Skip advert
Advertisement

Best superminis

Fast superminis deliver the thrill of driving in its most basic, accessible form – these are our favourites

Hot superminis are an endangered species in 2024, but there’s still lots to like about the few that are clinging on. They represent the most accessible route into high-performance motoring, and have the ability to make the most mundane journeys that bit more entertaining.  

Why are they under threat, you might ask? The reality is that building a small, profitable hot hatchback that complies with current safety and emissions regulations is tricky to pull off these days – especially when funds are being injected into developing new electric cars. Most of the traditional European brands have given up on the sector for now, leaving a small but talented group of contenders in the class.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Toyota’s brilliant GR Yaris is proof that despite the challenges, customers will flock to buy a specialised, well-executed small hot hatch, and the signs are that the new Gen 2 version is even better. Hyundai’s i20 N was another stellar example of the breed until it was taken off sale at the beginning of this year, and the same can be said for the now-defunct Ford Fiesta ST. The other remaining superminis aren’t quite as hot, but there’s plenty going for the likes of Peugeot’s 208 GT and Suzuki’s Swift Sport. Read on for a rundown of our favourites.

Best supermini hot hatchbacks 2024

Toyota GR Yaris

The GR Yaris is the first true homologation special in decades. Unlike the other superminis on this list, it features drastic changes over its ordinary counterpart, with a widened track, lowered roofline and a completely unique engine and drivetrain. In fact, its lights and wing mirrors are all it shares with the regular Yaris...

Skip advert
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Under the bonnet is a purpose-built 1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder, producing 257bhp and 265lb ft of torque. This power is sent through a six-speed manual transmission and an all-wheel-drive set-up shared only with the non-EU market GR Corolla. Combined with its compact footprint and correspondingly lithe 1280kg kerb weight, it monsters every other small hatch against the stopwatch, reaching 0-62mph in 5.5sec. 

Advertisement - Article continues below

It feels like the Yaris will achieve that no matter the conditions, its unbreakable traction and compact size allowing you to wring every drop of performance from it on pretty much any road. The Gen 2 Yaris has stiffer, more precise chassis tuning, a more powerful three-pot engine and an overhauled interior – if our time driving a prototype on track is anything to go by, the GR is about to get even better.

Suzuki Swift Sport

The original Suzuki Swift Sport was a firm evo favourite, fusing its relatively modest componentry together in an effervescent, involving whole. Testing it in 2007, our man Richard Porter said ‘Even the most power-hungry members of Team evo grudgingly admitted that the Swift’s 123bhp could be quite amusing, the joy coming from the way that the surprisingly well-specified engine lets you wring it out for all it’s got.’

Skip advert
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

There’s no question that the Swift Sport has lost some of the original’s cheeky enthusiasm in subsequent generations, but the latest model continues to provide honest, low-budget enjoyment in a market where that’s increasingly hard to find. The Sport’s mild-hybrid 1.4-litre engine only produces 4bhp more than the original, but given that it’s pushing along 1025kg, it feels more spritely than you’d expect. It rides well on its 17-inch wheels and it’s intuitive to just jump in and drive. 

Advertisement - Article continues below

This is very much a warm supermini rather than a hot one (62mph comes up in 9.1sec), but as a car to enjoy the basic act of driving while remaining perfectly usable (and efficient) for everyday use, the Swift Sport is easy to recommend. 

Peugeot 208 GT

We can't help but feel a little disappointed that Peugeot hasn't let the latest 208 stretch its legs with a proper GTi version. Sadly – and despite the open goal left by Ford and Hyundai in this sector – hot Peugeot hatchbacks are no more, with warmed-up GT models taking the mantle instead. 

As with the Swift Sport, the specs of the 208 GT are nothing to write home about. Its three-cylinder mild-hybrid engine generates a modest 134bhp, but given that it weighs around 1.2 tons, it's easy to gather momentum between corners and settle into a flow – even if it's by no means a rewarding or sonically stimulating powertrain. 

Skip advert
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

More appealing is the Peugeot's light-footed, agile chassis and direct steering, which make it sweeter to drive than its sibling from the class above, the 308 GT. Once you grow used to the miniature steering wheel in your hands the cabin is attractive too, with a lower and more purposeful driving position than the Swift. It’s just a shame that the GT comes with a slight sense of unfulfilled potential.

