By Matt Robsinson
Hot hatchbacks are performance cars that are designed to do it all. These are fast cars made by taking an ordinary supermini or family hatchback, then fitting a powerful engine and tough suspension to them.
The resulting machine is usually exceptional. What you have is an affordable, reasonable-to-run, practical car that just so happens to look great – outside and in – and which can be thoroughly enjoyed on the public roads without putting your licence in danger.
If you’re looking for a more traditional family car, check out our list of the best hatchbacks of 2023. But if you’re looking for a thrilling, high-performance machine then get ready to dive into the details and find the very best hot hatch of 2023, selected by out motoring expert Matt Robinson.
- Skoda Octavia vRS
- Cupra Born 77kWh 230 e-Boost
- Ford Focus ST
- Volkswagen Golf R
- Cupra Leon 300
- Audi RS 3 Sportback
- BMW 128ti
- Hyundai i20 N
- Toyota GR Yaris
- Honda Civic Type R
10. Skoda Octavia vRS
The Skoda Octavia vRS is a very grown-up kind of hot hatch. Its large, practical, fastback body means it is great at carrying families around with ease, as there’s loads of room in both rows of seats and a colossal 600-litre boot at the back. But if you pick the 245hp TSI engine - the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol heart as you’ll find in a Volkswagen Golf GTI - the Skoda will do 0-62mph in just 6.7 seconds. Comfortable and refined when you want it to be, and fast and fun when you don’t, the Skoda Octavia vRS is a cultured hot hatchback.
View the latest Skoda Octavia lease deals
9. Cupra Born 77kWh 230 e-Boost
Here’s something a bit different – it’s an electric hot hatch. Cupra is the performance arm of Spanish brand SEAT and the Born uses much of the same electric underpinnings as the sensible Volkswagen ID.3. However, Cupra gives its car a deliberately sportier edge, with big alloy wheels, aggressive yet attractive body styling, and a sensation that its suspension is better set up for driving fun. Choose the Born e-Boost model with 231hp and the larger 77kWh battery pack for a car that will do 0-62mph in seven seconds precisely, all while capable of travelling up to 343 miles on a charge. If you’re happy to sacrifice a bit of driving range, the same e-Boost car with a smaller 58kWh battery is available, which will run 0-62mph in just 6.6 seconds because it’s a bit lighter. Every Cupra Born has a handy 385-litre boot, too.
Check out the latest Cupra Born lease deals
8. Ford Focus ST
Ford is no stranger to hot hatchbacks, having been making them with plenty of success since the 1980s, and its current flagship example is the Focus ST. This is a large family hatchback, with accommodating rear seats and a big 375-litre boot, into which Ford has stuffed a 280hp, 2.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine. Fitted out with some huge 19-inch alloys and dark exterior detailing, the Focus ST looks mean and is capable of 0-62mph in just 5.7 seconds – that’s seriously quick, in case you’re wondering. Ford does produce an equally brilliant smaller hot hatch in the form of the Fiesta ST, but time is running out for that car so the excellent Focus gets the nod from us here.
Find the latest Ford Focus lease deals
7. Volkswagen Golf R
Volkswagen has numerous different performance versions of the Golf – there’s the diesel-powered GTD, the part-electric plug-in hybrid GTE and, of course, the GTI… which comes in ‘regular’ 245hp format and a more potent 300hp Clubsport model. Then, in the wider Volkswagen Group, there are even more hot-hatch choices, three of which are on our list here: the Skoda Octavia vRS, the Audi RS 3 and the Cupra Leon. But don’t overlook the ultimate Golf Mk8 as a result of all this choice. The Golf R is a four-wheel drive monster, with a very powerful 320hp turbo petrol engine and a 4.7-second 0-62mph time. And yet, it has all the usual qualities of a Volkswagen Golf, like a practical, spacious, well-equipped and well-made interior, as well as plenty of motorway-speed refinement, ride comfort and the ability to do around 35mpg if treated carefully.
