Ranked

PistonHeads names top hot hatches of the 21st Century

The Ford Fiesta ST is a hot hatch that many Americans wish would be sold stateside.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

If there's one thing car guys almost unanimously love, it's hooning a hot hatch. PistonHeads, the UK's largest online motoring community, has voted to decide which hot hatches are the 21st century's greatest hits.

"People often think of the 1980s as the golden era of the hot hatch. While it's true that there are a host of unrepeatable classics from this time that have gone on to inspire the hot hatches of today, the reality is that in the 21st century we've never had more choice, performance and usability in this sector," said Nic Cackett, Editor of PistonHeads.

To determine the winner, PistonHeads asked members of its motoring community to nominate their favorite hot hatches from the last 20 years, before running a poll on the top 10 nominees to determine the final order.

Scroll down to see the top ten.

No. 10 - Alfa Romeo 147 GTA

Alfa Romeo 147 GTA

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

The Alfa Romeo 147 GTA went on sale in 2002. It was powered by a 3.2-liter V6 that produced 247 horsepower and was paired with a six-speed manual gearbox The model was wider than the street version of the 147. It came with an aero package, modified nose, honeycomb grille, and side skirts. Brembo four-piston brake calipers, ventilated front disc brakes, and a revised suspension helped make the model super sporty.

Aluminum accents covered the interior and and the model had a unique black gauge surround on the dash. Sport seats up front were fitted with head restraints.

Most importantly, however, the car came with a 10-CD changer.

No. 9 - Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup

This version of the Clio came with a front splitter, a tweaked exhaust system, shorter gearing (resulting in improved acceleration) and a more responsive steering rack. The car's engine produced 197 bhp. Rennaultsport's new model was available with an Alien Green paint job. It won tremendous accolades when it was new.

No. 8 - Ford Fiesta ST MK7

Ford Fiesta ST MK7

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Fiesta ST is Ford's smallest hot hatch. It has a standard turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine. Buyers could opt for the Performance Park and get a Quaife limited slip differential, shift change light, and launch control. It can be driver in Normal, Sport, or Race Track mode.

No. 7 - Renaultsport Clio V6

Launched in 2001, the mid-engine, rear-wheel drive model was designed by Renault. Half were built by Tom Walkinshaw Racing and the other half were built by Renault Sport. Its engine produced 281 bhp and was paired with a Sadev gearbox.

No. 6 - Volkswagen Golf GTI MK5

VW Golf GTI MK5

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Volkswagen gave the Gold GTI a turbocharged 2.00liter four-cylinder engine that produced 197 bhp. The engine was paired with a standard six-speed manual or a six-speed direct shift gearbox. It came in three- and five-door variants. Volkswagen brought the GTI back to the U.S. for this generation.

No. 5 - BMW M140i

BMW M140i

Photo courtesy of BMW

The BMW M140i delivers exactly what you'd expect from BMW. It's a hot hatch that delivers 340 horsepower from its turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine and goes where you point it. Unlike the four cars that rank ahead of it on this list, the M140i isn't stripped to the bare minimum and lightweighted. It's a relatively comfortable daily driver that gets after it when you put the pedal down, can seat five (though four is better), and has a well-appointed cabin.

No. 4 - Renaultsport Clio 172 Cup

This model is the lightweight version of the Clio 172, meant for sport. Like a typical race car, the 172 Cup lacked the creature comforts that buyers could get in a traditional Clio. Its seats were upholstered in durable fabric rather than leather, its Xeonn headlights were replaced by halogen, much of the sound deadening and convenience technology like automatic wipers was removed, as well as the air conditioning.

Renaultsport replaced the wheels with 16-inch Speedline Turinin alloys. The car got matte blue door strips, a plastic front splitter and rear spoiler. It did not have antilock brakes.

No. 3 - Honda Civic Type R EP3

2001 Honda Civic Type R

Photo courtesy of Honda Motor Co. Ltd.

