Honda Civic Type R
Japanese manufacturers were always active in the hot hatch class, but only a few models received cult status and a place in hot hatch hall of fame. One of those cars is the first Civic Type R, which they introduced in 1997. This car was especially well received in America where its performance, driving dynamics, road holding and light weight were popular with budget-minded enthusiasts who wanted affordable performance.
The heart of the EK9 generation Civic Type R was a 1.6-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine with the famous V-Tec system that delivered 185 HP. Its high power output was legendary. Even though there wasn’t much space for engine tuning, you could take the rear seat out and make your Civic lighter and faster. The car stayed in production until 2000 and still is a popular model amongst the hot hatch fans in America.
Volkswagen Golf R32
During the 1990s in Europe, the hot hatch class was under heavy fire from insurance agencies, earning the image of a hooligan’s express. This meant most car manufacturers stopped producing such cars. Some produced one mild model they considered a hot hatch. After the crazy 80’s and the high-tech Delta Integrale and RS Cosworth of the early 90’s, the rest of the decade lacked interesting models.
Volkswagen’s Golf GTI was constantly selling well and VW was one of the companies that never abandoned the market. But, the company was thinking of the future of the hot hatch class. The 21st century brought many technological innovations, electronic systems and improvements in construction, so why not implement all that in a hot hatch of the future? This is how the R32 came about in 2003. Volkswagen took the Mk4 body shell and installed the best hardware it had in the early 2000’s.
That meant the R32 had intelligent all-wheel drive, a 240 HP 3.2-liter V6 engine, a luxury interior and a host of electronic aids. This wasn’t the first AWD hot hatch or the fastest, despite its 0 to 60 mph time of 6.4 seconds. However, it was the first “Uber” hatch that combined luxury and effortless high-speed cruising with exciting driving dynamics. Also, this was the first hot hatch to use the DSG transmission, which is a standard in this class today.
Subaru Impreza Sti
Subaru Impreza made its name in the 1990s with the highly capable combo of a boxer turbo engine, all-wheel drive, and loads of power and torque. However, no one considered the Impreza a hot hatch, since they were all sedans or wagons. But in 2008, they introduced the Impreza as a five-door hatchback. It immediately set the hot hatch world on fire.
Invading the hot hatch class was a smart move from Subaru. It brought a larger audience to the Impreza while keeping the performance and mechanical layout intact. With 305 HP and intelligent AWD traction, the Impreza was one of the best and fastest hot hatches money could buy in 2008.
Ford Focus RS500
Famous for its affordable performance cars, Ford invested a lot of time and effort in the second generation Focus RS they debuted in 2009. The car featured a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine with 305 HP, delivering a brutal performance. However, it was an old-fashioned hot hatch because of all that power going to the front axle.
And although it had a trick front suspension to keep the front end in check, it still had a torque steer effect. Ford was getting ready to turn to all-wheel drive for the Focus RS MK3, but they wanted to say goodbye to the front-wheel-drive model with a bang. And that bang was the Focus RS500, a limited production model with 350 HP.
The Focus RS500 came with matte black paint and a plaque with the serial number on the dash. Also, the RS500 sold out in just a few days, earning its place in history as the most powerful factory front-wheel-drive hot hatch ever.
Renault Megane R26.R
While Ford and other companies were competing in the horsepower wars, Renault, the hot hatch authority, went the other way. In fact, they constructed light, nimble and extremely capable cars that were almost track-ready. They introduced the sublime R26.R in 2009. The Megane R26.R had the same 2.0-liter turbo engine with 230 HP as the regular Megane RS.
But, it was much lighter with a revised suspension, steering and brakes. Also, the Megane didn’t have rear seats and they replaced the window glass with Plexiglas. The Megane R26.R was almost a racing car, as it handled sublimely and posted unbelievable track times. It held a record for front-wheel drive cars on Nurburgring and beat the Porsche Boxster.
And the Megane was faster than the BMW M3 CSL. Despite its limited production, this Megane earned a place on this list as one of the best driver’s cars in the hot hatch class. This car proves that record-breaking performance doesn’t always require high horsepower ratings.
The Audi RS3 is one of the most influential and important hot hatches ever. And the latest incarnation or RS3 lineage features the most powerful hot hatch engine the world has ever seen. In fact, it is the best accelerating hot hatch on the market.
With 400 HP, a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine and a 4.1 second 0 to 60 mph time, the RS3 is a land rocket capable of beating many expensive sports cars. Yet, it still is docile enough to drive down to the grocery shop or transport the family. This car just shows how far the hot hatch class has come in the last 50 years.
It has evolved from the humble Mini Cooper with 55 HP to the eight times more powerful Audi with intelligent all-wheel drive and a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. And the RS3 symbolizes the philosophy behind the modern upper echelon hot hatches. They must have all-wheel drive, a dual-clutch transmission, a turbo engine and unbelievable acceleration times.
Fiat 500 Abarth
Even though the 500 Abarth has only 160 HP coming from its tiny turbocharged 1.4-liter engine, it is a seriously fast and fun little car. And that is due to its small weight and compact dimensions. Also, it is extremely practical in everyday driving and easy to park, as well.
Also, they completed the package with a small price and running costs. For drivers on a budget with an irresistible need for speed, this small but wicked car could be your answer.
Renault Clio Williams
France always produced great hot hatch models, so in the early `90s, one of the most respected was the Renault Clio Williams. This car was a step up from the legendary Peugeot 205 GTI. Plus, it was a more modern, powerful and faster vehicle.
Under the hood was a high revving 2.0-liter engine with 145 HP, which was a high figure for the day. But, Renault added a stiffer suspension, bigger brakes and several noticeable bodywork modifications on the car. They made it a true street fighter and a great basis for a successful rally car. Over the few years of production, Renault made around 12,000 of them.
Volkswagen Golf GTI MK5
The Mk I Golf GTI singlehandedly created the modern hot hatch class. But, some 30 years later in 2005, MK5 Golf GTI reinvented it. The Mk V GTI was the perfect combination of a great chassis with a 200 HP engine. And then they added modern technology to create the best driving dynamics and praise from the automotive press.
Another interesting feature was the new DSG double clutch automatic transmission, which was a great option. In fact, it helped the MK5 GTI achieve fantastic acceleration times.
Ford Focus ST
The third generation of the Ford Focus brought drivers a great economy compact car. But, when Ford introduced the ST model in 2012, buyers got an almost perfect hot hatch. And under the hood was a 2.0-liter four cylinder with turbocharger and 252 HP.
They perfectly tuned the rest of the car, too. So, it represented a fantastic balance between performance and everyday usability.
The perfect example of an overpowered and brutal front wheel hot hatch is the legendary Mazdaspeed 3. They introduced it in 2007, and it was powered by a 2.3-liter four cylinder delivering 263 HP. And that was considered a crazy number of horsepower to send to the front wheels.
However, despite severe torque steer, the Mazdaspeed 3 was a capable and rapid car. It even brought many customers back to the dealerships. Also, it reintroduced Mazda as one of the prime affordable performance brands on the U.S. market at that time.
These 20 hot hatches prove you can have power, good looks and affordability, too. Did you find your favorite on this list? Indeed, the car world has embraced the hot hatch and is waiting for the next generation to arrive at car dealerships everywhere.