View our latest VW Golf Leasing Offers
6. Cupra Leon 300
This is a brilliant hot hatch from new Spanish outfit Cupra, mainly because underneath it all, the Leon 300 is a Golf GTI Clubsport. Only the Cupra has an infotainment system that’s easier to use, while its interior feels roomier and even higher class than that of the Golf. Factor in a very potent 2.0-litre engine that will propel the Cupra Leon from 0-62mph in just 5.7 seconds and you can see why this is a desirable five-door fast car. Something you can’t see or measure with on-paper stats is how good the Cupra Leon is in the corners. And we can tell you that it is really, really good in the corners – the mark of a truly great hot hatch.
Get the latest offers on Cupra Leon lease deals
5. Audi RS 3 Sportback
There’s a sub-breed of hot hatchback which has emerged in recent years, sometimes known as the ‘hyper-hatch’. Typically, these will be four-wheel drive and have 350hp or more, making them ballistically quick across ground. One of the leading lights is the Audi RS 3 Sportback. The current model uses an outrageous 2.5-litre, 400hp five-cylinder turbo engine, that results in a searing 0-62mph time of just 3.8 seconds… and a top speed of 174mph, which has to be electronically limited, if you tick the right options boxes. Yet the RS 3 is remarkably civil when you want it to be, while Audi’s fabled quattro all-wheel drive makes this bonkers car usable all year round, come wind, rain or shine. Sure, a Mercedes-AMG A 45 S is a little bit more powerful… but the Audi looks and sounds better, and handles with real panache.
Find out more and see the latest Audi RS lease deals.
4. BMW 128ti
[BMW](https://www.vanarama.com/car-leasing/bmw) was a late entrant to the hot-hatch party, as for years it didn’t really make any hatchbacks of any note, while it was also resolutely against front-wheel drive – usually the basis of any decent fast hatchback. However, it honed its skills with its re-visioned MINI Cooper S of the 2000s, before deciding to make not one, but two hot-hatch models of its third-generation 1 Series. We’re advocating you go for the slightly less ‘hot’ one of these two; while the range-topping M135i, with 306hp and xDrive AWD, is a great car, it’s the front-wheel-drive only 128ti which gives the superior all-round driving experience. It’s still plenty fast enough with 265hp, allowing for 0-62mph in just 6.1 seconds, but with its stylish red exterior detailing and a truly special-feeling interior, the 128ti is a fantastic alternative to the VW Golf GTI.
3. Hyundai i20 N
Hyundai came out of absolutely nowhere in 2017 with the outstanding i30 N hot hatch, with their N Division knocking it clean out of the park with the i30 N’s follow-up of late 2020. This smaller, more compact i20 N is the leading hot-hatch light in a class with the Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen Polo GTI in it, and to eclipse those two legends with your first attempt at a fast five-door is an incredible achievement. The i20 N is everything that makes hot hatches great – it’s small, light, affordable, easy on the wallet to run, and yet possessed of a stonking 204hp turbo engine and a genuinely glittering chassis. This is one seriously talented performance car, of any size or shape.
See our latest Hyundai i20 lease deals
2. Toyota GR Yaris
This car is bending the rules of being a hot hatch to a degree, but it’s so blindingly talented that it’s well worth including it. Though it might say ‘Yaris’ on the back and it might look familiar if you’ve seen Toyota’s humble hybrid runaround out on the streets, the mighty GR Yaris shares precious little parts with the regular models. Built and designed to let its parent manufacturer compete in certain codes of motorsport, the GR Yaris has a dedicated focus and intensity that makes it feel like one of the all-time great sports cars… when it’s really just a three-door hatchback. A mega 1.6-litre three-cylinder turbo engine delivers a relatively huge (for this compact size of car) 261hp, which is sent through all four wheels – so 0-62mph takes just 5.5 seconds. It’s not the speed, though, but the way the GR Yaris handles corners which makes it feel so thoroughly special, which is why it’s in the exalted second spot on this list.
Check the latest Toyota Yaris GR lease deals
1. Honda Civic Type R
The previous Honda Civic Type R was widely held to be one of the all-time great hot hatchbacks. Made from 2017 until 2021, it was powered by a VTEC Turbo engine delivering 320hp, which meant not only was it capable of 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds, but it could also run on to a huge 169mph where legal. Its wild looks were not to all tastes, but the way it cornered and drove drew plenty of acclaim. So imagine that formula, only honed and enhanced and made even better, and then placed into a slightly more tasteful body. The new Civic Type R, based on the 11th generation of Honda’s venerable hatchback, is the finest hot hatch you can get. Power is up to 330hp but it’s about how ‘all of one piece’ the Civic Type R feels – everything about it, from its ride comfort to its practicality to its speed to its handling, is in perfect balance. It’s nothing like as affordable as it once was, granted, but Honda’s stellar take on the hot hatch is the king of them all.