Honda introduced the Civic Type R in 2001. Then, it was a three-door hatchback made explicitly for the U.K. market. It came with a 197-horspower 2.-liter V-TEC engine, six-speed manual transmission, and upgraded brakes.

Two years after its debut, the EP3 was upgraded with more precise handling and revised suspension, among other aesthetic changes.

No. 2 - Renaultsport Megane R26.R

The Renaultsport Megane R26.R is the rarest model on this list; the company only produced 450 examples of the car, which was based one the Mégane Renault Sport 230 F1 Team R2. The company took that car and reduced its weight by 271 pounds by removing the rear seats and seat belts, passenger and curtain airbags, climate control system, rear windscreen washer and wiper, heated rear window, fog lamps, headlight washers, radio/CD player, and nearly all the soundproofing.

Additional light weighting took place including the changeout to a carbon fiber hood and install a polycarbonate tailgate and rear side windows. The car got Sabelt seats, a six-point harness, and rear spoiler. Buyers could opt for a roll cage and titanium exhaust when new.

There were new front springs, recalibrated shock absorber settings, grooved disc brakes, offset alloy wheels, and stiffer lower arm bushes.

It became a race car.

No. 1 - Renaultsport Clio 182 Trophy

Renaultsport Clio 182 Trophy

Photo courtesy of PistonHeads

Renault produced just 550 versions of the Clio 182 Trophy, its final version of the Clio 182. The car is a bit of a mishmash of other models. It rides on 16-inch Speedline Turini alloy wheels from the 172 Cup and the spoiler from the Clio 255 V6. Its underpinnings included Sachs Remote-Reservoir dampers.

Inside are Recaro Trendline seats. The exterior is finished in an exclusive 727 Capsicum Red Paint with trophy decals on its side skirts. Each model came news with an individually numbered plaque on the base of the driver's seat.

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New hot hatch

Toyota teases GR Corolla hatchback

The Instagram teaser contains many hints at the new GR Corolla.

Toyota

Toyota isn't always top of mind when it comes to performance cars, but the Japanese giant has a few tricks up its sleeve. There's the Supra, which the automaker partnered with BMW to produce and there's also the not-for-the-U.S. GR Yaris. The hotted-up hatchback features tremendous power and a four-wheel drive system, but buyers here can only watch jealously as our friends in Europe and elsewhere get all the fun. That's about to change for U.S. buyers, however, as Toyota has begun teasing the GR Corolla hatchback, which we will get.

The automaker posted a cryptic image to Instagram a month ago, but it's still making the rounds on the internet today, with users of the GR Corolla Forum still discussing the post today. The teaser, which is of the Corolla's interior, features hints as to what we might see when the car debuts. The navigation screen shows GR Four road, which points to the car's four-wheel drive system, while a G:16 on the clock in the gauge cluster represents the G16E-GTS engine that the car is expected to get. The GR Yaris also sports that engine, where it produces 268 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque.

Toyota GR Corolla GR, or Gazoo Racing, is Toyota's motorsport armToyota Europe

The GR Corolla should break cover next year, but we don't yet know if it will be a 2022 or 2023 model. As far as pricing goes, Toyota may pull out some surprises, but the car will likely be far more expensive than an everyday Corolla. The smaller GR Yaris is priced starting at nearly $40,000 in Europe, so the Corolla's price tag should be around or slightly above that number.

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New Golf GTI and Golf R

The New VW Hot Hatches Do Almost Everything Well

The eight-gen Golf is coming soon.

Victoria Scott

It's undeniable that the Volkswagen GTI has always held an outsize spot in enthusiast culture despite its diminutive size. No other car near its price point has ever been able to so deftly blend the raucous fun of a turbocharged sports car and ironclad build quality in quite the same way as VW's halo hatchback, and the incredibly long and successful production run of the nameplate has meant that every generation has offered something desirable to buyers. From a young age, they were my aspirational car; when I got my first copy of Need For Speed: Underground as a ten-year-old, I excitedly chose the fourth-generation GTI as my starter car. It offered good looks, an incredible engine note, and even on my Playstation it was a joy to fling through the rain-soaked city streets of the Underground map. What other car could offer all that for twenty thousand "credits"?

Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R Western NC was the perfect playground for the hot hatches.Victoria Scott

Fast-forward fifteen years and three generations, and ten-year-old me would still be vindicated. Despite an onslaught of ever-tougher competition from Southeast Asia, the Teutonic GTI is still the standard-bearer of hot hatches. For good reason, as well - the outgoing MK7 GTI and Golf R still offer competitive specs, a fun driving experience, and a fantastic interior for their price, even six years after the generation debuted. So when Volkswagen announced the new MK8, they not only had a chance to improve upon their masterpiece decades in the making, but elevate the entire hot hatchback market, and the excitement I felt back at age ten was rekindled all over again when I had the chance to test it for myself.

Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R Trick handling tech makes any driver feel like a superhero.Victoria Scott

And on paper, the MK8's formula is familiar from the past three generations of GTI: mild revisions to a winning formula. The GTI gains a mild bump in power over the outgoing model, now offering 241 HP and a hefty 273 ft-lbs of torque from the 2.0L turbocharged EA888 four-cylinder. The differential gets an upgrade as well, with the innovative VAQ front diff now standard on all GTIs. The story for the rest of the GTI is more incremental improvements in typical VW fashion; standard heated seats and wireless charging, as well as stock 18" wheels, make the eighth generation base GTI a slightly more posh offering than its outgoing ancestor, while still coming in at just under $30K for a base model, at $29,545.

The MK8 platform Golf R is a bit more revised, but the underlying recipe is still the same that the Volkswagen halo car has always been known for: A damn fast AWD hatchback. The newest generation gets a 23 horsepower hp bump over its outgoing model, up to an impressive 315 HP and 295 ft-lbs of torque. Volkswagen was apparently worried about stopping all that power, so front brake rotors are now a whopping 14" in diameter, and front calipers are now twin-piston, instead of single. Most noticeably, the rear Haldex differential has been dropped in favor of a fully electronic diff in the back that can send 100% of the rear's power (so up to 50% of the car's total power) to a single rear wheel. With this new differential comes a special Drift mode, so those of us who aren't Tanner Foust can still feel like him. The standard features list is lengthier than ever, too, because all trims have been axed except the very top of the line, so if you want the newest Golf R, it'll set you back a stiff $43,645.

Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R VW gently massaged the Golf's appearance for the new generation.Victoria Scott

Aesthetically, revisions are minor; VW hasn't been too keen on messing with the form of their halo hatches since the late aughts. The sheet metal is a little cleaner, the available colors are great, and it looks buttoned up with a mild dose of aggression. In short, it's true to form for the restrained presentation of the Golf platform. Both cars are offered in the US with the option of either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic; international markets will have to make do with only the DSG-equipped Golf R, because Americans seem to be the ones craziest for three pedals. Because I am an American and crazy for three pedals, I asked for the manual transmission equipped test cars. The dirty secret of the VW hot hatches has always been that while the DSG is a perfected science, the manual transmissions have always left something to be desired, so I was excited to see if perhaps they'd finally dialed it in a bit more.

For my test loop, I was presented with one of the best roads East of the Mississippi: The Rattler, a 290-curve, 24-mile segment of North Carolina road that winds through the hills surrounding the Blue Ridge parkway, replete with both high-speed corners and treacherous downhill switchbacks. With its imperfect paving but incredible vistas and variety of corners, it was a perfect example of a spirited driving road that any sports car should come alive on.

Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R The new GTI isn't quite as engaging as its predecessor.Victoria Scott

The GTI certainly performed well on it, with a ceiling of performance that nearly outstripped my abilities. Chassis and suspension tuning has become even more precise than its predecessor; the top trim of the GTI now offers electronic adaptive-suspension, which my test car was equipped with, and it shone on the old rural roads of NC-209. The cabin was never jarringly rough even on the worst pavement, but there was no slop or body roll to be found when hard on the brakes and throwing the car directly into a hairpin. Turbo lag was virtually nonexistent - stomp on the pedal in any gear of your choice and torque will surge through the drivetrain to pull you out of it.

