The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks
While hatchbacks might normally be used for trips to the shops, the hot hatch power war has resulted in the fastest models being quicker than most sports cars.
When the phrase ‘hot hatchback’ was first coined for the more powerful versions of family cars, models like the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Peugeot 205 GTI and Vauxhall Astra GTE had less than 150bhp and depended on light weight and sharp responses to entertain their drivers.
Fast-forward three decades and the hot hatchback has now evolved almost beyond recognition. With each successive model, power has been pushed up in a never-ending war between manufacturers vying for customers. By the end of the last decade, models like the Honda Civic Type R and Renault Megane RS seemed to defy the laws of physics, sending more power to the front wheels than anyone thought possible, without evaporating the front tyres or skating all over the road.
Clever suspension engineering and improved tyre technology ensures the fast Honda and Renault can send over 300bhp to the wheels, yet still be driven home from the shops with two child seats in the back and a boot full of bags.
To really harness increasing power and shoot off the mark from a standing start, some of the hottest hatchbacks have now adopted four-wheel-drive, including the Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A45. With four tyres biting into the tarmac instead of two, these dominate our top 10 list of the fastest hatchbacks from 0-62mph. But as you’ll see, there’s still a place for front-wheel drive, which some manufacturers prefer thanks to its lighter weight, reduced running costs and lower price tag. Hot hatchbacks are meant to be affordable, after all.
If your focus is on style instead of thrills, take a look at our top 10 list of the best-looking cars, or perhaps you’d rather have both, in which case head over to our round-up of the best sports cars. But if you simply can’t get enough of the all-round ability of a great hot hatchback, read on for our list of the 10 fastest hatchbacks from 0-62mph.
We’re now living in an era of hot hatchbacks with more than 400bhp, which was a level of power reserved for supercars until fairly recently. The four-wheel-drive Mercedes-AMG A45 is a very impressive piece of engineering; not only is it the most powerful factory-built hot hatchback ever, but it has the most powerful 2.0-litre engine ever produced. In top-spec ‘S’ guise, the A45 pumps out 415bhp for a 0-62mph time of just 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 168mph.
It’s no stripped-out racing car though - it still features all the Mercedes luxuries and it’s comfortable when you’re driving at lower speeds. While it is an astonishing piece of kit, we’re a little uneasy about the price of a family hatchback starting at more than £50,000 - although we expect it to be very popular nonetheless. If you’d rather a coupe or estate body, check out the similarly powerful Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S.
Not many people drove the Audi RS3 Sportback and came to the conclusion it needed more power. But that hasn’t stopped Audi bumping the output of its warbling 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine from 362 to a mighty 395bhp in the latest model. That boost has cut its 0-62mph acceleration figure from 4.3 to 4.1 seconds, which made the RS3 the fastest-accelerating hot hatch on sale until the A45 S was launched.
Give Audi enough money and it’ll even remove the RS3’s speed limiter, for a top speed of 174mph, meaning you can have supercar performance with five seats, a large boot and roof rails to mount your bikes on. Four-wheel drive and a dual-clutch automatic gearbox ensures not a shred of power is wasted and makes the RS3 as easy to drive as a 1.5-litre Volkswagen Golf.
With a similar dual-clutch gearbox and four-wheel-drive system to the Audi RS3, the Golf R can still get from 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds, despite only having 296bhp from its smaller 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. Perhaps the most impressive thing though, is just how easy it is to achieve this feat time after time.
Sit on the starting line with your left foot on the brake (there’s no sequence of buttons to remember) push down the throttle, wait for the revs to sit at a pre-programmed figure and release the brakes. It’s a feeling akin to a pilot being cleared for take-off, but a lot more exciting. Because the 2.0-litre engine places less weight over the nose of the Golf than the RS3, it also feels more fun than its more powerful rival on twisting roads.
You can think of the Audi S3 as the baby brother to the Audi RS3 above, with a smaller 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and ‘just’ 296bhp. Despite this model’s power deficit, tenacious four-wheel-drive traction gets it from 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds with an automatic gearbox fitted.
The figures above might sound familiar, because the S3 is essentially a Volkswagen Golf R in business attire. The Golf is hardly a bad place to spend time, but the Audi is even classier inside, with more options for personalisation if you delve into the brochure. Strangely, however, the S3 doesn’t feel quite as much fun to drive as the Golf R and there isn’t a box you can tick in the options list to remedy that shortcoming.
