We count down the top ten
Itâ€™s quite simple really. You take a hatchback, such as the family would use for their everyday, practical transport, and you turn it into a performance machine. Some would see that as an unlikely combination, like making a hypercar thatâ€™s really suitable for carrying the family on a winter skiing holiday, but VW proved the concept with the Golf GTI way back in 1976.
Weâ€™ve come a long way since then, as every one of the cars in our top ten proves. With manufacturers represented from Korea to Germany, from Japan to Spain, there are so many interesting takes on what it means to be a hot hatch in 2018 that youâ€™re bound to find something for you as we count down our top ten.
10. Hyundai i30N
For its first hot hatch, Hyundai must be commended. It may be a slightly tentative first effort though, with the looks more sedate than some here, and with the chassis tuning not quite up with what is a strong mechanical performance. In Performance trim itâ€™s quick though, and comes with adaptive dampers and even a limited-slip diff.
9. Skoda Octavia vRS 245
You might feel that this isnâ€™t really a serious effort, based as it is on the big, spacious family Octavia. But you should take this seriously, in either saloon or estate version, as an alternative to the hot hatch idea. If fitted with the Dynamic Chassis Control, this is one rorty drive, thatâ€™s fun, engaging and yet still a practical option.
8. BMW M140i
Itâ€™s a sound recipe â€“ take the sensible 1 Series hatchback, add a turbocharged straight six at the front and send all the drive to the back. That ought to be beyond lairy, yet somehow it doesnâ€™t quite work out that way, as the chassis doesnâ€™t endow the package with the ability to keep up with competitors like the VW Golf R.
7. VW Golf GTI
These days the most iconic of hot hatches isnâ€™t quite the class-leading superstar that it was, but itâ€™s still the consummate all-rounder. Itâ€™s one of the most practical here as a daily driver, but it makes more sense used for that rather than kept for a weekend special, where it lacks that final sparkle.
6. Audi RS3 Sportback
This is the hatchback that pushes over into sports car territory. After all, with a needle under 400bhp it can hit 60mph in under 4sec, and reach 100mph in just 10sec. The 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine is just astounding, and the four-wheel drive gets it all down and keeps it down through the corners. Despite the high price tag, youâ€™ll still need to tick the box for the adaptive dampers to get the most out of the car though.
5. Seat Leon Cupra 300
This sharp-looking Leon pumps out 296bhp from its turbocharged four-pot, enough for some seriously fun performance. Handling is equally sharp and, if you specify four-wheel drive, then you can push the performance envelope further, even with the estate version.
4. Mercedes-AMG A45
A car that shows what German engineers can achieve, even with a 2.0-litre engine. The 376bhp delivers tons of grunt that somehow doesnâ€™t overwhelm the chassis. With immense levels of grip, this is sensationally quick across country, although there isnâ€™t much character to go with it.
3. VW Golf R
This could well be every bit as much a cult classic as was the original GTI. Itâ€™s just an extraordinary car, showing every quality from raw driver appeal to a sophistication that most canâ€™t get near. Itâ€™s not even expensive for what it is.
2. Ford Focus RS
â€˜Sophisticationâ€™ may be a word used for the Golf R, but you wouldnâ€™t use it here. Instead thereâ€™s an aggressive swagger, backed up by that sensational 2.3-litre engine and a great deal of electronic cleverness to ensure the power goes down and stays down. If youâ€™re regularly finding the limits of this car then youâ€™re probably on a racetrack.
1. Honda Civic Type R
Again, that involving blend of sensible family hatchback, with a totally bonkers attitude exemplified by the wild bodywork. This really is a hot hatch you can use on the track, with a seriously powerful engine that delivers grunt all over the place. The whole package shows just how much work those clever Honda engineers put into it, as itâ€™s currently the most exciting hot hatch on the market.