​Best hot hatchbacks 2023 – the best everyday performance cars you can buy

Some familiar names have disappeared, but new arrivals have helped breathe fresh life into one of evo’s favourite sectors of the market

It’s been a tough few years for the European hot hatchback as stringent emission regulations force some of the most iconic nameplates such as Renault Sport and Peugeot GTi to cease trading. Even Ford, typically a consistent builder of excellent hot hatchbacks is feeling the pressure, with production of the Fiesta, and therefore brilliant Fiesta ST coming to a close in 2023. 

Yet, for every legacy hot hatchback that’s killed off there is another that's taken its place, with Hyundai and Toyota leveraging their immense global footprints to create the wildly successful N and GR brands, joining the game with distinctive and frankly brilliant additions to the class.

German manufacturers haven’t turned their back either, pushing their high-profit compact models with more power, more technology and more capability than ever before. Audi’s new RS3 is a case in point, finally now offering a chassis that lives up to its brilliant powertrain, while AMG’s A45 S remains as potent as ever.

When will we see a true electric hot hatchback? This is where we could see the Gallic comeback, with Alpine promising a high-performance derivative of Renault’s upcoming all-electric 5 reboot in 2024, and Peugeot’s PSE brand furiously working on high-performance hybrid technology. Abarth has also revealed its new 500e, which comes with the first generation of sound generators that aim to channel some of the character that's gone onto define the modern 500.

Yet after what feels like an age of waiting the new Honda Civic Type R is here. We've only driven it abroad so far, but it's already proven to be a step on from its brilliant predecessor, making it a surefire winner when UK examples arrive in early 2023. 

Until then, there’s still plenty to be enthusiastic about, starting with Hyundai’s brilliant i30 N.

Best new hot hatchbacks on sale now

1st: Honda Civic Type R

Honda's long-awaited FL5 Civic Type R is here, and it hasn't disappointed. Yes, its hardware is very similar to the previous FK8 generation, but this is no bad thing. Instead, everything from the engine, gearbox, chassis and suspension has been even further honed to within an inch of perfection. 

We've only driven it on continental roads so far, but expect it to shine just as brightly on tougher UK roads thanks to more adjustability in the drive modes and even more variability in its hardware. This is all wrapped up in a far more sophisticated package, with huge improvements to interior quality and presentation.

Downsides? There aren't many, but some might find its £46,995 list price a little hard to swallow. However, seen in context, this is around the same as VW's Golf R 20 Years special edition, £3k less than the RS3 at its most basic, and nearly £18k less than the AMG A45 S. And don't for one minute think it can't show any of those rivals a clean pair of heels on road or track. Bring on the group test. 

> Honda Civic Type R review

2nd: Hyundai i30 N

As it stands, our favourite hot hatchback on sale right now is the Hyundai i30 N. Initially introduced in 2017, the i30 hasn’t aged a bit, receiving an update that doesn’t mess with its successful formula, instead tidying up its rough edges and widening its appeal with a bespoke dual-clutch transmission.

> Click here for our Hyundai i30 N review

While there is no single standout element within the i30 N’s package, it’s the way Hyundai’s engineers have calibrated them all together that make it such a winner in our book. The engine is strong, responsive and has just enough top-end sparkle not to feel underpowered, its steering is transparent and the chassis playful without being overzealous.

The feather in the i30 N’s cap is its ability to tailor each of its dynamic attributes to precisely suit its driver through the various driver modes and settings. Using such tools, the i30 N is able to morph into the ideal hot hatchback for any occasion.

3rd: Toyota GR Yaris

The GR Yaris had quite some pressure on its pumped up haunches leading up to its arrival in 2020. It’s the first ‘real’ WRC homologation road car in decades – a bespoke, highly tuned, finely wrought performance machine that many anticipated would become an icon, even before its wheels hit the tarmac. Good news for Toyota was that the GR Yaris didn’t disappoint.

If the waiting list for new orders doesn’t already tell you, the GR Yaris was such a sensation it quite nearly ran away with our 2020 eCoty crown, placing fourth behind some serious metal, but only 2.5 points behind the victor, so close was that year’s field.

Back in the UK, further exposure to our long-termer has only re-established its utterly beguiling combination of elements that feel totally unique to the GR Yaris. And better still, it all feels like the fruit of its competition bones. It’s a package we’ve been asking someone to build for what feels like a generation. Now we’ve got it, we almost don’t know what to do with it...

> Click here for our full review of the Toyota GR Yaris

4th: Hyundai i20 N 

Hyundai’s i20 N perfectly complements its larger i30 N sibling, sharing its underlying values, but packaging it into a simpler, but even more rambunctious whole. Given the small chassis and very reasonable entry price it, of course, lacks some of the 30’s toys, riding on a passive suspension set-up and without electronic control of its limited-slip differential, but the fundamentals are there.

