Hot hatchbacks are hugely popular in the UK. Brits love hatchbacks as family cars because of their small size – our narrow roads mean we have a totally different outlook to, for example, the US – and their practicality.
While motorists in many countries favour saloons, our climate means hatchbacks are perfect for family life and we don’t have to worry about letting the hot or cold air in when we open the boot. This means that for fans of fast cars, hot hatches make perfect sense.
The 2010s were a golden era for these practical family cars, as performance was better than ever yet they were also more refined, usable and enjoyable to drive every day. If you’re looking for a newer hot hatch, pick one of the models we’ve chosen below – these are the cream of the crop and among the best hot hatches ever made in any decade.
Scroll down for our pick of Best hot hatchbacks of the 2010s…
Ford Focus RS Mk3
The Ford Focus RS was the ultimate version of the popular Ford Focus family car. The hot ST model was fantastic but the four-wheel drive RS model took it to another level. It featured a 345bhp turbocharged petrol engine, a manual gearbox and a headline-catching ‘Drift Mode’ that enabled sideways skids on track.
What made it great wasn’t the power or the gimmicks, though – it was the way it drove. The Focus RS has a very clever four-wheel drive system that can send up to 70 per cent of power to the rear wheels, which means it has the dynamics of a rear-wheel drive car in many situations, but the traction and control of a four-wheel drive car when needed.
It has quick steering, supportive seats, loads of grip in corners and an exciting engine, which means it’s a thrilling car to drive. The suspension was the only sticking point – the ride was very firm and bumpy roads would send you bouncing up and down in your seat. Yet the RS was still practical enough to use every day, with a big boot and usable rear seats.
VW Golf GTI Mk7
You might have expected to see the Volkswagen Golf R in this list. After all, it’s the most powerful model in the 2010s Golf range, and was hugely popular in that decade. Yet the GTI model is actually the better car, especially with the Performance Pack fitted – which brought power to 242bhp and included an electronic limited-slip differential.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine isn’t as powerful as the version in the Golf R, but this means you can enjoy the sensation of acceleration for longer, and there’s still more than enough performance to have fun with. The manual gearbox is best; it’s slick and easy to use and adds to the fun.
The Golf GTI is a delight to drive on a twisty road but gets all of the everyday bits just right, too: it rides smoothly, has lots of space in the back, the boot is big and there’s plenty of tech including smartphone connectivity on later models. It’s a great example of the all-rounder hot hatch – a car you can use every day easily but that is also great fun on the right road.
Renault Megane RS 275 Trophy-R
The RenaultSport Megane 275 Trophy-R is the opposite of the VW Golf GTI above. It’s a stripped-out version of the Megane RS with no back seats, track-focused suspension and eye-catching graphics.
It was the best-driving Megane in the range and the successor to the excellent Megane R26.R of the 2000s. Strong performance, loads of grip, direct steering and an incredibly adjustable and enjoyable chassis set-up meant it was a revelation, especially on a track – and many owners treat them more like sports cars than hot hatchbacks.
It’s understandable given that there are only two seats, but that also means there’s a huge boot. It’s mainly the firm suspension set-up that prevents its use as a daily driver, plus the fact that it’s now an appreciating classic car cherished by its owners.
Honda Civic Type R FK8
The Honda Civic Type R has been around for multiple generations and we love all of them – but the FK8 may go down as the best ever. It lost out on the high-revving engines of previous models but made up for that with its own incredibly strong turbo engine that pulls hard right to the red line.
With 316bhp, performance is excellent. In fact, while the 0-62mph time of 5.7 seconds is impressive, we found that it sells the car short as the mighty Civic feels faster than cars that can get to 62mph in a shorter time. Around a track, it’s one of the most impressive front-wheel drive machines we can think of.
The looks are dramatic, and you probably either love or hate them, but it’s still a Civic underneath – it’s a practical car and the adaptive suspension means it rides well and is easily usable every day. It’s also blessed with the best manual gear change of any car here.
Ford Fiesta ST Mk7 + Mk8
We’re going to have to cheat a little bit by including two generations of Ford Fiesta ST here. It was just too hard to choose between them. Both are genre-defining superminis that prove you don’t need a larger family hatch as a base to make a great hot hatch.
The Fiesta ST Mk7 had a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that brought peppy performance, a great soundtrack and decent fuel economy, while the Mk8 downsized to a 1.5-litre three-cylinder unit that wasn’t as fun to use but felt punchier lower in the rev range.
The Mk7 was a bit bouncy, but was endless fun in corners, while the Mk8 was more grown-up, yet still had a sense of humour on a twisty road. Both are all about fun, and are enjoyable to drive no matter where you are.
VW UP GTI
The Volkswagen up! GTI’s modest 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine proves that you don’t need a huge engine for huge amounts of fun. Its light weight, small size and punchy performance meant that the up! GTI was loads of fun at a really affordable price.
