We love hot hatches in this country, and it’s easy to see why. Strong performance, small enough to deliver agile handling, and compact enough to offer sensible running costs. Add in the practicality of the hatchback offering easy access to the boot, and usually some eye-catching style, and you have a winning combination.
But which is the winner of these winners? We find our top half dozen, and they all cost under £5000 yet offer excellent value for money.
1: Renault Clio Renault Sport 197
Real example: 2008 Renault Sport 197 (62,000 miles): £5,000
Renault’s Clio was a roost ruler for a very long time. For our budget we can get a slightly older car, which in Sport 197 form equals the most fun you’ll have here for the money. The potent engine is matched by a fabulously agile chassis. Yet all of that is matched by a comfy, practical, well-equipped cabin so it’s a fairly sensible car as well. Try to find a stock car that hasn’t had any bodged repairs and you’ll be laughing for quite a long time.
2: Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk5
Real example: 2006 Golf GTI 3dr (74,000 miles): £4,995
Well, you can’t have a hot hatch test without a Golf GTI can you? It’s practically a legal requirement. The Mk 5 delivers one of the most rounded experiences you’ll find in hot hatch heaven. Some might take that to mean it’s not the best in any particular area, and there is some truth in that. But what it means is that the Golf GTI is one of the most fully rounded cars out there, incredibly so for a hot hatch. It goes and handles well, is comfy, quiet, economical, well made and still one of the most stylish cars out there. As with the Skoda Octavia vRS (see below) the auto gearboxes can be a problem, and so can high oil consumption.
3: Mini Cooper S
Real example: 2007 Cooper S (63,000 miles): £4,824
Look at that, a Mini Cooper S within our budget, with sensible mileage too. The styling both outside and in the cabin is full of character, while the engine and chassis combination delivers all the fun you’d hope for in a hot hatch. The boot is small and rear space isn’t a whole lot better, but it’s a lot of classy car for your money. Just watch out for timing belt changes, and ensure oil changes have been carried out on schedule.
4: Honda Civic Type R
Real example: 2008 Civic Type R GT (70,000 miles): £4,995
This is a hot hatch with an assertive, rev-happy engine that leaves you in no doubt of its sporting credentials. First and foremost, this is a driver’s car, and that driver will enjoy every hard-driven minute. Passengers may notice more the firm ride, slightly cramped rear and rather fussy cabin but, frankly, the driver won’t be listening. Reliability is absolutely rock-solid too, so there’s no reason to stop, let alone slow down.
5: Skoda Octavia vRS
Real example: 2008 Octavia vRS (73,000 miles): £4,381
You can have this as an estate version but this hatchback offers acres of room in the rear anyway. This is a very practical and a bit larger hatchback, so it would be perfect if you had a growing family. The 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is potent enough, and works smoothly with VW’s dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Things to watch for include high oil consumption and problems with the auto box, otherwise fill your boots.
6: Suzuki Swift Sport
Real example: 2008 Swift Sport (63,000 miles): £3,490
Suzuki keeps it simple with the Swift Sport. It’s light, agile and has only a reasonable amount of power at 123bhp. However, keep it revving, and this is lightweight, responsive fun in a handsome looking car. The gearbox should be very smooth so make sure it is. Other things to look for centre on the unusual tyre size so make sure you know how much they cost to replace and where you can find them.