With the weather heating up, we’ve been feeling hot, hot, hot about hatchbacks. Hot Hatchbacks are high-performance siblings to the classic hatchback, a favourite amongst brits since the ‘70s for their size, usability, performance - and for guaranteeing to put a smile on your face. The concept of taking a regular family hatchback and turning it into a performance car is now time-honoured and remains popular among consumers. What makes a hot hatchback the best of its time is one that is grin-inducing to drive but also liveable with as your daily car all year round. Here we will look at hot hatches in the past, with the classics that gave them their name, the present, some of the hottest hatches on the roads today, and the future, what is the future for hot hatches with the world moving into electric vehicles.
Not the first hot hatch, but the first to perfect the formula and thereby realise the potential of the genre. With a fuel injected 1.6L engine in the first variant of the MK1, developing 108 horsepower, thanks to a low weight of 810kg, the 0-60mph time was a quick 8.6 seconds. Flat out, it'd reach 110mph – in a time when normal cars of the Golf's size couldn't do 100mph even if you pushed them off a cliff! VW understood that by heating up the Golf, its essential functionality could not be compromised.
It's unusually roomy and hence useful for a car of its size, and it's impossible to drive anyplace in it without feeling happier. It exudes an unquenchable spirit that manifests as a constant, supernatural attraction. If slicing into tight corners, hoofing the throttle, and savouring the type of sensation that only a car weighing the same as a family bag of Twiglets can provide doesn't convince you, you're not in the wrong car or on the wrong road; you've got the wrong hobby.
Renault has continuously produced great hot hatches over the last 30 years. The 5 GT Turbo follows the traditional hot hatch concept of a front-mounted engine and front-wheel drive. The 1.4-litre engine produced up to 120 horsepower, allowing it to go from 0 to 62 mph in 7.5 seconds. To guarantee the car could manage its 115 horsepower, Renault made significant adjustments to the front and rear suspension. They succeeded, resulting in a car that was both lightning fast and a pleasure to drive.
Mazda designed the 323 4x4 Turbo to meet rallying homologation regulations. So, owing to its four-wheel-drive system, the 323 performed admirably in the wet, slick conditions that characterise UK roads for most of the year. It was a rally special for the street, with all-wheel drive and strengthened sills. Mazda created a chassis that was praised by testers at the time for its flexibility.
The Swift was a 1,600-pound featherweight with a modest 100 horsepower output that allowed it to go quickly despite its lack of amenities. The Swift was a blast to toss around on tight roads or weave through traffic since sound deadening was limited, interior panels were simple and unrefined, and painted metal was exposed in numerous spots around the interior. Drivers sat on the GTI rather than in it, since it drove more like a go-kart than a vehicle, and with a hefty, three-spoke steering wheel right between your knees, it brought back memories of childhood go-karts.
With small proportions, clever four-wheel drive system and a firecracker of an engine, its performance is second to none, providing drivers with nothing but pure thrill. It has a 1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine making 257 horsepower, and a four-wheel drive system with optional mechanical torque-vectoring if you want them that makes the car capable of 0-62mph in just 5.5sec. With communicative controls, agile cornering balance, and an uncanny dynamic composure that encourages you to get greater speeds and more amusement wherever and whenever you can get it
The Mercedes-AMG A45 S is an outrageously insane four-wheel-drive hot hatchback with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that generates 416 horsepower and 396lb of torque, a greater specific output than a Ferrari 488 Pista. Regardless of the engine specs, there's a fantastic and useable driver's vehicle underneath it all. It's well-mannered even when just messing about, with superb straight-line performance and a complex steroidal driveline. The A45 S body control is rock solid at speed, with true chassis compliance, as well as superb grip from its electrically assisted steering rack, which offers precision, weighting, and textural feedback. The specs are amazing, and the drive is insane, but all of this comes at a hefty £50,000 price tag. The A45 S has strayed from the route of relative affordability that hot hatchbacks are known for, committing itself to being one of the less popular, but it is still a fantastic vehicle.
Since its introduction, the Golf GTI has been a top hot hatchback. The modern Golf GTI, as one of the affordable performance vehicles, gives drivers improved handling responsiveness and driver appeal, however this has resulted in an unpleasant hardness to the ride. The car's 242 horsepower 2.0-litre engine isn't as powerful as some other hot hatches on the market, but it has a strong and responsive push that the chassis enables you to use freely. The new model's stronger springing works better on smoother ground, although adaptive dampers allow for some ride adjustability. The Golf's steering is quick, but it can be light and numb at times, making it undemanding in everyday driving but not as engaging as it could be when pushing the car to its limits.
The Honda Civic Type R is a huge evolvement from Honda. Providing grip when you need it, handling adjustability when you look for it, plenty of control feedback, as well as a spectacular turbocharged engine with outstanding practicality too. This superstar combination provides driver appeal that invites you to exploit everything this car has to offer as often as you can get away with. The aggressive-looking, track-biased, Type R has some hardcore dynamism that is particularly compelling to drive. The Type R is undoubtably one of the most exciting and capable hot hatchbacks currently on the roads.
Like most Minis, the Clubman John Cooper Works (JCW) rides low and close to the road, offering an appealing sporty driving position and a natural dynamic advantage. The Clubman JCW is more directionally responsive and level in its cornering manners than a standard hot hatch, and firm-riding – unlike the ‘go-kart-like’ feel some of the previous fast Minis have had. With enough room in the back for adults, and a full-size usable boot, the clubman leaves little to be desired elsewhere. The JCW Clubman is one of the more convincing and complete performance cars Mini has built to date.
As one of the first, and most popular, hot hatches, it’s no surprise Volkswagen have decided to create an electrified version of their incredibly popular Golf GTI. With advanced power-saving LED lights, 16” Astana alloy wheels and aerodynamic optimisations, the hot-hatch boasts the latest infotainment and drive assistance features, such as navigation and parking assist, with an impressive 186-mile range, and thanks to an innovative electric powertrain, it hasn’t lost any of its charm or fun. The Golf GTE also delivers max torque and accelerates seamlessly thanks to its 1-speed gearbox giving it a mean 0-62mph time of 9.6 seconds.
Cupra, the high-performance division to Seat, is releasing the Cupra Born early next year. Boasting impressive performance credentials despite its size, it can really pack a punch. With three variants available in varying battery wattages, every version of the Cupra generates 310Nm of torque and is rear-wheel drive. Rapid charging allows the Born to add 62 miles to its range in just seven minutes, leave the same system connected for 35 minutes and it’ll replenish the batteries state to 80 per cent. The placement of the battery, low down in the centre of the car’s chassis, allows the EV to have a near-perfect 50:50 weight distribution and lower centre of gravity.
The Alpine R5, expected in 2024, will be a beefed-up version of the reborn Renault 5. Featuring a front-mounted potent, 215 horsepower, electric motor that will power the front wheels, but the vehicle will apparently come with torque vectoring providing an exciting drive. Depending on weight and gearing, the R5 could deliver a 0-62mph time of around six seconds. Unfortunately, this is all we know about the R5 so far. As for the price point, Renault boss Luca de Meo, has said it will be a price that many, many people will be able to afford.