Up to £2,500
Some of the best times in a hot hatch are when driving flat out but barely going fast enough to trigger a speed camera. With that mindset, the Suzuki Swift Sport offers oversized thrills in a downsized package. Granted, its numbers are down on heavy hitters like the Ford Fiesta ST150 and Renaultsport Clio 182; it’s 1.6-litre engine produced a mere 125hp and 0-62mph came about in the high eights.
But the Swift Sport is all about momentum. Find an empty country lane and you’ll need to figure out how to get the maximum out of the car, using the close ratio gearbox to keep those revs up while pretending to be a rally driver. To be fair, even with £2,500 you’ll struggle to find the cleanest example, but this 86k-mile car has just been serviced and comes with only one previous owner - there will be far less fun ways to spend £2,299. It’s worth making sure maintenance has been kept up to date, and any modifications added done properly - but there’s arguably no better way into fun car ownership than a Swift Sport. Certainly not at this price point.
Up to £5,000
Say what you want about BMW-era Mini, but you can’t deny that the German carmaker knows a thing or two about performance. Even with the inevitable bloat that comes with age, the current crop of hot hatchbacks still serve up some of the best handling in the class. But the first Cooper S is still one of the best ways to enjoy a modern Mini – especially as they came with a supercharger.
Though its design hasn’t changed too radically over the past 20 years or so, the R53 is arguably the best looking BMW-made version of the lot, and they were nice and light at 1,140kg. Given this was the firm’s first stab at a supermini, there are some niggles to look out for. Cracked cylinder heads and driveshafts, as well as oil leaks, are all issues that can afflict R53 Minis. Still, it’s a ridiculously fun way to spend £5,000 and for that you should be able to find a clean example with under 100,000 miles on the clock. Just like this one, in fact, with the added bonus of a Milltek exhaust and an advisory-free MOT. Be sure to look after it and it’ll give you plenty more miles of joy.
Up to £10,000
The Ford Fiesta ST has been a sub-£10,000 hero for a long time now. Impressive when you think about it, given how many hot hatches have come and gone over the past ten years, and the current state of the used car market. Why is that? Well, it has sold by the bucketload for one thing. Also its basic recipe hits the sweet spot every time. Sure, the 1.6-litre four-pot is hardly a world beater, the torsion beam rear axle is far from advanced and it’s all paired up with a simple six-speed manual gearbox. But it’s all about the way it’s joined up.
Most of its rivals are jammed full of tech to help you shave milliseconds off your morning commute, whereas the Fiesta ST is all about having as much fun as possible so you walk into the office with a beaming smile across your face. Throw in a set of fancy Recaro seats, super sharp steering and an array of tuning options and its enduring popularity should be no surprise. Even allowing for a recent spike in values, this ST looks a great way to spend £10k: it’s an early ST-2 in the much-loved Spirit Blue, with 60k miles and a full service history. Perfect.
Up to £15,000
Following on from the R26.R was always going to be a challenge for the Renaultsport Megane 250. Make no mistake, it was an excellent hot hatch for daily driving, but the generation really hit its stride when the 265 came along. Even with a fair amount of power going through the front wheels, the 265 offered rock solid traction and grip in abundance, attributes complemented by the great electric steering. The 275 Trophy was even better still. But it was the final editions - notably the Cup-S - which perfected the formula at a more enticing RRP, and made for a fitting farewell to what is unequivocally one of the best front-drive hot hatches of all time.
However, the Cup-S is probably still out of reach at £15k, so you’ll probably need to settle for the slightly more humble 275 Nav - one like this 65,000-mile car from 2016. There are a host of 265hp cars around that are most certainly worth a look as well. You may be surprised to learn that reliability isn’t too bad. Okay, so you’ll need to listen out for any whining from the transmission as the bearings were changed on the 275 and are prone to, er, falling apart without due care (and you’ll need in the region of £1,200 to fix it). Nevertheless, whatever way you cut it, for less than £15,000 you’re getting one of the best hot hatches around.
Up to £20,000
Before BMW moved on to a more sensible front-wheel drive platform, the company waved goodbye to the RWD 1 Series in style by fitting its 3.0-litre B58 straight-six petrol engine up front and cranking it up to 340hp. Back then, a rear-drive, manual hatchback seemed like a novelty; a few years after production finished it still looks a glorious throwback, yet with all the equipment you’d ever need. And with peak torque from just 1,500rpm, the 1 Series is an effortless and relentlessly fast car.
Moreover, reliability shouldn’t be much of a concern given that they’re still relatively new and the B58 motor is found in lots of other cars. These were available in three or five-door configurations, and while xDrive was on offer in other markets we only got the rear-wheel drive M140i in the UK. Add all the numbers up and you’ve got a car that’ll give you a taste of BMW M with all the practicality of a family hatchback. Not the most spacious of hatchbacks, sure, but the appeal isn’t hard to see. Try this one for full old school cool: three doors, manual gearbox, Estoril Blue. Sorted.
