The best hot hatchbacks to buy in 2023
It’s starting to feel like the hot hatchback’s days are numbered, so buy one while you can. Frankly, 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-size pocket rocket, there’s a hot hatch here to suit you. Guaranteed: every one of these cars will put a grin on your face when you take to your favourite B-road.
We’ve pulled together a list of the best hot hatchbacks to buy in 2023, with our choices presented in alphabetical order.
Audi RS3 Sportback
Some will insist a ‘proper’ hot hatchback needs to have three doors and drive through the front wheels. To them, the Audi RS3 Sportback offers a nonchalant shrug and gets on with being one of the fastest point-to-point cars you can buy.
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 the very latest Audi safety and connectivity tech. The RS3 doesn’t come cheap, though, even if it is the most affordable hot Audi.
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 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
Wait, what? 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).
The 128ti’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine is pilfered from the hardcore 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.
Cupra Leon TSI 300
The hot hatchback formerly known as the Seat Leon Cupra also comes in two electrified guises: 150hp or 245hp 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-auto 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 even an estate version for a modest £1,360 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 Fiesta ST
The Ford Fiesta ST will be discontinued soon and only the top-spec ST3 version is still on sale. Even at £27,820, though, the fast Fiesta seems a bit of a bargain. It’s proof you don’t need monstrous horsepower for laugh-out-loud driving fun.
All versions of the ST are powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine mated to one of the slickest gearboxes you’ll find in any car. Almost everything has been honed to perfection, from the clutch pedal action to the taut response of the dampers. It’s also more comfortable than the previous Fiesta ST.
We said: “You can perhaps by now tell we think the Fiesta ST is a class act. It sounds a bit like a Porsche 911 and drives even more like one, exuding immense depth and connoisseur’s breeding. The faster you drive, and the better you drive, the more it gives back – while doing all the regular Ford Fiesta stuff like being compact in town, easy to handle and comfortable enough to use every day.’
Read our Ford Fiesta 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 new ‘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? Yes, it’s that good.
Naturally, the Type R is vastly quicker and more capable than the nearly-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 £46,995, 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 is the only supermini-sized hot hatch that poses a credible challenge to the Fiesta ST. Indeed, in many respects, it’s actually a better car. From the moment you select N mode and the digital dials explode into cartoon flames, you know this little Hyundai 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 seems to keep 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.’
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. 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.’
Mercedes-AMG A45 S
If you find yourself playing the 2023 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 ground-level missile 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 £60,000.
We said: ‘Like the now-departed Ford Focus RS, it uses torque vectoring to create a rear-biassed feel and effectively quash understeer. Also like the Focus, there’s a controversial Drift mode, which amplifies this effect by channelling 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 range was updated in 2022. Highlights included a new grille, fresh paint colours, optional matrix LED headlights, new alloy wheels, an 8.8-inch touchscreen and a digital instrument panel. The 184hp Mini Electric is a hot hatch of sorts, too.
Toyota GR Yaris
The Toyota GR Yaris is the most talked-about hot hatchback of the past few years; a performance car so exciting, so bespoke, it’s already compared to the greatest homologation specials ever – 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.
We said: “Most people will spend their £33,000 or so on the Volkswagen. 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 a Golf R 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
Volkswagen Up GTI
The venerable Golf GTI is one thing, but don’t dismiss its little brother. No, not the Polo, the even smaller one. The Volkswagen Up GTI puts us in mind of junior hot hatchbacks of the past – a kind of Citroen AX GT for a new generation. Not surprising, when you consider this city car is similar in size to the Mk1 Golf GTI.
The Up GTI costs around £17,000, or potentially half the price of a hot Golf. And it certainly isn’t half the fun. It was recently removed from the Volkswagen website, but you may find some cars still within the dealer network.
Proof that faster doesn’t always mean more fun, the 115hp Up GTI will make you smile on any road and at any speed. You’ll enjoy squeezing the best from its thrummy 1.0-litre turbocharged engine without fear of triggering speed cameras. GTI styling touches make it look suitably special, too.
Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research