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Best hot hatchbacks to buy in 2024

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Tim Pitt rounds up the greatest hot hatchbacks sold new in 2024, including the Mercedes-AMG A45 S and Honda Civic Type R.

Swimming against the tide of insipid crossovers and morbidly obese SUVs, the hot hatchback continues to be a bastion for driving fun. Nearly 50 years since the Volkswagen Golf GTI established the blueprint, no type of car offers such a compelling blend of performance, practicality and price.

Whether you want a four-wheel-drive tearaway or a fun-sized pocket rocket, there is a car here to suit you. Guaranteed: every one will put a grin on your face when tackling your favourite road. For 2024, our list even includes an electric hot hatch for the first time. 

Read on for the best hot hatchbacks to buy this year, with our choices presented in alphabetical order.

Abarth 500e

More electric hot hatches will arrive this year – the Hyundai Ioniq 5 N and Alpine A290 among them – but the bright and bolshy 500e is among the first of the breed. With a 42.2kWh battery and 152hp motor, it can zip to 62mph in 7.0 seconds and reach 96mph. Activate the external speaker and you get a rorty (but oddly inauthentic) four-cylinder soundtrack, too.  

The official range of 157 miles will come tumbling down if you drive the 500e with brio, which rather limits its practicality. Oh, and did we mention it almost costs Golf GTI money? Still this battery-powered upstart won’t fail to put a smile on your face, and for that it should be celebrated. Order yours in radioactive Acid Green for the maximum Abarth attitude.

We said: ‘The Abarth 500e feels right at home in the city. It is eager to whisk you off the line and nips through gaps in traffic easily. It loses traction on greasy roads like an excitable terrier on a tiled floor, but once grip is found, it squats down and flings you towards the next junction.’ 

Read our Abarth 500e review

Audi RS3 Sportback

Some will insist a ‘proper’ hot hatchback needs to have three doors and drive through the front wheels only. To them, the Audi RS3 Sportback offers a nonchalant shrug (or perhaps a two-fingered salute) and gets on with being one of the fastest point-to-point cars on sale.

Its 2.5-litre turbocharged engine produces a mighty 400hp, along with a sonorous five-cylinder soundtrack that’s almost unrivalled at this end of the market. It also sprints to 62mph in a whisker over four seconds – faster than a Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 – and features a plethora of safety and connectivity tech. However, even the most affordable hot Audi doesn’t come cheap. 

We said: ‘Fast Audis, including the Quattro, long had a reputation for feeling aloof, but the RS3 is alert and utterly planted. Its supple damping is ideally calibrated for British B-roads, while the torque-vectoring diff hooks it around corners with unflinching tenacity. The Mercedes-AMG A45 S has more attitude and is ultimately more exciting, but it won’t cover ground any quicker. And the Audi’s calmer ride makes it easier to live with.’ 

Read our Audi RS3 Sportback review

BMW 128ti

Hang on, a front-driven BMW hot hatch? The 128ti is a lighter, more affordable alternative to the four-wheel-drive BMW M135i, designed to take the fight to the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The ‘ti’ badge harks back to BMW models of old – notably the 2002 Ti (it stood for Turismo Internazionale, since you ask). 

The 128ti’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine is pilfered from the spicy Mini John Cooper Works. It produces 265hp: good for 0-62mph in a brisk 6.1 seconds. That’s 1.3 seconds slower than the all-weather M135i, but only fractionally off the pace of the go-faster Golf.

A limited-slip differential and grippy Michelin Pilot Sport tyres come as standard on the 128ti, along with sports seats and a host of cosmetic upgrades. The baby BMW is also 80kg lighter than the M135i, which helps it feel more agile, while running costs are lower as well. Indeed, the 128ti is so good, our US editor, John Redfern, has just bought one.

Read our BMW 1 Series review

Cupra Leon 300

The hot hatchback formerly known as the Seat Leon Cupra also comes in two electrified guises: 150hp or 245hp plug-in e-Hybrid. However, the 300hp petrol version – which uses a similar engine to the Volkswagen Golf R – is the Leon we’re most excited about. With a standard DSG semi-automatic gearbox and front-wheel drive, it blasts to 62mph in 5.7 seconds.

Sadly, Cupra has also inherited the Volkswagen Group’s woeful touchscreen media system, but the hottest Leon is otherwise hard to fault. If you need extra luggage space, there’s also an estate version for around £1,500 more.

We said: ‘For all Cupra’s intent to be an unconventional challenger brand, the Leon 300 actually feels like a pretty sensible hot hatchback. Being both quick and practical, it can be fun on a racetrack and useful on the school run. Perhaps avoid the exhaust being in Cupra mode for the latter, though.’

