Judging cars by their Nurburgring lap time is a famously flawed process. The famous racetrack is fiendishly difficult to master, and provisions are rarely made to standardise things like driver skill, prevailing weather or even how close a car is to standard production form.
But, comparing Nurburgring lap times is still good fun and quite interesting, so we’re doing it. And we’re kicking off with the one of evo’s favourite breeds of car – the hot hatchback.
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Part of the appeal of a hot hatch is that they are generally more practical, cheaper to run and (sometimes) more discreet than their sports car counterparts. Critics will say that hot hatches can’t compete on the track – but these Nurburgring lap times prove that they absolutely can, and that being based on a front-wheel-drive family hatchback doesn’t mean you can’t mix it with the big boys.
The debate will rage on over whether the fastest hatchbacks can really compete with a sports coupe for driver involvement but for sheer road and track pace, many of them are certainly formidable. The cars on this list post faster ‘ring lap times than quite a few thoroughbred sports cars and super-saloons that cost far more and offer far more power. As the Nurburgring front-wheel-drive lap record has become something to be prized and competed over by manufacturers, so we’ve seen a series of progressively faster performance hatches created specially for the purpose of taming the ‘Green Hell’.
Scroll down the page to see the top ten fastest recorded Nurburgring times set by hot hatchbacks. Just remember to take them with a pinch of salt – it’s a very unscientific way of separating cars! The times in question were recorded by a series of different publications and manufacturers, driven by different drivers, and with cars in different states of road-readiness…
The top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks around the Nurburgring Nordschleife
10. Ford Focus RS - 8:26
From ST to RS, next up is the Mk2 Ford Focus RS – a giant-killer at the time, evidenced by its ability to match both the Audi S5 and the Nissan 350Z around the ‘ring. With a mighty 305bhp from its turbocharged five-cylinder engine, the RS is also anything but discreet. The masses of vents won’t have aided its time at all – but it’s still impressive.
9. Renault Megane RS R26.R - 8:16.9
Renaultsport conducted this test itself (so you know it must be accurate!) and posted an at-the-time staggering performance, getting round the Nurburgring in just under 8min, 17sec. Those can’t have been a comfortable eight minutes though – the R26.R was the most extreme version of the Mk2 Megane, and came without the niceties of rear seats, a radio, or even a passenger airbag. That weight loss allowed it to make the most of its 227bhp.
8. Renault Megane RS Trophy - 8:08
Trust us, this isn’t the last time you’ll be seeing Renault in this list. Next on the performance tree from the R26.R was the RS Trophy – based on the bigger, softer Mk3 Megane. Unlike its more hardcore Trophy-R brother it actually came with some concessions to comfort – like rear seats! The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine produced 271bhp, which meant it wasn’t the most powerful hot hatch of its generation – but its Nurburgring time cements it as one of the fastest nonetheless.
7. Ford Focus RS - 8:06.3
The latest Ford Focus RS knocks a not-inconsiderable twenty seconds off the time of the Mk2 model. You’d almost expect it from one of the most powerful hot hatchbacks on the market, though, especially as it’s equipped with four-wheel drive to make the most of its 345bhp. In this test it managed an impressive 8:06.3, just edging out its Mustang GT sibling – despite only being equipped with half the cylinders.
6. SEAT Leon Cupra - 7:58.4
The first car on this list to edge under the magical eight-minute mark, the Leon Cupra is still one of our favourite hot hatches, thanks to a good-value pricetag, comfortable interior and plenty of performance. Enough performance, in fact, to keep up with a BMW M2 around the Nurburgring… SEAT also holds the record for estate cars around the track, with the Leon Cupra ST 280. The latest model is more powerful, but hasn’t yet been taken around the ‘Ring.
5. Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy-R - 7:54.4
The Megane RS 275 Trophy-R was the most extreme of the breed – building on the Trophy that came before it. Or should that be ‘taking away’ from the Trophy? It made do without rear seats, air-conditioning or a stereo, and the front seats were fixed-back buckets with six-point racing harnesses. A stripped-out beast, then – and one that could match the blistering track time of the Caterham R500 Superlight.
4. Honda Civic Type R - 7:50.6
Back in 2014, this lap time made headlines – the Civic Type R, a comparatively plush and luxurious car, smashed the front-wheel drive Nurburgring record set just months before by the hardcore, stripped-out Megane RS 275 Trophy-R.
We say that, but Honda was cheeky when setting this lap time, stripping out the front passenger seat, audio equipment and air-conditioning. It said that this was to offset the weight of a full roll-cage, but we’re shaking salt all over this one.
3. Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S - 7:47.2
The Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S is the most powerful car ever to wear the GTI badge, and is set up for track supremacy – ditching the rear seats just like the Megane Trophy-R. It’s still fairly usable every day, though (not that it matters to you or me – only 150 units came to the UK, and they sold immediately). Its 306bhp engine and lower weight helped it set a cracking 7min47sec time around the Nurburgring, beaten only by…
2. Honda Civic Type R - 7:43.8
The latest Civic Type R – an amazing achievement, especially when you consider it doesn’t have a great deal of extra power over its predecessor. It’s not just beaten the Golf Clubsport S, either – it’s smashed it, with almost four-seconds between the two. It just so happens to be one of our favourite modern day hot hatches of all time, too.
1. Renault Megane RS Trophy-R - 7:40.1
We thought the FK8 Type R was fast (and it is), but to launch the new range-topping Megane RS Trophy R, Renault smashed its time by almost four seconds. We're yet to drive it on the road, but it's safe to say the model can perform on the track, claiming the title of the world's fastest FWD production car around the Nurburgring.
Fastest hot hatches top 10 recap
- 1. Renault Megane RS Trophy-R - 7:40.1
- 2. Honda Civic Type R - 7:43.8
- 3. Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S - 7:47.2
- 4. Honda Civic Type R - 7:50.6
- 5. Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy-R - 7:54.4
- 6. SEAT Leon Cupra - 7:58.4
- 7. Ford Focus RS - 8:06.3
- 8. Renault Megane RS Trophy - 8:08
- 9. Renault Megane RS R26.R - 8:16.9
- 10. Ford Focus RS - 8:26