The 11 best hot hatches of all time

By topgear, 14 October 2019
The 11 best hot hatches of all time

1. Peugeot 205 GTi

Not the original hot hatch, but the car that reframed the template. The GTI maxed out Gérard Welter’s crisp 3dr design by the simple expedient of adding side mouldings and red go-faster inserts, while a 900kg kerbweight ensured that even 1984’s 105bhp 1.6-litre suffered little inertia. Then came the 115bhp version, and the 130bhp 1.9 in 1986, whose longer-stroke engine made the perma-thrilling 205 GTi experience less zingy and more torquey, and added disc brakes all-round and lower-profile rubber. The crummy cabin plastics gradually improved, and although early, unmolested 205s are now the most sought-after, post-1990 GTis had desirable black exterior and interior trim. While it has a reputation for being a bit flakey, the GTi is actually pretty robust, although using it to do what it was designed to do invariably leads to serious wear and tear. We love the Sorrento Green and Miami Blue ’89 special editions which also featured leather trim and power steering. As always, originality is highly prized, especially with the 205 GTi because it was such a totem of the Nineties modified car subculture (and even starred on the cover of the first issue of Max Power magazine). Watch out for worn seats, worn-out gearboxes, and creaking suspension. And as lift-off oversteer was the car’s Achilles’ heel, check for crash damage…


Price now: £7,000-£25,000 (approx. RM37,000-RM131,000)

The 11 best hot hatches of all time

2. Ford Fiesta MkVII ST

This was the little car that felt largely unimprovable. The 1.6-litre Ecoboost engine was tweaked up to 180bhp (197 on overboost), had 290nm, and fired it all onto the road via hard-working front wheels. Not as hard-working as you’d think, thanks to traction control-based torque-vectoring software that sent power to the tyre with the most grip, effectively mimicking a limited-slip diff. This ST also gained a stiffer rear torsion bar, disc brakes all round, and sat 15mm lower. But we love it mostly because its sheer pace, body control, and overall balance mean you barely have to lift. Anywhere. Ever. 


Price now: £7,000–£15,000 (approx. RM37,000-RM79,000)

The 11 best hot hatches of all time

3. Renault Clio Williams

The original Clio 16V may have had the right number of valves, but it took this homologation special to refashion it into a true successor to the 5 GT Turbo. Sure, part of this car’s appeal is marketing flim-flam– at the time, Williams was the dominant force in F1 – but this was still very much the real deal. The front sub-frame came from the early Nineties Clio Cup racecar, and the suspension was uprated. The engine grew from 1.8 to 2.0 litres, and produced 148bhp at 6,100rpm. Yet again the holy trinity of light weight (981kg), nat-asp engine, and manual ’box shows the new generation how it should be done. 


Price now: £17,000–£25,000 (approx. RM89,000-RM131,000)

The 11 best hot hatches of all time

4. Honda Civic Type R EP3

Honda had assailed the Nineties with the Integra Type-R, and the EP3 brought that brief into its elongated 3dr hatch. The Civic majored on powertrain over chassis, and its nat-asp 1998cc 4cyl was the poster-child for Honda’s screaming VTEC. Its power output was a healthy 197bhp at 7,400rpm, but 193nm was puny in 2003, emaciated by today’s standards. Still, 100kph in 6.6secs is handy. The gearshift is a thing of joy; the ride and handling less so, given that the Civic could be tricky if you throttled-off suddenly mid-corner, especially in the wet. Cheap now and well-supported by a dedicated fan-base. 


Price now: £2,500–£7,000 (approx. RM13,000-RM37,000)

The 11 best hot hatches of all time

5. Lancia Delta Integrale Evo 2

The metamorphosis of the Delta from square-cut Italian Golf rival to WRC giant-slayer is a significant part of the mythology. In an era when rallying was a bigger draw than F1, Lancia was box-office gold. The Delta was a decade old when the Integrale 16V debuted at the ’89 Geneva motor show, then won its first competitive outing in the San Remo Rally. Homologation required a run of road versions. Although underendowed by today’s standards, 212bhp was plenty to hustle this head-butt on wheels along a B-road, aided by a Torsen diff. The Momo wheel and Alcantara-trimmed Recaros helped enliven an interior that was a Seventies time-warp even by 1993. As you’d expect, everything that can wear – suspension bushes, brake pads and discs, cam-belt – will need attention. Evo 2 values have rocketed: £40–60k (approx. RM210,000-RM316,000) is the current ballpark, though we found an Edizione Finale with 24k kilometres for £114,995 (approx. RM605,000).