Mini Cooper S

Few cars of a similar size and price point measure up to the Mini Cooper S in terms of performance and build quality – even if it’s not quite as exciting or engaging as it once was. The Cooper S and JCW both feature BMW’s 2-litre four-cylinder B48 power plant, producing 176bhp or 228bhp respectively. What these power figures don’t reveal is how torquey both engines are, with a flat-top of turbo-augmented torque making both feel considerably quicker in a straight line than the figures suggest.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Neither the S or JCW come close to the involvement and ability of the GR Yaris, but they do retain some of the Mini’s trademark go-kart handling. This is achieved through the use of a quick-ratio steering rack, firm suspension tuning and a direct front end.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

The issue is that there’s no real pizazz to the Mini. Its handling is solid and safe, but doesn’t encourage you to really sink your teeth into the driving experience. The engine and automatic transmission don’t help, either, delivering power effectively but without a sizzling top end or any real character. We haven’t driven the new-generation Cooper S yet, but we hope it adds more layers to the Mini’s personality despite sharing fundamentally the same engine and platform as the outgoing car.

Volkswagen Polo GTI

The Volkswagen Polo GTI has always had trouble living up to both its badge and supermini rivals. The ingredients all seem to be there, but the recipe has never quite worked, offering smart styling and decent performance but a notable lack of engagement.

The latest Polo is certainly an improvement, but still doesn’t quite hit the heights we know VW’s engineers are capable of. Once again, it’s handsome, well built, performs well and should prove a pleasure to use day to day, but it isn’t capable of entertaining like the best small hot hatches do.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Perhaps it’s a case of holding back a car that otherwise might give the more expensive Golf GTI a run for its money – after all, the Polo GTI sits on the same MQB platform as the Golf and uses its EA888 2-litre four-cylinder engine, albeit detuned to 204bhp. It falls down in the details (chiefly its lack of steering feedback and overly safe handling balance), making it a good car rather than a great hot hatch.

Abarth 695

The Abarth 695 isn’t long for this world, with the firm shifting focus from the diminutive petrol-engined hot hatch to its newer EV equivalent. Some would say it’s about time, too, given that the 500-based Abarth has been on sale for over 15 years. Us? We think it's a right giggle to drive, and worthy of a spot on this list. 

There are foibles which will be deal breakers for some. The ergonomics, for instance, are woeful if you’re on the taller side – the steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach, the seat is mounted too high and you seem to push down on the pedals as you might on a grand piano. Stick with it and there’s fun to be had, though; particularly in the top-spec, 178bhp 695 form.

The 1.4-litre turbo engine engine buzzes and rasps at high revs and punches the Abarth along at a decent rate; in a straight line, it’ll just about cling onto a Polo GTI. The steering fights around in your hands when deploying full power on bumpy roads and the ride is busy, but there’s a sense of energy and fun that’s missing in other modern superminis. It’s technically flawed and far from the most dynamically polished hot hatch out there, but we wouldn’t mind if the 695 stuck around a little while longer. 

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement

Most Popular

Polestar 3 2024 review – premium electric SUV eyes BMW iX
Polestar 3
Reviews

Polestar 3 2024 review – premium electric SUV eyes BMW iX

Ultra-competitive pricing, a sharp design and strong performance make Polestar’s first SUV a promising new offering
9 Jun 2024
Volkswagen Golf R Mk8.5 prototype review – a return to form or another disappointment?
Volkswagen Golf R prototype – front
Reviews

Volkswagen Golf R Mk8.5 prototype review – a return to form or another disappointment?

The Mk8 Golf R has never really wowed us, but can the Mk8.5 change that? A drive in a prototype version provides some clues
11 Jun 2024
Mazda 787B: the anatomy of a rotary Le Mans icon
Mazda 787B
Features

Mazda 787B: the anatomy of a rotary Le Mans icon

Mazda’s screaming rotary underdog is one of Le Mans’ most iconic winners. Three decades on, there’s still magic in car no. 55
8 Jun 2024