Mercedes’ previous hot hatchback, the A45 AMG, sold so well that there was scope for a second fast A-Class to rival cars such as the Audi S3, leaving the A45 to tackle more powerful rivals like the Audi RS3.
The 302bhp Mercedes-AMG A35 fills the gap between the A45 and the 221bhp A250 in the standard A-Class range. The A35 has four-wheel drive as standard, helping it sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds - just a tenth of a second behind the fastest Golf. Despite the performance, the A35 still has the super-luxurious interior Mercedes is now known for, with two large screens and upmarket materials.
Topping the new BMW 1 Series range is the M135i, which has swapped from rear-wheel drive to four-wheel drive for the first time. Despite having 33bhp less than the outgoing BMW M140i, BMW’s xDrive system means it’s just as quick from 0-62mph as before, with a time of 4.8 seconds.
Enthusiasts may complain about the move away from rear-wheel drive and a six-cylinder engine (the M140i was the only hot hatchback to feature this configuration), but even the standard 1 Series is better to drive than the car it replaces. The M135i is still equally comfortable at a trackday or cruising on the motorway, and we don’t think the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine sounds too much worse than the 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine in the old car.
The Megane RS was added to the range around two and a half years into the Megane’s lifespan, and there are now three to choose from. The 275bhp RS model has a focus on handling; RS Trophy models feature a chassis inspired by Renaultsport racing cars and an extra 21bhp, and the RS Trophy-R is a two-seat lightweight track special that’s closer to a Porsche Cayman than the cars on this list.
The first two models offer four-wheel steering, which allows the rear wheels turn slightly to improve the car’s agility. It’s a feature that’s usually reserved for far more expensive cars but was removed from the RS Trophy-R to save weight. In fact, the weight-saving for the Trophy-R went so far that its badges are hollow and buyers have the option to forego fog lights. You can even get carbon-fibre wheels and, with all the options ticked, the Megane RS Trophy-R has an eye-watering price of over £70,000. The 1.8-litre engine is shared across the range and manages 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds for the RS, 5.7 seconds for the RS Trophy and 5.4 seconds for the RS Trophy-R.
The Golf GTI is a stalwart of the hot hatch scene, but it was starting to get beaten by faster and better-value alternatives. VW has answered by giving the GTI a dose of touring car excitement - the GTI TCR pumps out 44bhp more than the GTI Performance model, for a total of 286bhp.
While still slightly less than some of its rivals, the extra power has dropped the 0-62mph time to 5.6 seconds, and put the Golf GTI back on this list. Although it’s not a special-edition model as such, it’s effectively a swansong for the mk7 GTI before the new Golf hits showrooms later in 2019, so we don’t expect the TCR to be available for long. The now-entry-level GTI Performance manages the 0-62mph benchmark in 6.4 seconds.
The arrival of the latest Ford Focus ST means Ford has a place on this list once again. Using a retuned version of the Ford Mustang’s 2.3-litre petrol engine, the ST gets from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 155mph. It now has 276bhp, putting it in contention with the Hyundai i30N and Renault Megane RS. Handily, the standard Focus is the best-driving family hatchback currently on sale, and the ST gets a set of upgrades including faster steering and firmer suspension.
Speccing the optional Performance Pack brings it up another notch, although the ST is also available as a more practical estate, and with a diesel engine. While frugal, the diesel takes an extra two seconds to cover the 0-62mph sprint, so it doesn’t seem as well suited to the ST’s character.
The fourth front-wheel-drive car to appear on our list is the mighty Honda Civic Type R, which is fractionally faster than the SEAT Leon Cupra, Peugeot 308 GTi and Hyundai i30 N, taking 5.9 seconds to get from 0-62mph. It might have to scrabble to get traction off the starting line, but with 316bhp from its 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, the Type R is far from slow. In fact, its incredible 169mph standard top speed is the highest of any car here, and we suspect even the four-wheel-drive Ford Focus RS would struggle to lap a dry track as quickly.
Honda has focused on handling, reduced weight and aerodynamics to improve its performance, hence the multitude of vents, flaps, spikes and a huge rear wing. Thanks to adjustable dampers with a comfort setting, the Type R is also easier to live with day-to-day than the old model.