run 

- Hesitant gearbox

9: Volkswagen Polo GTI

Volkswagen Polo GTI

Few manufacturers have as much hot hatch pedigree as Volkswagen, and this hepped-up version of the Polo is well worth considering if you're after something fast and relatively compact that's easy to live with every day.

Just bear in mind that some of its more demanding rivals are ultimately more exciting.

9: Volkswagen Polo GTI - interior

2018 Volkswagen Polo GTI interior


- Very comfortable by hot hatch standards

- Great driving position

- Better infotainment system than rivals'


- Fiesta ST is more agile and fun

- Pricey to buy

- Hesitant DSG automatic gearbox

8: Mercedes-AMG A35

Mercedes-AMG A35 front tracking shot

If the bonkers A45 is too much for you, AMG's entry-level hot hatch, the A35, is a pretty tasty choice that provides a lot of performance for a lot less cash. A grippy chassis and flashy interior add to its appeal.

8: Mercedes-AMG A35 - interior

Mercedes-AMG A35 interior


- Rapid acceleration

- Great traction, even in inclement conditions

- Reasonably comfortable​​​​​​


Rivals are more rewarding

- Engine sounds a bit tuneless

- Too much road noise

7: 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 huge fun, the ride is surprisingly comfortable and it has a very classy interior.

7: BMW M135i - interior

BMW M135i xDrive 2019 RHD dashboard


- Sharp and enjoyable handling

- Well-judged ride

- Excellent infotainment


- Engine could sound fruitier

- Digital dials less configurable than rivals'

- Gearbox can be hesitant

6: Mercedes-AMG A45

Mercedes-AMG A45 rear 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 finishing higher.

6: Mercedes-AMG A45 - interior

Mercedes-AMG A45 2019 LHD front seats


- Savage acceleration

- Immense grip

- Quick-shifting automatic gearbox


- Very expensive

- So-so interior quality

- Some less capable rivals are even more fun

5: Ford Focus ST

Ford Focus ST 2019 front cornering shot

A much cheaper option than the A45 is the Focus ST, which offers grin-inducing handling, strong performance and a pretty good ride. It's also spacious enough to serve as a family car and the interior is well equipped.

5: Ford Focus ST - interior

Ford Focus ST long term


- Strong engine

- Great driving position

- Grippy and balanced


- Pricer than a Civic Type R, Mégane RS and i30N

- Rivals have classier interiors

- Steering could be better

4: Renault Mégane RS

Renault Megane RS

The Mégane RS isn't the fastest of hot hatches, but boy is it fun in the corners, with agility boosted by standard rear-wheel steering. It's also a quiet cruiser by the standards of the class and cheaper than most rivals in our recommended Cup trim.

4: Renault Mégane RS - interior

Renault Megane RS - interior


- Agile handling (particularly with Cup chassis)

- Cheaper than most rivals

- Quite cruiser by hot hatch standards


- Straight-line performance is nothing special

- Not the most practical hot hatch

- Driving position isn't perfect

3: Hyundai i30N

Hyundai i30N

Hyundai has gone from zero to hero with the i30N, bettering established rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST with its first serious attempt at building a hot hatch.

There are two versions: the regular car and the more hardcore Performance model. However, we reckon you'll have more fun on the road in the former.

3: Hyundai i30N - interior

Hyundai i30N - interior


- Precise handling

- Responsive handling

- Well priced and equipped


- Not as fast as some rivals

- Bland interior

- Tight rear knee room

2: Fiesta ST

Ford Fiesta ST

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, but still falls just short of the number one spot.

2: Fiesta ST - interior

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

1: Honda Civic Type R

Honda Civic Type R front three quarters

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. That’s why it’s our reigning Hot Hatch of the Year.

1: Honda Civic Type R - interior

Honda Civic Type R - interior


- Thrilling, capable handling

- Awesome performance

- More comfortable and practical than most rivals


- Terrible infotainment system

- Loads of road noise

- There are cheaper options

And the hot hatches to avoid...

Abarth 595

Abarth 595

This 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

While you won't be disappointed by the way the Octavia vRS accelerates, it's feeling its age in other areas, in particular in the way it handles. Unless you need the vast space it offers, there are plenty of better choices.

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