View the latest offers on Honda Civic leasing.
Best Hot Hatch FAQs
What is the difference between a hot hatch and a hatchback?
If you’re wondering what the difference between a hot hatch and a regular hatchback are, then take the latest Mk8 Volkswagen Golf as an example.
Golf Hatchback: a 1.0 TSI Life, has a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine with 110hp, enough for 0-62mph in 10.2 seconds and a 125mph top speed. It comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, standard front and rear bumpers, a hidden exhaust pipe at the rear, and basic cloth seats inside.
Golf GTI Hot Hatchback: Comes with a 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine making 245hp, which drops the 0-62mph time to 6.4 seconds and raises the top speed to 155mph. Yet fuel economy is still good at 39.8mpg. And you also get much beefier front and rear bumpers, the front item including a honeycomb lower insert for a sportier look, 18-inch alloy wheels, fancier LED headlights, twin spaced exhaust exits proudly on show at the back, and bucket-shaped check-pattern seats inside, along with a leather-wrapped, heated multifunction steering wheel. The GTI also has specific badging on its bootlid and front wings, to help it stand out.
What is the most powerful hot hatchback?
The most powerful hot hatchback is the Mercedes-AMG A 45 S, which develops a massive 421hp from a 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder petrol engine. Any hot hatch with 300hp or more is considered to be very powerful, however.
Do hot hatch cars look different to their regular versions?
Yes, hot hatchbacks normally have larger alloy wheels with lower-profile tyres, as well as distinguishing features like front splitters, rear spoilers, side skirts and – in some cases – multiple exhaust exits, plus specific badging to let onlookers know their potential. Some models, the Audi RS 3 and Toyota GR Yaris in particular, even feature wider bodywork than the standard equivalent cars, to give the vehicle a more muscular appearance.
Do all hot hatchbacks have a loud exhaust?
Not always, although it is a common feature as a louder exhaust makes a car sound sportier and more intense. However, European noise regulations have forced manufacturers to quieten down some of the more raucous ‘pop-and-bang’ exhausts in recent years, so hot hatchbacks are quite refined to travel in these days.
Why are hot hatches so popular?
Hot hatches are popular because they offer driving excitement, without either costing the earth to run or sacrificing practicality in the process. In the past, those who wanted their vehicle to have a bit more power and performance would traditionally have had to choose a coupe or out-and-out sports car, which would have usually meant only two doors and compromised practicality.
Also, big petrol engines cost a lot of money to fuel, maintain and run, so choosing a performance car resulted in car buyers having to accept significant compromises. A hot hatchback bypasses many of these issues because its practical body shape means it almost always has back seats, as well as a large boot.
Also, the trend recently has been away from three-door hot hatchbacks to more practical five-door models, which the manufacturers have responded to by dropping three-door hot hatch variants. And while hot hatchbacks have strong engines, which can provide plenty of speed and thrills if you so desire, they can also be relatively economical on fuel. Plenty of use turbocharged four-cylinder engines that will achieve in excess of 30mpg, and sometimes even 40mpg, on a long motorway run.
If a thrilling driving experience is what you’re craving from your next vehicle, take a look at our picks of the most fun to drive cars.
Are hot hatchback cars expensive to run?
No, hot hatchbacks remain practical and usable enough to be driven on a daily basis. While they will cost more to lease, maintain, tax, insure and fuel than a regular model of the same vehicle, they are still a lot cheaper in these regards than dedicated high-performance cars would be. Also, choose something unusual and leftfield, like the all-electric Cupra Born on our list, and the running costs and tax implications of a hot hatch become even more attractive.
If you’re looking to drive a brand-new car with dazzling perfomrmance, check out our latest hatchback lease deals. You can also find out more about how car leasing works in out in-depth leasing guides.