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​Best hot hatchbacks

Traditional hot hatchbacks are dying out in 2024, but the models that remain are some of the best everyday performance cars you can buy

It’s been a tough few years for the hot hatchback. Tightening emissions regulations and slim profit margins have forced the death of iconic nameplates such as Renault Sport and Peugeot GTi, and even the brilliant, evergreen Ford Fiesta ST has been taken off sale. Hyundai assumed a leading role in the sector with its brilliant i20 N and i30 N, but even these have met the same fate having ceased production in 2024. 

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It's not all bad news though. Toyota is launching a heavily upgraded 'Gen 2' version of its GR Yaris this year following better-than-expected sales, while Volkswagen and Audi are readying new versions of the Golf GTI and S3. Then of course there's the Honda Civic Type R – it's more exciting than ever in its latest FL5 guise. 

Electric hot hatches are flooding in, too. The Abarth 500e has already caused a stir with its burbling external speaker system that replicates the sound of a petrol engine, and Alpine is set to join in with its own retro hatch: the Renault 5-based A290. Don't count out the forthcoming Mini Cooper SE, either, which uses a bespoke BMW-developed platform.

Given that the EV hot hatch space is still growing, we're focusing on combustion-engined models in this list. Having driven every current hot hatch extensively on the road and track, we've come up with a definitive ranking of the most involving and rewarding models of 2024 – read on to find out which is best.

Top 10 hot hatchbacks 2024

1st: Honda Civic Type R

Honda's FL5 Civic Type R hasn't disappointed. Yes, its hardware is very similar to the previous FK8 model, but everything from the engine, gearbox, chassis and suspension has been further honed to within an inch of perfection. 

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The FL5 feels more like a super touring car than a hot hatchback, with a low, flat cornering stance and a level of clarity and precision you’d expect from a bespoke sports car. The Civic’s 2-litre turbocharged engine revs cleanly and pulls hard throughout the rev band, but it could do with a little more aural excitement to accompany the performance. And the manual gearbox? Still one of the best available at any price.  

It’s difficult to find many weaknesses in the package, but the Type R’s £49,995 price tag does sting a little. Context is important, though, because this is around the same as VW's Golf R 20 Years special edition, and £13k less than the AMG A45 S. The Honda feels more special and more rewarding than both. 

> Honda Civic Type R review

2nd: Toyota GR Yaris

The GR Yaris had quite some pressure on its pumped up haunches leading up to its arrival in 2020. It’s the first ‘real’ WRC homologation road car in decades – a bespoke, highly tuned, finely wrought performance machine that many anticipated would become an icon, even before its wheels hit the tarmac. Thankfully, the GR Yaris turned out to be as brilliant as we hoped, and Toyota couldn’t build enough of them. 

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This meant that Toyota could justify launching a heavily revised Gen 2 version to build on the attributes that made the original great. We haven’t driven it on the road yet, but the signs are that the new car has the same tenacious, indomitable character but with added bite and precision. With a 276bhp three-pot driving through a revised four-wheel drive system it’s also quicker noticeably quicker than before. 

But aside from its giant-killing performance, it’s the GR Yaris’s unique, competition-derived DNA that separates it from conventional hot hatches. Few other performance cars have the same built-for-purpose feel.

> Toyota GR Yaris review

3rd: Hyundai i30 N

The Hyundai i30 N is the archetypal hot hatch, and the car the Mk8 Volkswagen Golf GTI should have been. Everything from its raucous, energetic powertrain to its tendency to lift an inside rear wheel into corners captures everything we love about fast hatches, but it also feels eminently usable and sensible when it needs to be. 

The feather in the i30 N’s cap is its ability to tailor each of its dynamic attributes to precisely suit its driver through the various driver modes and settings. Using such tools, the i30 N can be relaxed for a cross-country drive but tenses up dramatically when required. Unleash the full might of its 276bhp four-cylinder engine and it can feel slightly frantic as the front tyres hunt around for grip, but this adds to the excitement rather than getting in the way. 

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Where the Civic Type R and GR Yaris deliver unique hot hatch driving dynamics, the Hyundai feels more traditional. You drive it similar to how you might a Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI, but the experience is overlaid with an addictive intensity. It’s a huge shame that Hyundai has stopped building it. 

> Hyundai i30 N review

4th: Mercedes-AMG A45 S

Mercedes-Benz didn’t start the hot hatchback game off particularly well with the original A45 AMG. It was certainly powerful, trading blows with the Audi RS3 for the hottest hot hatchback title over the years, but it was also dreadfully inert and not at all what we consider a good hot hatch. The same cannot be said for the all-new A45 S though, as this model is as far removed from its predecessor as you could possibly imagine.

Gone is the harsh wooden-like suspension, inert steering and utter disinterest in anything other than the task of putting up to 387bhp to the ground. Now, with even more power under the bonnet (415bhp) the A45 S is shockingly supple and considered, and even interactive when the right modes are selected.

In some ways, the A45’s adjustability and rear-led balance feels more like an old Mitsubishi Evo than a conventional hot hatch, and when the road allows, it’s hard not to become absorbed in the ferocity of that engine. 

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> Mercedes-AMG A45 S review

5th: Hyundai i20 N 

Hyundai’s i20 N perfectly complements its larger i30 N sibling, sharing its underlying values, but packaging it into a simpler, but even more rambunctious whole. It lacks some of the i30’s toys, riding on a passive suspension set-up and without electronic control of its limited-slip differential, but the fundamentals are there.

