While many will still talk of the late 1980s as a golden era for hot hatches, the voting process for our definitive hot hatch of the 21st century has highlighted just how spoilt we've been by the calibre of pocket rocket that the past 20 years have provided. We've had cars with three, four, five and six cylinders, front-, rear- and four-wheel drive, supercharged engines, turbocharged engines and everything else in between. Even now, as reputations strengthen further, great fast cars in this segment are available for very little money.
In fact, perhaps the greatest indicator of just how good we've had it is to look at the cars that haven't made your top 10 from the 2000s. There's not one of the three RS Focuses, no Megane from the past decade and not a single Mini; we're also without representatives from Vauxhall or SEAT. The PH best of the best is a very exclusive club!
Anyway, enough of what didn't make the cut - time to get to the countdown. Here, from ten down to one, is what you, the PHers, voted as your greatest hot hatch of the 21st century. Fans of a certain brand are in for a treat, but we won't spoil the surprise. To the results!
10th place - Alfa Romeo 147 GTA
Perhaps not a predictable choice to kick off our top 10 with, though easy to understand in these more austere, downsized times. The GTA is a hot hatch all about its engine, the 3.2-litre V6 delivering the sort of lusty performance and sweet sound that is no longer found in modern hot hatches. Moreover, while not exactly lauded when new, aftermarket suspension and differential upgrades have enhanced the 147 above and beyond what it ever achieved as standard. If you can find a good GTA, grab it now and take care of it - as electrification continues, engine like that V6 will be more and more in demand.
9th place - Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup
You'll see a lot of Clios in this top 10, and what a place to start. The 200 Cup really is one of the best of the breed: if the 197 received a rather lukewarm reception, and if we concede that the 172/182 era was now 15 years ago, the 200 Cup perfectly combines old-school thrills with modern usability and safety. That it was replaced by the rather meek 200 EDC only furthered the old car's reputation. The original 200 thrived on a simple recipe: naturally aspirated 2.0-litre, six-speed manual gearbox, expertly tuned chassis and not a lot of weight. For £5,000, the 200 Cup now looks incredible value, too.
8th place - Ford Fiesta ST Mk7
A fast Ford that was so much better than anyone predicted, and good enough for your top eight. While the Blue Oval had done a great line in fast Focuses, the Fiesta had never really quite hit the spot in the same way. That all changed with the Mk7 ST, a car brimming with up-and-at-'em attitude, a punchy little turbo engine and gleeful handling. That it was cheap to buy, easy to tune and a whole heap more entertaining than its Peugeot and Renault alternatives made it a shoo-in for this vote. They're only getting cheaper now...
7th place - Renaultsport Clio V6
Oh good, it's been a while since we had a Renault... If any car typifies the boldness of the industry back at the turn of the millennium, the Clio V6 has to be it. In its original guise this was essentially the Trophy race car made road-legal, a big V6 in the middle of a short Clio wheelbase having a fairly memorable impact on the dynamics. The second-gen car was more predictable and nicer to drive, though both are now fondly remembered for their bonkers styling, that big-hearted V6 and the sheer madness of the project. Like the previous mid-engined Renaults, the Clio V6 has been a bonafide classic for a long time now - and with very good reason.
6th place - VW Golf GTI Mk5
Sneaking into the top six, it's difficult to overstate the seismic impact the Mk5 Golf GTI had - both on the hot hatch market and VW's reputation. The two generations of Golf GTI prior to this, as you'll well know, were proper spudders, and very little was expected of the Mk5. But VW completely confounded those preconceptions, delivering a car that was stylish, comfortable and refined, of course, yet also nimble, engaging and fast. It was the consummate hot hatch once more, delivering across the board for all buyers, and finally meant VW was considered as a builder of driver's cars again. Get one now for £5k to see what all the fuss is about.
5th place - BMW M140i
Along with the Golf R, it's hard to think of a hot hatch more talked about in the past half a dozen years than the 35i/40i 1 Series BMWs. So much so, in fact, that it's made it into your top five hot hatches of the century so far. Being both rear-wheel-drive and six-cylinder, the Beemers offered something that nothing else in the sector could. That a manual gearbox was also available made it a dream for enthusiasts, even if it wasn't at BMW's best dynamically. But no matter: it was fast, good value, sounded great and did skids. Don't be surprised, either, if the stock of these little hellraisers rises at some point, given its dull-as-ditchwater four-cylinder replacement...
4th place - Renaultsport Clio 172 Cup
Well, if ever there was any doubt that PHers like a fast Renault! And we're not done yet... The Clio Cup of 2002 was hot hatch purity at its very finest: stripped of a remarkable 89kg from a normal (and already quite slender) Clio 172, the Cup did without ABS or air-con, employed thinner glass and a more rudimentary rear seat. The diet ensured all that was good about the Clio was heightened further, the Cup was even more agile, even faster, even more fun. It cost a remarkable £12,995 when new and, having once dipped down towards Shed money, is now starting to appreciate as people recognise the genius of its back-to-basics approach.
3rd place - Honda Civic Type R EP3
The sole Japanese representative in our top 10 makes it to the podium! And deservedly so, as the Type R was a significant car in hot hatch history. Why? Well, while the breadvan Civic perhaps didn't have the deftest of chassis, it made up for it with one of the great pocket rocket powertrains. We'd had VTEC engines in hot Hondas before, with the Integra and Accord Type Rs, but the Civic brought it to a new price point - £15,995 on launch in 2001. Nothing else offered such a sweet gearbox, the thrill of 8,000rpm and an engine with VTEC characteristics. Yo indeed. A big sales success, the EP3 is now cheap and plentiful - the ideal project car from £2,000.
2nd place - Renaultsport Megane R26.R
It was always going to rank highly, wasn't it? The R26.R totally redefined expectadtions for a hot hatch just over a decade ago. At the same 2008 London Motor Show that Ford revealed the 300hp, 1,500kg Focus RS, Renaultsport showed this: same power as an R26 at 230hp, but with 123kg taken out through a host of ludicrously committed methods. Nobody had seen two-seat hot hatches with plastic windows and carbon bonnets before, or ones that could do 8:17 at the 'ring. While the £23,815 R26.R struggled to sell in a credit crunched Britain, its reputation as a driver's car is unparallelled. This was Renaultsport at its unrivalled best, and values now reflect that. But there's one more that you've ranked as even better...
1st place - Renaultsport Clio 182 Trophy
Your winner! It says a lot about just how adored the 172/182 generation of Clio is that two models feature in this ten-car competition. But while the 172 Cup traded on raw, pared-back, visceral entertainment, the Trophy introduced a level of sophistication to the car with its very special Sachs dampers. They transformed the Clio, giving it poise and flow that even the (very good) standard car couldn't match. The car swept the board in 2005, and has been in demand ever since - you'll pay £10k for a good one of the 500 now. A worthy winner.
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