Buying Guides

The 5 Best Used Hot Hatches

Thrashing the streets while being cost-effective is just brilliant

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

Hot hatches are the practical, affordable sporty cars. They provide drivers with something they can truly enjoy driving that also has the passenger and cargo space that they need for most occasions. While some may argue that it's better to have a designated sports car and a practical car, when you can only have one vehicle, there's nothing better than a hot hatch sitting ready to go in your driveway. These cars are relatively affordable new, but check out the used market and you'll find some excellent deals.

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

  • PROS: Dangerously pleasurable exhaust note, way more attitude than a the too-cute base 500, punchy little engine.
  • CONS: Not much space, seating position is a little too high for a really sporty car, questionable reliability.

If you want a sexy Italian-tuned exhaust note but don’t want to spend very much money, the Fiat 500 Abarth is really the only way to go. Aside from it’s musical snarl, the car handles remarkably well and is a real pleasure to drive on a winding road. It’s turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces 160 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque, making the car quick but not so fast that you’ll get into trouble. Base 2012 Fiat 500 Abarths come with cruise control, climate control, one-touch power windows and power locks, heated power mirrors, USB and auxiliary audio inputs, speed sensitive volume control and a 7-speaker audio system.

2013 Ford Focus ST

  • PROS: Poised and sporty ride, great handling, powerful and efficient engine, excellent manual transmission.
  • CONS: No automatic offered, infotainment system isn’t smooth or easy to use.

Ford’s Focus is known as a simple commuter car but in ST form, it kicks things up several notches, taking the hatchback version of the Focus into performance-car territory. The model has all of the practicality that people expect but all the power they don’t. Pair that with excellent handling and steering and you have yourself quite the hot hatch. The Focus ST is powered by 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that produces 252 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. Standard Focus STs come with cruise control, air conditioning, one-touch power windows and power locks, heated power mirrors, USB and auxiliary inputs, speed sensitive volume control and a 6-speaker audio system.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

  • PROS: Fun to fling around a corner, quick and nimble, strong fuel economy, easy to live with.
  • CONS: Budget car look and feel inside and out, automatic transmission isn’t smooth.

Ford’s littler hatchback, the Fiesta also gets the ST treatment and that means you can get a fast and fun little car for a bargain, especially on the used market. What the ST version of the Fiesta has that its boring commuter car sibling doesn’t is stiffer suspension, better-calibrated steering and a hungry little 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that’s good for 197 hp and 214 lb-ft of torque. Standard models come with cruise control, 12-volt power outlets, climate control, one-touch power windows and locks, heated power mirrors, satellite radio, USB and auxiliary inputs and an 8-speaker audio system.

2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI

  • PROS: Handles beautifully, interior quality is top notch, refined ride.
  • CONS: Steering could be sharper, a fair amount of wind noise, automatic transmission can seem slow.

The Golf GTI has been the go-to Euro hot hatch for many people for years. It’s a well-balanced ride that offers excitement and thrills while still providing you with a car that’s a pleasure to drive each and every day. Its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough for a little fun in a front-wheel drive car. Base models come equipped with cruise control, climate control, a heated driver seat, one-touch power windows and power locks, heated power mirrors, satellite radio, auxiliary inputs and an 8-speaker audio system.

2013 Volkswagen Golf R

  • PROS: Excellent AWD system, powerful turbocharged engines, refined ride.
  • CONS: No automatic transmission option, much pricier than the GTI.

What do you do if you want a VW Golf hot hatch but think the GTI is a bit too tame? You pony up the extra money for the VW Golf R. The 2013 golf R comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that punches out 256 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels, making it a joy in the snow or on the racetrack. The best part about it is that you get all the practicality of a regular Golf, though you can’t have it with an automatic transmission. This real-deal driver’s car comes standard with cruise control, 12-volt charging outlets, climate control, one-touch power windows and power locks, heated power mirrors, satellite radio service, auxiliary input and an 8-speaker audio system.

What makes a good used hot hatch?

  • Practical yet wildly fun and even track-worthy
  • Cargo space eclipses even some larger sedans
  • Look for a model that's still stock with no modifications

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