The i20 N’s nose is insatiable, chasing grip with what feels like almost no understeer. The rear end then follows without any hesitation, often kicking up a wheel and neutralising the car’s stance as soon as you come off the throttle. Get greedy with the front end, or trail brake into a corner and the rear will happily rotate just like with the best classic hot hatchbacks.

If there’s a weak point it’s that the engine isn’t quite as enthusiastic as the chassis, and when you’re not absolutely on it the ride can feel a little stiff-legged. But it’s worth it for the sake of the i20 N’s seductive talents.

Hyundai i20 N review

5th: Ford Fiesta ST

A firm favourite in the evo office, the Fiesta is proof that four cylinders, independent rear suspension and other expensive ‘big car’ tech isn't required in the making of a fun hot hatchback. Post-update, all STs come with the performance pack, incorporating a Quaife limited-slip differential.

Unfortunately, the Fiesta is due to end production in 2023, which means the ST will go too with no replacement on the horizon. You can still buy one for the next few months, and it's sure to become something of a future collectable buoyed by the fact it's still magnificent to drive. 

There are few performance cars more adjustable or involving at this price point, all the while still underpinned by the ST’s energetic three-cylinder engine, agility and sheer grin-inducing tendencies.

> Click here for our Ford Fiesta ST review

6th: Mercedes-AMG A45 S

Mercedes-Benz didn’t start the hot hatchback game off particularly well with the original A45 AMG. It was certainly powerful, trading blows with the Audi RS3 for the hottest hot hatchback title over the years, but it was also dreadfully inert and not at all what we consider a good hot hatch. The same cannot be said for the all-new A45 S though, as this model is as far removed from its predecessor as you could possibly imagine.

Gone is the harsh wooden-like suspension, inert steering and utter disinterest in anything other than its task of putting up to 387bhp to the ground. Now, with even more power under the bonnet (415bhp) the A45 S is shockingly supple and considered, and even interactive when the right modes are selected.

It’s expensive, and rather more than a hot hatchback in the traditional sense, but as a performance car its talent and interaction made it one of the real shocks of 2019.

> Click here for our review of the Mercedes-AMG A45 S

7th: Audi RS3

The Audi RS3 has often been accused of having an underbaked chassis in comparison to its brilliant five-cylinder powertrain, but this time around things are a little different. Gone is the blunt front end and propensity to understeer, and in its place an almost overly soft damping set-up, resolutely nailed front end and torque-vectoring rear differential that makes this an Audi you can power oversteer like a BMW M3.

It’s not perfect – the steering is pretty dead, and that rear differential can feel a little unnatural – but even if you were to accuse it of feeling a little too synthesised, no one could call it a dull experience. If anything, the chassis’ new capability only highlights the powertrain’s shortcomings – something derived from the dual-clutch transmission’s actuation software that prioritises clutch life ahead of snappy changes.

The Audi RS3 is also now astonishingly expensive, and combined with an interior that’s taken a definite step back in quality, makes its key flaws a total reversal of those we’ve come to expect.

> Click here for our full Audi RS3 review

8th: Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport

So far, there has been no less than three hot Mk8 Golfs: the standard GTI, R, and this new Clubsport that occupies the middle ground between them. Like the TCR it replaced, the GTI Clubsport takes a high-powered version of the GTI’s EA888 engine, throws in a limited-slip differential and dials up the chassis attitude a few extra notches.

And the result has been, well, mixed. Our early example suffered a few non-ideal specification misses, including dynamic chassis control and a decent 19-inch wheel and tyre package the Clubsport was predominantly developed on.

Since then, the Clubsport has proven to at least partially fulfil its brief of being a more dynamic, aggressive and spirited version of the already impressive GTI, but we still believe there’s room to improve.

> Click here for our review of the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport

9th: Ford Focus ST

The Focus ST has always struggled to outshine its smaller Fiesta sibling, and unfortunately this is also the case with the latest-generation offering. Don’t be mistaken, it’s far more capable and rounded than it ever has been, but it exhibits one or two key flaws that chip away at the overall dynamic package.

Power and poise are certainly there – it’s fantastically involving on track as the Focus’s trademark rotation makes itself felt – but on the road the driver modes that now so distinctly affect the handling can’t seem to strike a good balance on the rougher tarmac, being too stiff in sportier settings and a little under-damped and loose in the more benign ones. Add to this a vague steering set-up and its on-road performance is just too compromised in a class that doesn’t forgive any dynamic flaws.

> Click here for our review of the Ford Focus S

 

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