When it comes to the balance of performance, cost and daily usability, no other type of performance car does it better than the not-so-humble, full-sized hot hatchback.
The idea of taking a regular family hatchback and turning it into a performance car is now time-honoured and has become hugely popular with buyers, especially in the UK.
Volkswagen assumed ownership of the concept with the Mk1 Golf GTI of 1976, although students of the segment will tell you that the hot hatchback niche was founded earlier by either Simca or Autobianchi. Whoever went there first, most manufacturers now have one of these fundamentally enjoyable cars in their line-up.
The best hot front-driver of the moment isn’t such a financial stretch when you consider the price of some of the other cars in this list. The Honda Civic Type R is a seriously involving effort from Honda. It gives you grip when you need it, handling adjustability when you go looking for it, plenty of control feedback, a spectacular turbocharged engine and outstanding practicality, too.
That combination yields sensational driver appeal that invites you to exploit everything this car has to offer as often as you can get away with.
A less aggressive-looking track-biased car with a greater focus on cabin quality than hardcore dynamism might have been a bigger seller, but it wouldn’t have been half as compelling to drive. Nor would it be the most exciting hot hatch that can currently be bought.
Let the following statement sink in: the Mercedes-AMG A45 S is a four-wheel-drive hot hatchback that costs more than £50,000 and has a 2.0-litre four-pot that makes 416bhp and 369lb ft. Not only does that mean Affalterbach’s most rabid hot hatch has the most powerful series production four-cylinder motor on the planet, it also has a motor with a higher specific output than that of a Ferrari 488 Pista. It is, in a sense, utterly ridiculous.
Be that as it may, there’s still a phenomenal (not to mention usable) driver’s car lying beneath all its wings, fins and flares. Straight-line performance is undoubtedly immense, but more of a surprise is how well-mannered its complex, steroidal driveline is when simply tooling about. Body control is rock solid at speed, but there’s genuine compliance in the chassis too. Grip, meanwhile, is outstanding; and the accuracy, weighting and textural feedback from its electrically-assisted steering rack is easily up there with the best in class.