Read our Cupra Leon TSI 300 review

Ford Focus ST

With the seminal Fiesta ST now consigned to history – and a fourth-generation Focus RS ruled out by emissions rules –  it’s left to the Focus ST to keep Ford’s hot hatch fire burning. Powered by a 280hp 2.3-litre engine with a six-speed manual gearbox (a paddle-shift auto is optional), the ST builds on the well-honed dynamism of the standard Focus. It isn’t as instantly exciting as some rivals, but it should prove easy to live with.

Want more drama? The £3,000 ST Track Pack adds adjustable coilover suspension, beefier brakes, sticky Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres and a Track driving mode. The result, so we’re told, is the feisty attitude of a Fiesta ST in a more practical package. 

We said: ‘The Ecoboost engine punches hard from 2,500rpm and revs keenly, helped by short gear ratios and the anti-lag tech. It never feels short of shove and its gravelly soundtrack (artificially enhanced, admittedly) is pleasingly reminiscent of the old, five-cylinder Focus ST.

‘There’s plenty of grip before the chassis eventually defaults to understeer and the brakes inspire confidence, too. The booster adjusts bite-point to keep pedal response consistent, so they never go soft – even on long mountain descents. Another added bonus – and one of the joys of a hot hatch – the Focus actually feels the right size for these roads.’

Read our Ford Focus ST review

Honda Civic Type R

When all cars have become autonomous pods and the definitive history of the hot hatchback is finally written, the latest ‘FL5’ Honda Civic Type R will be rated among the greats. Remember how Chris Harris compared it to a Peugeot 205 GTI on Top Gear? Yep, it’s that good.

Naturally, the Type R is vastly quicker and more capable than the 40-year-old GTI. Yet it offers that same subjective sense of connection, from well-oiled gearshift to perfectly poised chassis. Yes, it’s seriously expensive, at a fiver short of £50,000, but keep it for 40 years and who knows – you might even end up with a money-making modern classic

We said: ‘The turbocharged motor isn’t as maniacal as Type Rs of old, but it responds sharply and relishes high revs. A new Individual mode for the engine and chassis allows you to tailor the car’s settings, too. At a cold and slightly damp Thruxton, the new FL5 inspires more confidence than its predecessor. You can carve through corners with laser-like accuracy, enjoying the plentiful grip, fine balance and eventual willingness to oversteer.’ 

Read our Honda Civic Type R review

Hyundai i20 N

The i20 N was the only supermini-sized hot hatch that posed a credible challenge to the Ford Fiesta ST. Now, with the Fiesta gone, the Hyundai plays in a little league of its own. From the moment you select N mode and the digital dials explode into cartoon flames, you know this car will be riotously good fun.

Like its i30 N big brother, the i20 N-for-Nurburgring was developed around the 12.9 miles of the Nordschleife circuit. That shows in its livewire steering and taut, tightly controlled handling, which encourages you to drive like an over-excited boy (or girl) racer. However hard you try, the i20 N just keeps egging you on. 

We said: ‘Hyundai’s 204hp four-pot isn’t as characterful as Ford’s 200hp three-cylinder engine, but it sure is effective. It punches hard from 3,000rpm and keeps on pulling, encouraged by a knuckly and wonderfully tactile manual shift. The artificially enhanced growl and exhaust crackles will make you smile, while a rev-match function – selected via a big red ‘REV’ button on the steering wheel – helps smooth-out the frantic flow.’

Read our Hyundai i20 N review

Hyundai i30 N

Sensible can be exciting. The Hyundai i30 N comes with a five-year warranty, which makes it a hot hatchback you can buy with your head and your heart. Its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine produces 275hp, which is enough to propel the i30 N to 62mph in 6.1 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155mph.

Hyundai’s N department is led by former BMW M division chief Albert Biermann. And it shows, because the i30 N is a serious rival to the Civic Type R, with a choice of driving models and a rousing soundtrack. It can be a little anti-social at times, but you can tone things down using the 1,944 (yes, really) different powertrain and chassis settings.

We said: ‘Ninety-nine percent of the time you’ll be in Custom mode, revelling in the heroic rev matching and active exhaust, switching to Normal only to pass horse riders, make a quiet exit from a sleepy village, or to relax on a long and tedious schlep up a motorway. Not that you’ll spend too long on boring roads: the i30 N is the kind of car that encourages you to leave a motorway an exit earlier, or to take the long way home, again and again.’