Even better, the up! GTI was so small that it was perfect for our tight and twisty roads in the UK, whether that’s around town or in the countryside. It’s got just enough power to have fun without worrying about speed limits, and it has a more grown-up side when you’re not going flat-out.
The up!’s pleasant cabin, comfy seats, smooth ride and decent refinement meant it was a decent motorway cruiser and daily driver, so as long as you don’t mind the tiny boot, it’s a brilliant small, affordable hot hatch.
SEAT Leon Cupra R
Cupra is now a brand of car in its own right, but it was models like the SEAT Leon Cupra R that made it an appealing sub-brand in the first place. The 2010s Leon Cupras were closely related to the Volkswagen Golf GTI, with the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, but tuned to produce up to 306bhp in this later incarnation.
It’s front-wheel drive and has a distinct character that separates it from the Golf GTI – it’s more engaging in corners but is slightly stiffer over bumps. It looks sharper than the Golf, both inside and out, and the extra power had its own appeal – it was as powerful as a Golf R but was front-wheel drive like the GTI, which helped keep prices down.
It was a bargain performance car for a big part of the 2010s, although in the latter part of the decade other contenders outdid it. On the second-hand market it still represents great value in many cases.
Most hot hatchbacks have four-cylinder engines, simply because the cars they are based on don’t have space for anything bigger in the engine bay. Yet the BMW 1 Series of the 2010s was rear-wheel drive, which means the engine fits under the bonnet lengthways and there’s no need for a gearbox or driveshafts under the bonnet either.
This means it got a six-cylinder 3.0-litre engine, and it was all the better for it. Power wasn’t stratospheric at 322bhp, but that was a perfect figure for fun on British roads. The engine was smooth, enjoyable to use and torquey from low down, yet still relished revs.
In short it was a perfect match for the M135i’s chassis, and the car is a fantastic all-rounder as a result. It’s smooth, comfortable and quiet when you want it to be yet still performs like a hot hatch should.
The Audi S1 is sort of an alternative to the Fiesta ST, because of its size, but it’s more premium than the Ford and was quite expensive when new, so it was hard to come up with a direct rival for it during the 2010s. Yet we love it all the same, because it mixed a feeling of quality and secure handling with lots of performance.
The 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine was strong and had loads of torque, plus with 228bhp it was able to take the S1 from 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds. Four-wheel drive was a unique selling point here, as it’s rare to find a supermini with this layout, and it meant the S1 was very secure even in wet weather.
This means it makes a great everyday car for driving in winter and on muddy country roads, though it’s not the most exciting hot hatch to drive (the Fiesta ST is more fun).
Hyundai i30 N
Don’t overlook the Hyundai i30N. It may be based on a very bland family hatchback, and come from a brand not previously known for performance cars, but the i30N is a brilliantly fast, capable and, above all, fun hot hatch that still has room for the family.
It has a powerful 271bhp 2.0-litre engine that sounds good, a snappy manual gear shift and loads of driving modes to play with, plus it’s a joy to drive on a twisty road, if a little on the firm side. The softest setting on the adjustable dampers is the only one that’s really usable on UK roads, but that’s okay.
The i30N is understated and good value, yet it’s more fun than a Golf GTI, just as practical and has more of a sense of humour. The interior could be better – the materials look a bit cheap in places – but the infotainment is great and it’s roomy enough to work as a daily driver.
Toyota Yaris GRMN
Forget the new Toyota GR Yaris – the Yaris GRMN is a totally different car, but still one of our hot hatch heroes. It was a test bed for the current model in some ways, but it’s not that similar mechanically – it’s front-wheel drive and uses a four-cylinder supercharged engine rather than a three-cylinder turbo.
The 209bhp engine was one of the best things about this limited-run special – it came out of a Lotus Elise sports car and delivered linear and addictive power right to the red line, turning this little Yaris into a proper performance car. Sublime handling completed the package for what is a brilliantly fun small car with plenty of character.
It was let down by a high price and a high driving position carried over from a normal Yaris, but we can see past those – it’s a great little car and shouldn’t be forgotten in the shadow of the newer GR Yaris.
Peugeot 208 GTi by PeugeotSport
The Peugeot 208 GTi by PeugeotSport is another supermini hot hatch that proves you don’t need lots of power to have fun. With 205bhp it’s hardly slow, but the Peugeot is all about its handling – in bends its small size and light weight mean it’s a joy to throw around.
It’s grippy, poised and above all, fun to drive. You can keep things smooth and enjoy the swift acceleration out of bends, or throw it into corners and enjoy the adjustability of the chassis. The quick steering means it’s very responsive, too.
The thing that lets it down is the awkward driving position and tiny steering wheel, which can be uncomfortable for some drivers – but others get used to it quickly enough.
Interested in buying a hot hatch? Read our list of the Best used hot hatchbacks…