The manual transmission is improved over the outgoing model's, although the shifter throw was still long and a bit numb when tossing it through the gears. Steering was communicative and easy to judge right up until a fraction before the limit; I wished it would have understeered with a little more warning, but finding the outer limits of performance on the GTI takes a Herculean effort best not attempted on the streets, so I doubt it'll be a dealbreaker for most owners. Overall, the newest iteration of the GTI is fun to fling down sports-car roads, but I found it less engaging than the outgoing MK7. It's gotten quieter and less raucous overall; I enjoyed the slightly less precise but more communicative feel of the last generation, if only because it made the corners more engaging for the driver. The MK8 is certainly faster but it feels less fun on the whole, even if your lap times will improve by a few tenths.


And its Golf R sibling is similar - excellent suspension, incredible brakes, hardly any turbo lag to be found, similarly improved manual transmission - but it dials all of the traits of its less powerful brethren all the way to absurd levels. Yes, with the new rear torque-vectoring diff and over three hundred horsepower, the MK8 Golf R is damn fast in a way few cars under $50,000 are, but it's also unexciting.


As I navigated the twisting roads of The Rattler behind the wheel of the Golf R, I continually dared myself: alright, brake later, accelerate earlier, it has more in it. But no matter how terrifyingly close to turn-in I'd brake or how early before the apex I'd mash the accelerator, the Golf R simply would tear through every corner without breaking a sweat; any mistakes I would make would be compensated seamlessly with the smart all wheel drive or the instant torque from the lagless turbo. I found myself purposely making more complicated downshifts just to feel like I was actually part of the driving experience, because even while pushing it to the absolute limits of what I could manage on the streets, it seemed bored with me, and it rapidly became a reciprocal feeling. There is very little at this price-point that offers this level of performance, but it comes at the cost of a sterile experience that left me feeling like an afterthought as the driver.

And unfortunately, the rest of the revised platform is downhill from here. The arc of progress is not always in the direction of improvement, and the MK8's interior is a massive step backwards for Volkswagen. It's shared with the rest of the refreshed VW lineup, and it is frustratingly unusable in every car they have introduced with it, including the Golf R and GTI. There is not a button or knob to be found in the entire car; every conceivable functionality is embedded in the infotainment system. Would you like to turn on your standard heated seats? That will be three touchscreen pushes on the laggy 8.5" tablet embedded at a slightly uncomfortable distance in the dash. Changing from sport mode to comfort? I hope you enjoy menus.

Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R VW offers great colors for the new GTI and Golf R.Victoria Scott



The rest of the climate control and radio functionality is also buried in the touchscreen, unless you feel like hunting for the unlit, untextured piano black capacitive touch buttons for the temperature and volume control. I couldn't find them in broad daylight; those buttons are completely unusable at night. On top of the dreadful infotainment system, the steering wheel on both cars is now the overly-cluttered capacitive-touch style that I previously discussed ruining the otherwise brilliant Arteon. Why a wheel with such easily triggered buttons would be used in a sports car where presumably the driver will be working the wheel with gusto is absolutely beyond all logic, because I would find myself turning on the steering wheel heater or turning off my soundtrack as I'd whip the GTI into a hairpin and actually needed to grip the wheel.

And so it's hard to celebrate the coming of the MK8 platform as a step in the right direction. Despite the higher performance ceilings of the newest offerings, I already miss the MK7 generation, with its vastly more usable interior and less inhibited, modest sounds and handling. The outgoing cars were fast enough to be fun, they made the driver feel like more of the experience, and they were overall less buttoned up. The Golf name has aged and grown up, sure. Neither of us are in our Need For Speed years anymore. But did it have to mature so much it forgot how to relax a little and have some fun?

Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R The new cars are more buttoned up and tech-forward.Victoria Scott

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