10 quintessential hot hatchbacks you want to own

03 April 2020 - 15:03 By Motoring Reporter
The rear spoiler of the 2009 Ford Focus RS.
The rear spoiler of the 2009 Ford Focus RS.
Image: Supplied

Who doesn't enjoy a well-fettled hot-hatch? Fun, practical and most of the time easy to run and maintain, it's not hard to see why they are still such a sought-after commodity. Some are better than others of course and over the last 45 years many have come and gone. In no particular order, here are 10 that we consider to be the best of the breed.

A 1993 Lancia Delta HF Integrale 16v Evoluzione II.
A 1993 Lancia Delta HF Integrale 16v Evoluzione II.
Image: Sergey Kohl / 123rf

Lancia Delta HF Integrale:

Penned by the same man who designed the original VW Golf — Giorgetto Giugiaro — the Integrale is hot-hatch royalty thanks to its muscular styling, punchy performance and enviable World Rally Championship (WRC) success. The best hot-hatch to ever come from Italy it was also the last truly brilliant car to ever to be built by the Turin-based marque before it sold out and became a purveyor of automotive mediocrity. As dramatic to look at today as it was back in the early 1990s, the Integrale remains a wonderful thing to pilot with a level of feedback unmatched by modern-day equivalents. Evo models are also surprisingly quick and still capable of keeping up with hot hatchbacks of recent years.  

A 2005 Renault Clio V6 (Phase 2).
A 2005 Renault Clio V6 (Phase 2).
Image: Supplied

Renault Clio V6:

It might not have been as nimble to drive as its then lesser sibling — the Clio RS 182 — but what it lost in dynamic delicacy the macho Clio V6 more than made up for in swagger. The whole concept was deliciously outrageous too: take a small family hatchback, rip out the back seats and fill the void with a 3.0-litre V6 engine nicked from the Laguna saloon. With its super wide track and snarling exhaust note the Clio V6 looked like nothing else on the road when it was launched in 2001. Though its life was fleeting — production ended in 2005 — it became an instant cult classic; one that today still has the power to stop traffic.

A 2004 Alfa Romeo 147 GTA
A 2004 Alfa Romeo 147 GTA
Image: Supplied

Alfa Romeo 147 GTA:

Another star of the early 2000s era, the 147 GTA was perhaps one of the prettiest cars of the decade. From its bulging arches to those beautiful 17-inch alloy wheels (big for the day they were) and signature dual chrome exhaust pipes, this Italian hot hatch really made your heart ache with its sultry looks. Powering it along was a 3.2-litre V6 'Busso' engine that sounded — and still does — absolutely epic. Unfortunately it was let down by a rather mediocre chassis and dire levels of understeer. A flawed beauty but a beauty nonetheless.

The 2006 Mini Cooper GP
The 2006 Mini Cooper GP
Image: Supplied

Mini Cooper GP:

Based on the Mini Challenge race car, the original GP remains the rawest and most rewarding of all modern Cooper models. Launched in 2006 it shipped sans rear seats and was stripped of all unnecessary sound-deadening material. Air-conditioning was optional. The result was a weight-saving of about 50kg. The Cooper GP also came with lots of carbon-fibre aero bits (for extra downforce at higher speeds) as well as a slightly larger intercooler for a useful wodge of extra power. To keep it in check on the road Mini bolted in mechanical limited-slip differential. It's a rare beast — only 2,000 were made.

A 2015 Golf GTI.
A 2015 Golf GTI.
Image: Supplied

Golf GTI:

Since its release in 1976 the legendary Golf GTI has pretty much been the yardstick to which all other hot hatchbacks are measured. This is because it has long held the perfect balance of power, poise and everyday livability. It is, quite simply, one car that can be all things to all men. It's classless too, meaning that it can blend in anywhere from a track day to black-tie gala dinner — you can't say the same of your Renault Megane R26 now, can you? It's had some lacklustre periods — the Mk3 was no great shakes — but on the whole the GTI seldom disappoints. The eighth-generation model will be launched later in 2020.

The 2009 Ford Focus RS.
The 2009 Ford Focus RS.
Image: Supplied

Ford Focus RS:

In 2009 few cars were hotter property than the second-generation Focus RS. Breathed upon by Ford Team RS this 263km/h front-wheel drive hot-hatch had all the makings of an instant classic thanks to its extrovert styling (it still looks intimidating 11 years after the fact) and fiery powertrain. Blessed with a modified version of the 2.5-litre five-cylinder lump used in the standard ST, the Focus RS whooshed and banged and popped like some kind of demonic, road-legal rally car. Sharp handling came courtesy a recalibrated suspension system fitted with unique 'RevoKnuckle' front struts plus a trick Quaife Automatic Torque Biasing limited-slip differential. Inside you got bespoke Recaro seats.

The Nisssan Pulsar GT-R.
The Nisssan Pulsar GT-R.
Image: Gtiroz / WikiMedia Commons

Nissan Pulsar GTI-R:

Known to many as 'Mini Godzilla' the Pulsar GTI-R gained something of a cult following after it appeared in the first installment of Gran Turismo in 1997. Launched seven years prior, this Japanese hatchback was actually a homologation special built so that Nissan could take it racing in the WRC under Group A rules. As such it came equipped with a bespoke all-wheel-drive system as well as a 2.0-litre turbocharged 'SR20DET' engine that gave it accelerative performance comparable to that of Porsche 911 models of the time.

The Peugeot 205 GTI.
The Peugeot 205 GTI.
Image: Goran Jakuš / 123rf

Peugeot 205 GTI:

Say what you will about Peugeot but they used to make a bloody good hot-hatch. The 205 GTI in particular was a work of art — one that still gets aficionados flustered from even the most fleeting glimpse. The interior trim might dissolve about you but the driving experience remains one brimming with feedback and enthusiasm. It's a true member of the old-school hatchery meaning that it's incredibly light (885kg) and packs a small naturally aspirated engine that makes relatively modest power but loves to rev. As such you need to take it by the scruff of its neck to extract the best from it — something that never ever feels like a chore. It's also the undisputed king of lift-off oversteer, which probably explains why so many of them have been crashed by inexperienced drivers.

The Honda Civic Type-R.
The Honda Civic Type-R.
Image: Supplied

Honda Civic Type-R:

If the Volkswagen Golf GTI is the most liveable member of the current hot hatch troupe then the Honda Civic Type-R is certainly the most focused. If you are willing to ignore those 'boy-racer' looks you'll discover what has to be the finest handling front-wheel-drive performance car you can buy right now — one that can easily hold its own among purebred sports cars such as the Porsche Cayman. A powerful 2.0-litre turbocharged motor delivers a claimed top speed of 272km/h while a six-speed manual transmission (with switchable rev-matching on downshifts) delivers traditional purist driving thrills. 

The third-generation Suzuki Swift Sport.
The third-generation Suzuki Swift Sport.
Image: Supplied

Suzuki Swift Sport:

Though more mild-hatch than hot-hatch, the third-generation Suzuki Swift Sport charmed its way into many peoples' hearts by rehashing the exact same recipe that made the original Golf GTI and Peugeot 205 GTI such runaway successes: a feathery kerb weight partnered to a well-sorted chassis and lively naturally aspirated engine tuned to rev. It may not have been the fastest in a drag race but on an empty, winding road the little Swift Sport came into its own with fun and delicate handling. It's a car that dispels the myth that more power equals more fun and in doing so is deserved of being on this list.


subscribe