Six of the best: hot hatches

Six of the best: hot hatches
Six of the best: hot hatches

The top six combiners of practicality with pulse-quickening performance

To be regarded as a top hot hatchback these days, a car has to prove itself in a lot of different areas. It’s no longer enough for it to whisk you between corners at a rabid rate and then make you grin like a fool while you’re going through them. Today’s hot hatch owners also demand a comfortable ride. When a degree of firmness is required to keep things under control, that can be a difficult compromise to achieve on UK roads.

Add in a requirement for everyday useability and sensible running costs and you can see that the bar is set pretty high. Here are the six cars that we’ve found best at delivering ‘the impossible mix’.

6. Volkswagen Golf R

3ddcd9f6d91b5cde66e942859ab892674151f526

If this was a top ten listing, the regular Volkswagen Golf GTI would appear in it. That’s a fine car right enough, but the faster Golf R is even better with 296bhp, four-wheel drive and a 0-62mph of 5.3 seconds. Throw in a superb interior and practicality that you can dial up or down by choosing the three- or five-door body style and the result is a hard to beat all-rounder.

5. Suzuki Swift Sport

3c78cade7d76f90230a74b404f39f75401767141

The engine may only be 1.6 litres, and there’s not even a turbo, but the fun of the Swift Sport lies in stirring its short-shift six-speed gearbox to get the most out of the brilliant handling. Point it at the right B-road and you’ll have a whale of a time scuttling between corners and then confidently hammering through them. It’s no stripped out go-kart, though: the packed spec includes climate and cruise control, keyless entry and start and xenon headlights.

4. Renault Megane Renaultsport 275 Cup S

fca7c1e89320daea35af88baa43b2a80bbe57f55

It’s been around for a while, but the 275 Cup S is rolling testimony to the wonder of a fantastically well-engineered chassis. The age of the design is given away by its iffy cabin quality and quirky driving position, but you’ll forget all that when you’re under way on a swooping A-road. At under £24k it’s a genuine bargain, but you may have to search hard for one of the last unregistered cars.

3. Ford Focus RS

4884da5aea1dc16c44e1b8ee7e6ca84e0c5ee37f

£31,000 may sound like a lot of money for a Focus, but this is no ordinary Focus. It’s a five-star delight with 345bhp, four-wheel drive, and a road presence that will make you best buddies with just about everyone you meet. The 0-62mph time of under five seconds is impressive enough, but it’s the way the RS handles its power that will boggle your imagination. Suddenly £31,000 will seem cheap.

2. BMW M140i

40bea7c5b04e297106fb13f7c04d91d51793f0df

BMW has been massaging its M performance badge of late, with mixed results. The M140i lies between M Sport trim and the ‘proper’ M cars, but it’s truer to the real M spirit than most of the lardier cars now wearing the badge. The combination of silly power and an alive chassis results in massive but unintimidating pace. The best thing is, you can enjoy it just as much pottering around at village speeds.

1. Ford Fiesta ST

0ce20bf2b863647f40b686702d0d166d9b891070

Start off with a great-driving car like the Fiesta and you’d expect the hot version to be amazing. Unfortunately, automotive history is littered with examples of ‘hot versions’ of good cars turning out to be lukewarm lemons. Thankfully, however, Ford has got the stiffer-suspended, sweet-steering ST 100 per cent right. Few cars at any price can top it on handling and the 178bhp 1.6-litre turbo engine is a perfect match, running hard from low speed and chiming in joyously with the switch-flick gearbox. We reckon the ST is the best hot hatchback you can buy.

Do speed cameras really save lives?

Neil Thorpe, Newcastle University and Lee Fawcett, Newcastle UniversitySpeed cameras have been the focus of motorists’ anger and frustration

Buying used: Subaru Impreza WRX

How to navigate the multitude of models that make up the 2000-2007 Impreza WRXIf you like ample choice to pick from when buying a used performance

How to handle smart motorways

Here’s what you need to know about ‘all lane running’ motorwaysAnyone who has spent time on the M25 or any other motorway

Buying used: Volvo 850 R

Take BTCC heritage, add a rare manual-plus-LSD combo, and multiply by today's classic car market for this £20k nineties estate...Volvo