Price now: £40,000-£115,000 (approx. RM13,000-RM37,000)

The 11 best hot hatches of all time

6. Renault 5 Turbo 2

Less well-remembered as a rally weapon than the subsequent Group B Peugeot 205 T16, the mid-engined R5 Turbo nevertheless became a staple in European rallying, much like the previous decade’s ubiquitous Ford Escort. But because it was French and turbocharged back when you used a sun dial to measure the lag, it was just… cooler. Viewed from a vantage point four decades hence, a 1.4-litre engine ponying up 158bhp sounds rather thin, but because it lived behind the R5’s seats and sent drive to the rear wheels, and featured tumescent bodywork designed by none other than Marcello Gandini at Bertone, this little beast became way greater than the sum of its parts. The Turbo 2 followed the original run of homologation cars, and traded aluminium doors, tailgate and roof for steel to keep costs down. You’ll pay £70–80k (approx. RM368,000-RM421,000) for one now. 


Price now: £68,000–£78,000 (approx. RM358,000-RM410,000)

The 11 best hot hatches of all time

7. Ford Focus RS Mk1

The Focus had fancy independent rear suspension, so even a boggo car went down the road with uncanny precision. We waited four years for the RS to arrive, and it instantly summoned the same ‘want one’ impulse as the Sierra or Escort Cosworth. Perfect stance, Quaife diff, OZ alloys, and 2.0-litre, 212bhp blown engine. Ford made 4,501, and it sneaked in under £20k (approx. RM105,000) in base form, so it was very much a brand-building halo car (ie: Ford lost money on every one). It also took no prisoners: sure, its nose tucked in like a racecar’s, but there was a load of torque steer too, and once you’d figured out how to deal that with that you were left with a jiggly ride. A magnificent car. 


Price now: £11,000-£13,000 (approx. RM58,000-RM68,000)

The 11 best hot hatches of all time

8. VW Golf GTi MkV

VW suffered its equivalent of the ‘difficult second album’ syndrome when it came to following the original Golf GTI in 1983. In fact, it wasn’t until the fifth incarnation, a decade or more later, that the tunes were anything like as memorable. Core to this transformation was a new chassis, which replaced the previous car’s unlovely beam rear axle with a fully independent set-up, and the surprisingly characterful blown 2.0-litre TFSI engine that made 197bhp. VW’s dual-shift DSG also arrived in this era, a slickly digital set-up that served notice of where things were headed even if the manual was still more fun. Clearly, the Golf had grown somewhat in size by this stage in its career, and the MkV iteration definitely errs more on the thoughtful side. But it’s also a car that moves with a rigorously engineered harmony, and it proved unexpectedly useful on track. Finely balanced, expertly judged. 

Price now: £3,000-£12,000 (approx. RM16,000-RM68,000)

The 11 best hot hatches of all time

9. Renault Clio 182 Trophy

Motorsport, it’s often said (wrongly in some cases), improves the breed. It’s a theory stress-tested by the Clio 182 Trophy, a 500-unit end-of-the line edition. Separate reservoirs manage the oil and gas allowing for a beefier damper rod, while the Trophy’s hydraulic bump stops and shorter springs mean it sits 10mm lower than the Cup car. £15,500 (approx. RM82,000) new in 2005 was a chunk of change for a French shopping trolley, with nasty interior plastics and a bus-style driving position, yet the 182 Trophy is small and wieldy, and 180bhp from a nat-asp 2.0-litre is optimal to shove 1,090kg along. In other words, it’s a phenomenal communicator. If you can find one, buy it. 


Price now: £5,500-£12,500 (approx. RM29,000-RM66,000)

The 11 best hot hatches of all time

10. Renault Megane R26.R

More proof that Renault Sport’s engineers aren’t just among the world’s best, they also know how to finesse a serious car for everyday use. The 227bhp R26.R might just be the greatest of all: on a dry road, with decent temperature in the tyres, this gets very close to replicating the sensation that you’re surfing a wave of infinite and gorgeous grip. Its front end has astonishing bite, and it just goes where you want it to go. Telepathy, innit. Keener dampers and supple spring rates help, but the key to the R26.R is that it wears (optional) track-spec Toyo tyres. They’re not rubbish in the rain, either. 


Price now: £20,000-£30,000 (approx. RM105,000-RM158,000)

The 11 best hot hatches of all time

11. Honda Civic Type R

As you can imagine, putting this list of hot hatches together was tricky. In the end, though, there was consensus, until it came to the new Civic Type R, at which point we all fell out. Not because it’s a car whose wings have wings and looks like something that would be owned by someone who still lives with their parents but because the EP3 Civic is in the list already. Except that the Civic Type R is a stunning achievement, gives you 315bhp in exchange for £32,995 (approx. RM174,000), and has chassis poise, huge performance and immense brakes. In short, one of the greatest hot hatches is also the latest. Good to know.