We believe that a true hot hatch should be front-wheel drive, powered by a four-cylinder engine, based on a humble hatchback and have a glass tailgate at the rear. Or, maybe we’re just getting old.
Some of the hot hatches featured in this gallery are pretty conventional, while others bend the rules just a little…
Aston Martin Cygnet V8
Our Ethan Jupp suggested this might be the world’s craziest hot hatch, and he might have a point. Unveiled at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, the Toyota… sorry, Aston Martin Cygnet V8 boasts a power-to-weight ratio of 371hp per tonne and will hit 60mph in 4.2 seconds. Whether you’d feel safe taking the supermini formerly known as the iQ to its 170mph top speed is up for debate, but you have to admire this crazy one-off.
Renault 5 Turbo
If a V8-powered Toyota iQ with a posh badge stretches the definition of a hot hatch, things aren’t going to improve with the Renault 5 Turbo. It had very little in common with the regular Renault 5 parked on the high street, with its unique parts making it extremely expensive to build. This meant it was also expensive to buy, which is why Renault launched a cheaper Turbo 2.
MG Metro 6R4
The MG Metro 6R4: Austin Rover’s supercar and the most bonkers Metro you’ll ever meet. It’s amazing to think that you could buy the 6R4 rally car off-the-shelf for £40,000. Even more amazing was the fact that this mighty Metro sounded like an F1 car, performed like a supercar and was talented enough to do battle with any contemporary rally car.
Peugeot 205 T16
It took Jean Todt and his team at Peugeot-Talbot Sport just two years to produce a mid-engined four-wheel drive rally car, yet despite the haste, the 205 T16 proved to be a formidable machine on the rally circuit. The competition car and its road-going equivalent were light years away from the regular 205, but the T16 offered showroom appeal by the lorry load. In its day, the four-wheel drive, mid-engined T16 cost £26,999 – the equivalent of £77,770 today.
Volkswagen Golf W12-650
Probably the most outlandish Golf ever made, the 650 in the Golf W12-650 referred to the car’s power output: 650ps. This power was sent to to the rear wheels – so not an authentic hot hatch, then – via a six-speed Tiptronic gearbox. It wasn’t just the power that was pumped up to the max: the bodywork is such that it looks almost cartoon-like, too wild to be a reality. Which, of course, it wasn’t. The W12 remains a concept, which is probably good news for the world’s driving licences.
Audi A1 Quattro
For the ultimate Audi A1, forget the 231hp S1 launched in 2015, what you really need is the 256hp A1 Quattro of 2012. Only 333 were built, each one commanding £41,020 when new, so it’s hardly surprising that only 19 were sold in the UK, especially when you consider that it wasn’t available as a right-hooker. Essentially, the A1 Quattro is an S3 in a supermini suit, which means that it’s super-quick: 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and a top speed of 152mph.
Renaultsport Clio V6
Not content with building the world’s finest hot hatches, Renault decided it could extract even more from its humble supermini. The Clio V6 was the kind of crazy idea that rarely sees the light of day, yet somehow Renault really did remove the rear seats and stick a 3.0-litre V6 into the back of a supermini. The original Clio V6 developed a reputation for being a little lairy, but the Mk2 was more refined, thanks to a little help from Porsche.
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S
Volkswagen has a habit of building special editions to mark important milestones in the history of the Golf GTI, and the Clubsport S was its 40th anniversary present. That it broke the official Nurburgring record for a front-wheel drive car is largely irrelevant, but the fact that this thing pumped out a whopping 310hp certainly isn’t. Sure, it’s not as wild as the W12, but the Clubsport S had no rear seats and, more importantly, it made production.
Renaultsport Megane 275 Trophy-R
The Megane 275 Trophy-R is another hot hatch with a Nurburgring lap record to its name and is, as the spiritual successor to the R26.R, one of the most hardcore Meganes you can buy. Renaultsport left no stone unturned in pursuit of weight-saving, removing everything from the rear wiper to the back seats. In return it added Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, Speedline alloys, Recaro bucket seats, Ohlins adjustable dampers, composite front springs and an Akrapovic titanium exhaust to create the ultimate version of one of the world’s best hot hatches.
Dodge Shelby Omni GLHS
Who else but Carroll Shelby would build something as bonkers as the Omni GLHS. Powered by a 2213cc engine mated to a Garrett turbocharger, the 175hp Dodge could hit 60mph in a sports car-taming 6.7 seconds. Mr Shelby added Koni shocks, 15-inch ‘Centurion’ alloys and Goodyear performance tyres to the mix to create an all-American take on the hot hatch formula. The car pictured was owned by Carroll Shelby and sold for $27,500 at Monterey in 2016.
Mazda 323 GT-R
Built for Group A homologation purposes, the Japan-only Mazda 323 GTR was based on the GTX and packed a 210hp punch, stiffer suspension, all-wheel drive, larger breaks and obligatory body enhancements.
Nissan March Super Turbo
In the case of the March Super Turbo, Nissan isn’t guilty of adding unnecessary superlatives to a car’s name. You see, the 930cc Nissan March – or Micra – featured a supercharger and a turbocharger to create a SUPER TURBO. A lowly 110hp might not seem like a lot, but the twin-charged March weighed less than a bag of sugar, helping it to hit 62mph in 7.7 seconds. Not to be confused with the familiar ex-driving school Micra.
Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG
Until Audi unleashed the 400hp RS3, the Mercedes A45 AMG was the most powerful production hot hatch of the modern era. Three hundred and eighty one horsepower. Think about that for a moment – 381hp @ 6,000rpm. It remains a staggering figure for what is essentially a five-door family hatchback, especially when 300hp seemed like a lot just a few years ago.
AMC Gremlin 401-XR
We featured this AMC Gremlin 401-XR in April when it was listed for sale on bringatrailer.com. Only 21 examples of the 6.6-litre 401-XR were ever built, with Denwerks Vintage Car Shop creating car number 22 four years ago. In true American style, it was more at home on the quarter-mile than it would be on a B-road, but you’ve gotta love the Stateside take on the hot hatch recipe.
Mazda 3 MPS Extreme
Even in their standard guise, the Mazda 3 and 6 MPS models are spoken about in hushed tones, famed for their no holds barred attitude to horsepower. Unveiled in 2007, the 3 MPS Extreme was, ahem… even more extreme, with Mazda squeezing an additional 27hp from the 2.3-litre turbocharged engine. The 282hp Extreme also featured Cootes suspension lowered by 25mm, 19-inch BBS alloys and cosmetic upgrades.
Vauxhall Astra VXR Extreme
Back in 2014, when the Vauxhall Astra VXR Extreme broke cover at the Geneva motor show, a 300hp front-wheel drive hot hatch was a big deal. How times have changed. The Extreme also featured extensive use of carbon fibre, aluminium front wings, six-pot Brembo brakes, Hankook tyres, Recaro bucket seats, six-point harnesses and an Alcantara-clad steering wheel. In Renaultsport style, Vauxhall ditched the rear seats for a safety roll bar.
Volkswagen Golf GTI 16S
Many of the cars featured here need to be viewed in the context of the era in which they were built. This is certainly true of the Golf GTI 16S, which is arguably the factory high-performance version Volkswagen should have built. Some 1,600 were built for the French and Swiss markets, with Oettinger swapping the original 8-valve engine for a light alloy 16-valve. The result was a 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 121mph.
Sbarro Super Twelve
The Sbarro Super Twelve – an 80s supercar the size of a Mini. This thing was powered by two six-cylinder 1300cc Kawasaki engines, each with its own five-speed gearbox. With 240hp on tap in a car weighing just 800kg, the performance figures are rather terrifying. A 0-60mph time of 5.0 seconds and a power-to-weight ratio to rival a Lamborghini Countach. What a thing!
Volkswagen Polo R WRC Street by B&B
There have been many wild Volkswagen creations over the years – we could have filled the entirely gallery with Wörthersee special editions or aftermarket creations. The Polo R WRC Street by B&B cost a staggering €41,850, but the performance figures are as astonishing as the price. Total output of 362hp and 376lb ft – more powerful than the Polo WRC rally car!) – provided a top speed of 168mph and a 0-62mph time of 5.2 seconds.
Audi RS3 Sportback
Remember when hot hatches were slightly unhinged, lightweight and relatively affordable? The Audi RS3 Sportback is light years away from this vision of utopia, with a £44,755 price tag, 400hp and a 0-62mph time of 4.1 seconds. Thanks to its 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine, it sounds fantastic, but the driving experience is more large car than hot hatch.
Peugeot 308 R Hybrid
Peugeot unveiled the 308 R Hybrid at the Shanghai motor show in 2015, and while a production version hasn’t been released, this could represent the hot hatch of the future. By pairing a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine with a couple of electric motors, Peugeot created a 500hp monster, good enough to hit 62mph in 4.0 seconds. Green credentials are provided courtesy CO2 emissions of just 70g/km.
Renault Twin’Run V6
Renault built the 5 Turbo and Clio V6, so why did it stop short of putting the Twin’Run V6 into production? Powered by a 3.5-litre V6 developing 320hp, the Twin’Run paid homage to the Renault 5 courtesy of its headlights and side decals, while the four LEDs are a nod to the light racks used on night specials.
MINI JCW Challenge
Developed in secret at the MINI Plant in Oxford, the JCW Challenge was approved by BMW, but the Germans acted merely as facilitators, letting the Brits run wild. The result was a race-bred MINI featuring Nitron shocks, Mintex brakes, Quaife limited-slip differential and Team Dynamics wheels. The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine was unchanged, with MINI saying: “It’s not about ultimate speed, but how much fun you have between [the corners].” Only 100 were built, each one costing £32,000.
Nissan Micra 350SR
What, another Nissan Micra? Again, the 350SR is a world away from the Micra driven by your gran, with a 350hp Nismo-fettled 3.5-litre V6 powering the rear wheels, along with a host of upgrades under the bonnet. The project took two years to complete and cost around a quarter of a million pounds to build.
Toyota Aygo Crazy
We conclude with a car that’s Crazy by name and crazy by nature: the Toyota Aygo Crazy. Powered by a mid-mounted and turbocharged MR2-sourced 1.8-litre engine, the Aygo Crazy developed 200hp and cost Toyota a rumoured £100,000 to produce. The Yaris GRMN is arguably the Aygo’s spiritual successor.