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The best small hot hatchbacks

  • We pick our favourite small hot hatchbacks
  • Featuring some of the best cars on sale right now
  • Which sporty supermini would suit your lifestyle and budget?

If you’re looking for a small hatchback with supercar-baiting performance, the competition is as hot as the performance with most manufacturers offering sub seven-second 0-62mph times and over 150hp in their smallest cars. The day-to-day usability is often unaffected too, adding to the undeniable appeal of the genre.

Since the class-leading Ford Fiesta ST, Peugeot’s 208 GTI and the RenaultSport Clio 200 Turbo were introduced – breaking the 200hp benchmark - things have ramped up considerably, thanks to hot models from Audi, Suzuki and Volkswagen. 

Our favourite small hatchbacks

There aren’t any truly bad cars here – the lowest rating of 3.5 is still an above-average performance – but there are some absolute crackers.

There’s never been a better time to buy a small, high-performance hatchback car. But which one’s best? 

Ford Fiesta ST

Ford Fiesta ST - the best small hot hatchbacks

Ford’s Fiesta ST is all new for 2018, with a 1.5-litre Turbo engine. 200hp in a small car is an impressive starting point, but Ford have also introduced cylinder deactivation meaning it will be economical too. Cheap to run, brilliant handling with selectable drive modes, class-leading technology and a great interior.

All of these features can be taken for granted when paying more than £20,000, but the previous generation Fiesta ST is available for far less - used car prices start at just shy of £8k. Highlights include partial leather heated sports seats and an upgraded stereo system.

Parkers rating: 5 stars
New price: £18,215 - £20,215
Used price: £7,930 - £15,455
Fuel economy: 47 - 47 mpg
Power: 200hp
Torque: 290Nm
Covers 0-62mph in: 6.7 seconds
Top speed: 140+mph
Spec secret: Seek out the Mountune upgrade. For £600 this kit gives the previous Fiesta ST another 15bhp and 30Nm, but also retains full manufacturer warranty and can be fitted at any time.

View the latest Ford Fiesta ST cars for sale

Volkswagen Polo GTI 

VW Polo GTI - the best small hot hatchbacks

VW have taken the Polo upmarket for 2018, and a new GTI is just around the corner. In place of the previous generation’s 1.8-litre there’s a 2.0-litre, 200hp turbo. Inside, the Polo can now be specified with VW’s Active Info display, and the boundaries of ‘small hatch’ are pushed further with 351 litres of boot space.

Power is transferred to the road via a six-speed manual or optional seven-speed automatic. Keeping the GTI theme intact are red highlights inside and out, and Clark Tartan cloth seats.

Parkers rating: 4.5 stars
New price: £19,500 - £21,465
Used price: £6,450 - £16,640
Fuel economy: 47 - 50 mpg
Power: 200hp
Torque: 280Nm
Covers 0-62mph in: 6.7 seconds (old model)
Top speed: 146mph (old model)
Spec secret: Find a car with the optional Sports Performance Kit – this allows the Polo to switch between firm, sporty suspension and a more comfortable set-up for longer distances.

View the latest VW Polo GTI cars for sale

Peugeot 208 GTI by Peugeotsport

Peugeot 208 GTI - the best small hot hatchbacks

At launch the 208 GTi didn’t enjoy its fair share of the headlines despite the excitement of the 30th Anniversary Edition. Those enhancements joined the range permanently as the GTI by Peugeotsport, and we now think it’s up there with the very best cars in this article.

208hp and 300Nm of torque from the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine is fed through the front wheels, with a huge amount of grip on offer so it’s a rewarding thing to drive. The tiny steering wheel helps in that respect, too, and so does the uprated suspension and front differential provided on the Peugeotsport upgrade. A more subdued, lower cost model is offered as the GTI Prestige.

Parkers rating: 4 stars
New price: £21,665 - £23,385
Used price: £6,925 - £14,635
Fuel economy: 47 - 52 mpg
Power: 208hp
Torque: 300Nm
Covers 0-62mph in: 6.5 seconds
Top speed: 143mph
Spec secret: Prestige and Peugeotsport offer similar performance, but the Prestige is a lower insurance group and saves £1,730.

View the latest Peugeot 208 GTI cars for sale

Suzuki Swift Sport

Suzuki Swift Sport - the best small hot hatchbacks

Power outputs and sophistication continue to push the competition to a more mature feel, and Suzuki’s Swift remains a breath of fresh air for purists. 2018’s Swift Sport features a 1.4-litre turbocharged BoosterJet engine, producing 140hp, and a low weight of 890kg combined with a lowered ride height and more aggressively styled front bumper and skirts.

Lightweight simplicity is a relative term here, and the Swift Sport is far from spartan. Sports seats, touch screen infotainment and switchable traction control ensure it is as easy to live with as the competition, but with the potential to be a truly joyful, affordable hot hatch.

Parkers rating: 4.5 stars
New price: £13,604 - £15,149 
Used price: £4,190 - £11,195 
Fuel economy: 44 - 44 mpg
Power: 140hp
Torque: 220Nm
Covers 0-62mph in: 8.4 seconds (old model)
Top speed: 121mph (old model)
Spec secret: Later examples of the previous generation are a bargain currently, and remaining stock is sure to be discounted in anticipation of the 2018 model.

