Note: This article was originally published on DRIVETRIBE.
It isn’t surprising that there are sub-sections under hot hatches; from the warm hatchback to the most extreme. These days, we hot hatch enthusiasts are spoiled for choice with variations and combinations of hot hatches available on sale. The affordable thrills market is decent sized and every manufacturer wants to get in on it. I believe that we are in a Golden Age of hot hatches, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1980s with cars like the Renault 5 Turbo, Lancia Delta, and the Mazda 323 Turbo.
Some car makers have taken hot hatches to the next level making them sports cars in everything but the name. While I don’t really like using the term “mega hatches” for the same reason I don’t like using the term “hypercar”, these hatchbacks are definitely a cut above the rest due to their radical nature. Be warned; here there be talk of Nurburgring times and technical information. So if you follow in the footsteps of James May (or are James May) maybe skip this article.
Renaultsport Megane 275 Trophy-R
Renault has a history of making some really stripped-out hardcore hatchbacks that are made with one purpose, to be freaking fast. Since the days of the 5 Turbo and the Clio Williams, the French car maker has always had an extreme version (not just a hot version) of their standard hatchback. Today, that is Renaultsport Megane 275 Trophy-R. Launched in 2014, this mega, I mean hardcore hot hatch was made to reclaim the title of fastest front wheel drive car around the Nurburgring from the SEAT Leon Cupra 280. It did that by setting a time of 7min 54.36sec. Besides all this, the buckets seats and a roll cage on the inside basically shout “track day tool”.
The Megane 275 Trophy-R may not deliver driving thrills in the same manner as its venerable predecessor, the awesome Megane R26.R (incidentally, Henry Catchpole and Jethro Bovingdon named it their favourite hot hatch), but it is the most extreme hatchback out of Renault’s stables until they launch the Renault Sport Clio R.S.16. The French manufacturer has basically shoe-horned the Megane 275 Trophy-R’s 271bhp 2-litre engine into the Clio. Based on evo’s Dan Prosser, “there are still good reasons to believe it could be the fastest, most exciting small hot hatch ever.” Looks promising.
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S
Built to celebrate the 40th anniversary of VW’s Golf, the Clubsport S comes with the same 2-litre engine tuned to 306bhp. The current title holder of the fastest front-wheel drive car around the 13 mile (20km) Green Hell, lapping it in 7min 49.21secs, the Golf GTI Clubsport S was developed specifically to break the Nurburgring lap record. The removal of the rear seats, a raft of improvements in the chassis and suspension, and the addition of Michelin’s Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres definitely helped in this regard. Volkswagen does know how to celebrate an event, don’t they?!
The Volkswagen Golf R should also be mentioned here. While it isn’t nearly as extreme as the GTI Clubsport S, the EA888 motor churns out a very respectable 296bhp capable of propelling this four-wheel drive hot hatch to 62mph (100kmph) in 4.9 seconds (5.1 with the manual). Even though it is hailed as the ultimate all-round hot hatch, the Golf R deserves a place on the list of the most hardcore as it delivers enough pep to keep up with the Ford Focus RS (mentioned below).
Mini John Cooper Works Challenge
Building on the brilliant rallying tradition for the Mini Cooper, the John Cooper Works edition of the Mini is quite a decent hot hatch. The Challenge edition is a hardcore little beast! While it is certainly down on power when compared to the cars on here (228nhp from a 2-litre engine), it is as Will Beaumont put it, “an uncompromising, unapologetic and ruthless performance car.” As with the other cars on this list, it comes with super sticky Michelin Sport Cup 2 tyres (most cars that want to be taken seriously do) and even has rear seats unlike its predecessors. That makes the Mini John Cooper Works Challenge a serious track day machine while having the potential to take your kids to school, if they don’t mind a bumpy ride.
Honda Civic Type R
Before the Golf GTI Clubsport S arrived, Honda’s Civic Type R was the reigning front wheel drive champion at Nurburgring Nordschleife boasting a time of 7min 50.63sec. While it may not have the free revving VTEC unit of old, the new turbocharged VTEC mill pumps out 306bhp at 7000rpm; not bad at all for a boosted motor. The fact that the car looks like something out of a boy racers wet dream; radical, performance-oriented and outlandish, is polarising. Some people hate it, while others love it. It seems like the Japanese manufacturers’ legacy of creating excellent hot hatches is secure with the Civic Type R. The 2017 model that debuted at the 2016 Paris Motor Show is expected to be even more powerful. Definitely something to look forward to.
SEAT Leon Cupra Sub8
One of the first manufacturers to actively pursue the fastest front wheel drive around the Nurburgring, SEAT came out with the SEAT Leon Cupra 280 in 2014 with a SUB8 pack that had the same specifications as the car that actually made the record. Sporting the same 276bhp as the normal Cupra 280, the Sub8 package allowed it to breach the 8 minute lap time. The new SEAT Leon Cupra 290 (as the name implies, it sports 286bhp) also comes with a Sub8 pack that adds better brakes, Michelin Sport Cup 2 tyres (getting repetitive here), and a few exterior go-faster mods. The Spanish manufacturer (actually under the leadership of VW) is inching closer to the Golf R in terms of raw power and is expected to launch the Leon Cupra 300 next year with 296bhp driving the front wheels. That will make the new hot hatch capable of bettering the 290s 0-62mph (100kmph) time of 5.6 seconds by a significant enough margin.
The hatchbacks below only feature on this list due to the fact that they produce more power than super cars did in the 80s. The cut-off mark is 300bhp.
Mercedes-AMG A 45
Currently possessing the most powerful four-cylinder engine in the world, the A 45’s 2-litre turbocharged motor puts out 376bhp to all-four wheels and zooms to 62mph in 4.2 seconds. That’s pretty awesome when one considers its over 1.5 ton kerb weight. It may not be the most engaging to drive but it is probably one of the fastest hatches from point-to-point.
The Audi RS3’s 362bhp mill was the most powerful four-pot engine until the A 45 came along, but it is still brilliantly fast with its surge of torque lower in the rev range that uses all-wheel drive to push the car to 62mph in just 4.3 seconds.
Ford Focus RS
None can deny that Ford’s Focus RS is a hardcore thrill machine with its juvenile yet entertaining drift mode and dynamic handling capabilities. Its 2.3-litre motor puts out 345bhp, which is capable making the Focus RS hit 62mph in 4.7 seconds. An interesting feature of this hot hatches’ all-wheel drive tech is that it effectively makes the Focus RS a rear-wheel drive car. That puts it in a niche segment along with the next car.
Purported to be the purely last rear-wheel drive hot hatch today, the M140i will definitely be a future icon. While some say that its rear-wheel drive character means it isn’t a hot hatch, personally I disagree. However, none can deny its brilliant 322bhp 3.0-litre turbocharged six-pot engine that helps this 1.5 ton car reach 62mph in 5.1 seconds.