The i20 N’s nose is insatiable, chasing grip with what feels like almost no understeer. The rear end then follows without any hesitation, often kicking up a wheel and neutralising the car’s stance as soon as you come off the throttle. Get greedy with the front end, or trail brake into a corner and the rear will happily rotate just like with the best classic hot hatchbacks.

If there’s a weak point it’s that the engine isn’t quite as enthusiastic as the chassis, and when you’re not absolutely on it the ride can feel a little stiff-legged. For us, that’s a small price to pay for the i20 N’s seductive talents.

> Hyundai i20 N review

6th: Cupra Leon 300

In recent years, Seat (now Cupra) has been able to squeeze just a little bit more out of the same ingredients than Volkswagen with its Golf GTI. The latest Cupra Leon 300 is a case in point; compared to the Mk8 GTI, it’s more exciting and energetic to drive with a greater sense of fun. It’s also surprisingly quick thanks to a 2-litre turbocharged engine with 296bhp – the Cupra feels close to the full-blown Golf R in performance terms despite costing £3k less.

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That engine is paired to a crisp-shifting DSG gearbox, and while the paddles themselves are cheap plastic items, they do at least allow easy access to the engine’s potential. The Cupra isn’t an especially great communicator – certainly not compared to the likes of the Civic Type R – but its clean, accurate steering makes it easy to place on the kind of tight, technical roads that hot hatches thrive on. 

Downsides? Feel from the Brembo brakes can be inconsistent, and the Cupra borrows its HMI system from the Golf. It’s a little more intuitive than the VW setup, but it’s still laggy and buries too many major functions within the dash-mounted touchscreen.  

7th: Ford Focus ST Performance

The Focus ST has never shone quite as brightly as its smaller Fiesta sibling, but now that the latter has been taken off sale, it represents the only way to experience Ford’s signature hot hatch flavour. The ST feels ‘switched on’ at all times, with super-quick steering and a tendency to rotate aggressively on a trailing throttle. This ultra-keen feel defines the Focus’s character. 

It’s not for everyone, however. Sometimes, you wish the Focus was a touch calmer and more natural in its responses, and it lacks the breadth of the Hyundai i30 N. There’s no denying that the performance is gutsy enough to warrant the ST badge, though, with Ford’s 2.3-litre four-pot kicking out 276bhp and 310lb ft of torque. It doesn’t zing at the top end like a traditional hot hatch, but the snappy manual gearbox makes it easy to keep the motor in its sweet spot. 

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Ultimately, the Focus feels at its best on track, where you can use the direct front end and highly adjustable balance to extract the most from it. On the road, the firm, connected ride can be wearing, so too the ST’s propensity to torque steer. 

> Ford Focus ST Track Pack review

8th: Volkswagen Golf GTI

The latest Golf GTI doesn't quite hit the spot like its predecessor did. Ignoring the questionable ergonomics and HMI controls that are a major step backwards from the Mk7 version, the Mk8 doesn't quite have the poise of Hyundai's i30 N, nor the raw excitement of its Korean rival. 

On the plus side its 242bhp 2-litre engine is flexible and punchy, and drags the Golf to 62mph in 6.2sec. It also feels natural and intuitive to drive, with measured controls and an effective but not intrusive XDS locking differential. 

The trouble is, the GTI doesn't come alive when you put more effort into your driving, and we wish the chassis was more alert and adjustable. Still, it does feel slightly lighter on its feet and more rewarding than the four-wheel drive Golf R, while being barely any slower in dry conditions.

> Volkswagen Golf GTI review

9th: Mercedes-AMG A35 

The Mercedes-AMG A35 might look almost identical to the A45 S, but it’s less expressive, less exciting and not as explosive to drive. That’s to be expected, though. This car operates at a much lower price point than the flagship, and when judged with that in mind, it’s worthy of a spot on this list. 

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Against the similarly-priced Volkswagen Golf R, the Mercedes wins out for its more upmarket feel and sense of fun. With a 302bhp turbocharged four-cylinder engine it achieves an swift 4.7sec 0-62mph time, and while it doesn’t have the A45’s clever torque vectoring rear diff, it deploys its power cleanly with a slight sense of adjustability at the rear. 

Climb inside and the A35 has a glitzy, tech-packed interior, but it’s one that can be frustrating to use unless you’re intimately familiar with the UI. The infotainment system is controlled via a central touchscreen and haptic steering wheel pads, and we wish there were a few more physical controls to make it easier to use on the move. 

> Mercedes-AMG A35 review

10th: Volkswagen Golf R

The Mk7-generation Golf R had a level of fluidity and dynamic bandwidth that hasn’t been repeated in the Mk8. That said, the latest R is stronger than ever in outright performance terms, and it remains a formidable all-weather performance car. 

Central to the Golf R’s handling character is its four-wheel drive system, and specifically its torque vectoring rear differential. On the way out of corners the R digs in to find great traction, and with Drift Mode activated, it’s possible to swing the rear around under power – although this doesn’t always feel intuitive or natural. 

From a standstill, the Golf R matches the Mercedes A35’s 4.7sec 0-62mph time thanks to a 316bhp EA888 2-litre engine, and runs to a 168mph top speed when equipped with the optional Performance Pack. The R delivers the goods on paper, then, but it doesn’t offer a meaningful step up in engagement over the cheaper Golf GTI. 

> Volkswagen Golf R review

Best of the rest

11th: BMW 128ti

12th: Suzuki Swift Sport

13th: BMW M135i

14th: Mini John Cooper Works

15th: Abarth 695

16th: Peugeot 208 GT

17th: Vauxhall Astra GSe

18th: Peugeot 308 GT

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