View the latest Suzuki Swift Sport cars for sale

Abarth 595

Abarth 595 - the best small hot hatchbacks

It’s difficult not to like the Abarth 595. Based on the cute Fiat 500, this car uses a zingy 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine across three states of tune to provide the performance, while thanks to a well-sorted chassis it’s a lot of fun to drive too.

Thanks to a sporty exhaust it sounds great too, and the five-speed manual gearbox couples with the flexible engine to mean you don’t have to spend the entire time changing gears. You even get a clever Torque Transfer Control system which improves traction out of slower corners and a Sport button which makes the steering heavier.

Parkers rating: 4.5 stars
New price: £14,380 - £15,680
Used price: £4,960 - £10,610
Fuel economy: 47 - 48 mpg
Power: 145bhp
Torque: 206Nm
Covers 0-62mph in: 7.6 seconds
Top speed: 130mph
Spec secret: Competizione produces 180hp and 250Nm, propelling the 1,035Kg 595 to 140mph and reaching 62mph in just 6.7 seconds. An exclusive Record Monza quad-exhaust adds to the excitement, at the expense of refinement.

View the latest Abarth 595 cars for sale

Vauxhall Corsa VXR

Vauxhall Corsa VXR - the best small hatchbacks

An all new Corsa is due in 2019, yet the VXR currently on sale is only a couple of years old. Featuring a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine along with a sweet six-speed manual gearbox and a completely revised interior, the extensive facelift of the Corsa ensured buyers remained keen, and Vauxhall dealers often have strong trade in and finance packages to tempt customers.

We were impressed with how the VXR handles on the road, but even more so with the supportive Recaro seats.

Parkers rating: 4 stars
New price: £19,745 - £22,155
Used price: £9,750 - £13,915
Fuel economy: 37 - 37 mpg
Power: 206bhp
Torque: 245Nm (or 280Nm with overboost for five seconds)
Covers 0-62mph in: 6.6 seconds
Top speed: 143mph
Spec secret: The Performance Pack is a must for keen drivers. It adds special dampers, a limited-slip differential, bigger brakes and stickier tyres – and completely changes the way the Corsa drives.

View the latest Vauxhall Corsa VXR cars for sale

Audi S1

Audi S1 - the best small hatchbacks

The Audi S1 looks like a fantastic car on paper. It uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine borrowed from the excellent S3 but de-tuned for the smaller car. It feeds its power through a six-speed manual gearbox and the firm’s famed Quattro all-wheel drive system, meaning there are simply astonishing levels of grip on offer.

Driving this car quickly on B-roads, it’s difficult to imagine anything of this size covering ground faster. Adaptive suspension, high-performance brakes and a classy cabin go some way to justifying the cost of this car. It’s not cheap, but it is brilliant.

Parkers rating: 4 stars
New price: £26,640 - £27,260 
Used price: £13,680 - £22,330 
Fuel economy: 39 - 40 mpg
Power: 230hp
Torque: 370Nm
Covers 0-62mph in: 5.8 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Spec secret: The smaller the wheels you choose, the less you’ll suffer with the S1’s rather hard ride.

View the latest Audi S1 cars for sale 

Renaultsport Clio (2013-)

Renaultsport Clio - the best small hatchbacks

Renault’s commitment to the hot hatch cause has been admirable, with each successive Clio piling on the performance. In the most recent models, an F1-style automatic gearbox with paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel keeps close ties with the firm’s motorsport pedigree, and in Race mode it allows gear changes to take place in just 150 milliseconds.

The engine is a turbocharged 1.6-litre unit and the chassis is very well set-up. Just make sure you’re picking a version that’ll suit your lifestyle, because some have an extremely hard ride.

Parkers rating: 4 stars
New price: £20,295 - £22,295 
Used price: £8,020 - £16,110
Fuel economy: 44 - 47 mpg
Power: 220hp
Torque: 260Nm
Covers 0-62mph in: 6.7 seconds
Top speed: 146mph
Spec secret: In 2015 a version called the 220 Trophy EDC was launched. This is the one for keen drivers – it’s quicker, handles better and has a quicker steering rack than all other Clios.

View the latest Renaultsport Clio cars for sale  

MINI John Cooper Works

MINI John Cooper Works - the best small hot hatchbacks

John Cooper Works has expanded across the MINI range, but for the hot hatch experience the three-door hatch or two-door cabriolet are the optimum models. A twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0-litre engine delivers 231hp. Most of the magic is in the handling and driver involvement though there is no denying the brute-force appeal of a MINI that can halve the 0-62mph dash of more mundane versions. Losing the roof also loses pace, though 6.6 seconds to 62mph is still respectably fast.

Although the third generation JCW has more power, performance remains similar to the previous model, which now represents excellent used value.

Parkers rating: 4.5
New price: £23,515 - £27,830 
Used price: £7,210 - £18,020 
Fuel economy: 37 - 42 mpg
Power: 231hp
Torque: 320Nm
Covers 0-62mph in: 6.3 seconds 
Top speed: 155mph

View the latest MINI JCW cars for sale

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