Read our Hyundai i30 N review

Mercedes-AMG A35 

The A35 has the same aggressive styling, glitzy tech and slingshot traction as the Mercedes-AMG A45 S (coming up next), but is more affordable to buy and easier to insure. And if the 421hp flagship is scorching hot, this car’s vital statistics – 306hp, 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds and 155mph – are hardly lukewarm. As our review notes: ‘On British B-roads, most drivers this side of Lewis Hamilton will cover ground more confidently, and likely more quickly, in this baby Benz than the AMG GT supercar.’

Mercedes-AMG’s answer to the Golf R, the A35 is also more engaging to drive than the Volkswagen in its current Mk8 guise. Fit the optional AMG Aerodynamics package, including front dive planes and a lofty tailgate spoiler, and no-one will know you haven’t bought the turned-up-to-11 version.

We said: ‘Like the now-ubiquitous Golf R, the Mercedes-AMG A35 serves up driving fun, practicality and car-park kudos in a well-rounded package. It’s a car for the North Coast 500 and the North Circular. And that, surely, is what hot hatchbacks were all about in the first place.’

Read our Mercedes-AMG A35 review

Mercedes-AMG A45 S

If you find yourself playing the 2024 version of Hot Hatchback Top Trumps, the Mercedes-AMG A45 S is the card to stick up your sleeve. The key number here is 421hp. If you think that looks mad written down, you should try being behind the wheel. Fortunately, 4Matic four-wheel drive helps keep this surface-level missile locked on target.

The most powerful production 2.0-litre engine in the world rockets the A45 S to 62mph in just 3.9 seconds. Top speed is 168mph. Crucially, it’s more thrilling to drive than the Audi RS3, while a host of AMG features make it easy and luxurious to live with. Just be prepared for a price tag north of £63,000. 

We said: ‘Like the now-departed Ford Focus RS, it uses torque vectoring to create a rear-biased feel and effectively quash understeer. Also like the Focus, there’s a controversial Drift mode, which amplifies this effect by channeling torque to the outside rear wheel. Either way, this is no tyre-smoking C63 wannabe. My overriding impression was of superb balance and reassuring neutrality. Oh, and speed. So much speed.’

Read our Mercedes-AMG A45 S review

Mini Cooper S

Whisper this, but you don’t need to splash out on a Cooper S to have a good time in a Mini. Even the basic Mini Hatch is a joy to drive, so you could find a few well chosen extras are all you need for a Mini adventure. Likewise, you might be tempted to stretch to the flagship Mini John Cooper Works, but this more extreme Mini is a little too unhinged for daily use. 

The 178hp Cooper S sources its power from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, dispatching the 0-62mph sprint in around seven seconds. Its central exhaust pipes provide a naughty soundtrack to accompany the lively performance.

The Mini Hatch range will be updated in 2024, with the Cooper being one of the marque’s final petrol-engined models before it goes fully electric. A battery-powered version of the hot hatch has already been revealed, available in two guises: 184hp Cooper E and 218hp Cooper SE. The latter offers up to 250 miles of range, according to Mini. 

Read our Mini Hatch review

Toyota GR Yaris 

The Toyota GR Yaris is probably the most talked-about hot hatchback of recent years; a performance car so exciting, so bespoke, it’s already compared to the greatest homologation specials – cars such as the Lancia Delta Integrale and E30 BMW M3. 

In truth, this isn’t really a Yaris at all. The GR shares little in common with a standard Toyota supermini. Its 1.6-litre turbocharged engine serves up 261hp and 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds. Despite its four-wheel-drive system, however, the GR Yaris weighs just 18kg more than a Ford Fiesta ST. A facelifted version arrives soon.

We said: “Most people will spend their money on a Volkswagen Golf R. And that’s fine. It’s more powerful, more practical and just as quick on a B-road. But arrive at a Cars and Coffee event in the Golf and nobody will give you a second look. Turn up in a GR Yaris and you’ll be hailed a hero.”

Read our Toyota GR Yaris review

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen hasn’t tampered with a winning formula for the eighth-generation Golf GTI. Traditionalists will be relieved to hear the red stripes and tartan trim are still present and correct. Its 245hp 2.0-litre engine is carried over from the previous GTI Performance and delivers 0-62mph in 6.3 seconds, plus 155mph flat-out. There’s also a 300hp Clubsport version. 

The new GTI is a sharper driving tool than before, with more direct steering and stiffer suspension. However, this comes at some detriment to ride quality and everyday usability. The touchscreen-focused dashboard, meanwhile, is a definite step backwards. You’ll get used to it, but it certainly isn’t intuitive. 

We said: ‘It feels quicker than its predecessor on a B-road, with pointier turn-in, neutral balance and a taut, hunkered-down attitude. When you’re on it, the Golf is right there with you.’

Read our Volkswagen Golf GTI review

Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research

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