Up to £25,000
Remember the days when the Civic Type R was a plucky hot hatch that wanted to cock a leg in every corner? How times have changed. Honda shook the formula up with the FK2 by turbocharging the Type R and making the chassis much, much more sophisticated. But the model went to a whole new level with the FK8 - to a point where none of its rivals have yet come close to toppling it.
The steering is close to perfection, as is the short throw of the six-speed manual gearbox. Traction only ever breaks on particularly wet and greasy days, while the torquey turbocharged 2.0-litre VTEC engine punches you out of corners with considerable force. The best part? There’s massive boot and plenty of room for people in the back, making it very easy to use as a daily driver. The only thing that splits opinion is the way it looks, but the same can be said for plenty of other cars, and it certainly doesn’t matter when you’re behind the steering wheel. If you can find one of the few around for less than £25k (like this black car that’s already romped through 50,000 miles), snap it up - modern hot hatches don’t get anymore compelling than this.
Up to £35,000
We’re still trying to figure out how the Toyota GR Yaris ever came into existence. Take a Yaris chassis off the production line, fit it with an incredibly complex all-wheel drive system, throw in a purpose-built 1.6-litre three-cylinder turbo engine and sell it for a little over £30,000? Thankfully, Toyota head honcho (and certified legend) Akio Toyoda signed it off, and it’s duly won over pretty much anyone who’s ever driven it - not least because it revels broken B roads and shines brightest in the sort of conditions that would undo most hot hatches.
Obviously it’s a different story in the back. That sloping roof line and short wheelbase means that the rear bench is really only fit for small children and the boot is positively tiny - but that’s the price you pay for what was initially planned as a homologation car for the WRC. Even two years after its release high demand means you’ll struggle to get a new one, but the plus side is values are rock solid. The combination of which has meant plenty for sale secondhand, as those who got in early have been able to enjoy the car and sell it on for no loss; this white Circuit Pack example has covered 6,000 miles and is yours for £34,995. A new Golf GTI may be more practical, but it won't be anywhere near as fun as this.
Up to £50,000
The original A45 delivered all the performance we’ve come to expect from an AMG, but dynamically it was a tad muted. That all changed with the second one, the flagship A-Class making huge strides dynamically to deliver the sort of experience you might expect from an all-wheel-drive AMG hyper hatch with 400hp. The A45 S has the directness of a front-wheel drive hatch on turn in, with 4Matic-enhanced traction on the way out. And now there was a sense of humour as well, thanks to the torque vectoring abilities (and Drift Mode potential) of a much cleverer back axle.
Even with the arrival of a slightly more rounded Audi RS3, the Mercedes has an awful lot to recommend it. At £50,000 you’ll have your fair share of low mileage examples, plus the CLA saloon, CLA Shooting Brake and GLA SUV, values having softened a tad with the model now three years old. This one looks superb, a one-owner 2020 example in yellow (because there are more than enough grey and black cars out there). Having covered 28,000 miles, it’s for sale at £45,995.
Up to £75,000
Audi finally delivered on the RS3’s promise with the third generation car. Previous models have been incredibly fast with glorious five-cylinder soundtracks, but they’ve never been all that enjoyable to drive. Now it’s significantly improved, with better steering, and the sort of ride and handling that befits the RS experience. Plus the drift mode, of course - or Torque Rear in more formal Audi language - thanks to a rear axle which permits up to 100 per cent of the available torque to reach one wheel for some tyre munching madness. Or, more relevantly, a more engaging and enjoyable drive on the road, which is exactly what Audi’s all-weather performance car needed.
It does it all to the tune of an inline-five that still impresses after all these years, even if the noise has to be augmented in a more stringent age. With so much technology packed into the latest RS3, plus a decent step in build quality, it does mean it’s more expensive than ever, especially if you’ve been keen with the optional extras. On the plus side you’ll not only be left with a 400hp hatchback that’s a noticeable improvement on its predecessor, but also have one of the most enjoyable cars Audi has made in a while. And you can have it in Viper Green…
Sky’s the limit
Of course if there’s a terrific amount of money burning a hole in your pocket, and a hatchback is the only way to go, you’re going to need to think outside the box. Or possibly in the box marked ‘homologated rally icons’. The first car that springs to mind is the Lancia Delta HF Integrale. It was one of the most successful Group A rally cars of the era, winning either a driver’s or manufacturers championship (or both) for every single year between 1987 and ’92. And given that the regulations of the time required manufacturers to produce road-going variants of their competition cars, you could pick up a Delta HF Integrale that wasn’t a far cry from the cars being driven around on the world’s rally stages.
There were many, many special editions of the Integrale, with the most coveted being the Evo 2 based Edizione Finale, which is now a £200k car. But if you want to go big on the rally car nostalgia, you’ll want to look at an Evo I Martini 6 like this one which will probably be similar money to the Finale. Appreciation has well and truly kicked in on these limited-edition cars, but it’s the price that must be paid now to get a homologation great. Not like an Escort Cossie is much cheaper, after all.
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