If you’re after the Swiss Army Knife of high performance cars, then look no further than the hot hatch. Blending pace, poise and practicality with a welcome dollop of affordability, these do-it-all adrenaline pumps are hard to beat.
The recipe is fairly simple - take a compact family hatchback and drop in a bigger, more powerful motor before uprating the suspension and brakes to cope. If you’re doing it properly you’ll also want to add some natty body kit parts, not to mention the odd red stripe. The result is a car that can slip as easily into your life as its less muscular siblings, yet can turn that frown upside down when you take the long route home after a testing day at the office.
Of course, there’s nothing new about the idea of the hot hatch, but nearly half a century after VW popularised the genre with its Golf GTI (although long defunct firms Simca and Autobianchi claimed they had the idea first), the pocket rocket concept remains as popular as ever, with many brands having a superheated family runaround on their books.
However, increasingly strict emissions regulations mean the full-size hot hatch (if you’re looking for smaller supermini-based models, then we’ve got them covered here) is changing. Internal combustion still rules the roost, but there’s a definite sense that these petrol-powered machines are the last of the breed, and as if to prove the point there’s an entry in our list that runs on electrons rather than super unleaded.
As a result, there’s never been a better time to buy one of these quick and versatile machines before they’re legislated out of existence. The question is, which one do you pick? Well, read on as we reveal our top 10 hot hatches.
We’re arguably stretching the definition of ‘full-sized’ for the car that tops this list, but the Toyota GR Yaris is so far removed from the supermini with which it shares a silhouette that we reckon that’s okay. Sure it’s not as roomy and practical as others lower down this ranking, but in terms of scorching performance, handling elan and pure sporting intent, few come close to matching this jewel-like Japanese machine.
Developed initially as a rally homologation special, the Yaris GR was almost dead on arrival when a WRC rule change effectively meant there was no longer any need for such a car. In fact, in the past a car like this would have been pushed into the corner and forgotten about, but current Toyota boss Akio Toyoda is a proper petrolhead and couldn’t see this motorsport-inspired pocket rocket left to rot. We can only imagine what it cost to develop this bespoke piece of high performance art, but the brand’s renewed commitment to delivering desirable driver’s cars meant that it was clearly worth rummaging down the back of the sofa for the extra cash.
Underneath its steroid-ally enhanced body, the Yaris has a 1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine making 257bhp, and a four-wheel drive system (with optional mechanical torque-vectoring diffs if you want them) that makes the car capable of 0-62mph in just 5.5sec. It also has a chassis and suspension developed with input from Toyota Gazoo Racing's WRC team that is perfectly tuned for fast B-road driving in just about any weather.