Buying Guides

The 5 Best Hot Hatches Make Every Road a Track

Practicality and legal fun wrapped in a tidy package

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

The fun-to-drive option for the practically minded person is the hot hatch. These cars combine the sportiness of a performance vehicle with the practicality of a typical hatchback car. While some hot hatches vary dramatically from the basic model they're based on, others are essentially a souped-up version of the standard model. Due to the increased performance, these vehicles come with a heftier price tag than the base vehicle, but that hike is usually worth the boost in driving enjoyment.

2016 Ford Focus RS

  • PROS: All-wheel drive, several drive modes, fast and very fun to drive. Also, it has basically all the practical space of the regular Focus.
  • CONS: Lower-rent interior materials and a seating position that’s a bit high for this fast of a car.

Ford finally brought the Focus RS (base MSRP $35,900) to the U.S. instead of strictly selling it overseas and it’s a seriously good car. The Focus RS is packed with technology, almost all of which adjusts how the car drives, sounds and rides. Beneath the hood is a 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that puts out 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque to all-four wheels via a snappy 6-speed manual transmission. Flip on the drift mode and you can do your best impersonation of Ken Block. Otherwise, you can let the car spit and snarl in sport or track mode or cruise along inconspicuously in normal mode.

2017 Volkswagen Golf R

  • PROS: Fast and fun, pavement-ripping all-wheel drive traction and plenty of storage space.
  • CONS: The Golf R comes with a high price tag. You can get a fun hatchback from VW in the form of the Golf GTI for much less.

Ford isn’t the only company making an all-wheel drive hot hatch. VW has been producing the Golf R (base MSRP $39,375) for several years now and the car just keeps getting better. It’s equally at home shooting down the interstate or whipping around a curvy road. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine pumps out 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. That’s more than enough power for this hatchback to be fun on the road or the track.

2016 MINI JCW Hardtop 2 Door

  • PROS: Significantly sportier and more powerful than the regular MINI Hardtop 2 Door, doesn’t miss out on any of MINI’s charm.
  • CONS: Much more expensive than the base model. You can also get similar performance from another automaker for less money.

MINI is known for sporty, fun-to-drive cars and with the Cooper Works models, the brand ups the ante. The MINI Cooper Works Hardtop 2 Door (base MSRP $30,900) is perhaps its most fun offering, boasting improved performance over the base MINI Hardtop 2 Door thanks to suspension upgrades and a boost in power. The Cooper Works version of the car gets a 2.0-liter twin-turbocharged four-cylinder engine that pushes out 228 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. The car also receives some minor aesthetic upgrades to tone down MINI’s cuteness for a more performance-minded look.

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth

  • PROS: Wicked exhaust note, quick off the line, surprisingly good handling in the turns and very affordable.
  • CONS: Still Fiat 500 cute, although it doesn't sound like it should be, not much cargo space and a tiny back seat.

Need a little Italian excitement in your life? You don’t need to go to Italy to get it, just get a Fiat 500 Abarth (base MSRP $22,575). The 500 Abarth delivers all the excitement you need in a compact easy-to-drive, easy-to-love package. With an angrily sonorous exhaust note and a peppy 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that produces 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque, you’ll simply never get bored with this car. Available in either coupe or cabrio forms, the 500 Abarth makes it easy to enjoy yourself no matter what road you’re driving on.

2016 Ford Fiesta ST

  • PROS: Some of the most fun you can have for the money, fast and fun around town and on the highway and more practical than the MINI or the Fiat.
  • CONS: Low-rent interior materials and not as much room as the Focus RS.

Ford took its boring littlest hatchback and made it riotously fun by stuffing a turbocharged engine under the hood and equipping it with sport-tuned suspension. The Fiesta ST's (base MSRP $20,970) 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder isn’t as impressive as the Focus RS’s mill, but it still manages to put out 197 hp and 202 lb-ft of torque. That amount of power paired with the torque vectoring system that kicks in during the turns makes Ford’s littlest hot hatch better in the twisties than basically all other cars at its price point.

What's great about hot hatches

  • You get a sporty, high-performance car.
  • You get more cargo space than a typical sports car.
  • Often, hot hatches have a more attractive and aggressive appearance than regular hatchbacks.

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