Currently reading: Britain's best affordable driver's car: how our hot hatch mega-test works
Eight hot hatches line up to contest the annual showdown previously been won by, among others, the Ford Fiesta ST200 and Mazda MX-5

On road and track, they go head to head in a bid to prove they’re the best car sensible money can buy.

For several reasons, this year’s Britain’s Best Affordable Driver’s Car competition had to be done a little differently from previous ones. In past years, the test we simply know as Junior Handling Day (to save us from giving it its not-so-punchy full title around the office) has been fought out between the best new driver’s cars available below a given price threshold. The test’s mission is always to identify the most entertaining new driver’s car that not a lot of money can buy. Historically, the price limit has been set at £25,000 and £30,000 – and we’ve given the gong to the Toyota GT86, Ford Fiesta ST200, Mazda MX-5 and others. 

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But this year, the new cars on offer farther up the price scale were too compelling to ignore. So we’ve elected to worry less about list price and to focus much more closely on the cost that defines what most of us can and can’t afford to drive: monthly outlay on 
a typical PCP deal. Meanwhile, the arrival of a brand-new Honda Civic Type R, an equally new Audi RS3 Sportback and nothing new of note with a driven rear axle and a sub- £50k price made it plain that 2017 should be the year we focus on the affordable performance car’s leading vehicle type: the hot hatchback. Although we’ve included cars here that are much more expensive than those from previous years,
 we haven’t included anything you couldn’t make yours for a typical trade-in and monthly outlay of around £100 a week. Most of the cars about which you’re shortly to read will cost considerably less than that and among them are some of the greatest affordable driver’s cars of the past few years as well as this year’s debutants, tested on road and track. 

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We hope the results, which you can read on the site, 
are as much fun to read as they were in the making and that their recommendations inspire you. 

The opening rounds

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Audi RS3 vs Mercedes-AMG A45

Volkswagen Golf R vs Ford Focus RS

The Judges:  

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MATT PRIOR - editor at large

Has the experience, gravitas and facial hair of a tester who’s been there and done it all before. Would appreciate it if you’d nip along to watch the videos he lovingly made between the many cups of coffee and Twixes. 

MATT SAUNDERS - road test editor

Booked the track, booked the 
digs, bought the lunch, set the lap times and survived almost entirely unscathed. Also the man with the job of writing the final showdown section of this test and ensuring everybody else filed their copy on time. Pity him. 

DAN PROSSER - contributing writer

Showed up on time, drove well and acted with professionalism. Apart from that, fitted in a treat on his Junior Handling Day debut. Claimed growing up near Llandow circuit gave him no lap time advantage. Hmm. 

NIC CACKETT - special correspondent

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Arrived just in time to go to the pub at the end of day one, hardly drove at all and acted the fool whenever possible but our rate of snack consumption wouldn’t have been the same without him. Also managed not to fall off the track — unlike the road test editor. 

MAURO CALO - special correspondent

Autocar’s long-time stunt driving specialist turned video presenter and ‘bantz’ provider. Made sure
 we were all scrupulously fair to the powerful, driftable, rear-driven BMW. Responsible for the most loonatic driving evident in most of the photos. 

Read more:

Britain's best affordable driver's car 2016 - the track test

Britain's best affordable driver's car 2016 - the road test

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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Lapps 2 September 2017

Drivers Cars?

If it is really a 'drivers car' comparison why no GT86 or M2?

Instead we get what are admittedly great cars, but with huge grip levels and limited adjustability. I smell another Autocar/VAG stitch up similar to the RS3 / 140i 'comparison test'. (I doubt we will ever see a S3 / M2 comparison in Autocar, but the price difference would be skewed by about the same amount.)

Let's see what the final outcome is!