Forget the boy-racer stereotypes – like their owners hot-hatches have matured and now offer more thrills than ever with looks that won’t scare the neighbours. Here's the best on offer for the more mature driver.
7 best hot hatches for grown‑ups
Mercedes’ AMG performance division burst into the hot-hatch market with the original A45, all popping exhausts, pumped up bodywork and – if optioned – aero to rival Lewis Hamilton’s F1 car. Impressive but hardly under the radar. Second time around and, while the new A45 is as wild as ever, there’s a more understated understudy in the shape of the A35, based on the all-new A-Class. All things relative, mind you. It’s still got over 300hp and all-wheel-drive for Golf R levels of performance. Pass on the optional aero and, thanks to the onboard tech, you’ve basically got a hot-hatch S-Class.
Peugeot 308 GTI
Once a hot-hatch king, Peugeot was out of the game for pretty much a generation. The criminally underrated 308 GTI is proof, however, it’s rediscovered its ability to build a defiantly French hot-hatch. Recent trends have resulted in an era of drilled-down track wannabes with stiff suspension, mad aero, aggressive looks and obsession with horsepower and lap time one-upmanship. But the 308 GTI takes a different approach, combining traditional ride comfort with a more relaxed and understated vibe. It’s not the most powerful or fastest by the numbers. But it has motorsport pedigree in its trick Alcon brakes and limited-slip differential and a delightful, light-footed balance that brings back memories of Peugeot’s hot-hatch greats, albeit with more grown-up and mature looks.
Renault Megane R.S. 280
Renault has pushed the hot hatch boundaries, the last three generations of Megane R.S. taking lap record after lap record at the Nürburgring and inspiring something of an arms race among rivals. The £70K Trophy-R takes that to new extremes, the Cup and Trophy on which it is based similarly hardcore in mindset. Which makes the ‘entry-level’ version all the more interesting. In sober grey it looks surprisingly understated, and yet unmistakeably potent. And its relatively more comfortable chassis is something you could actually live with day-to-day. The fanboys can still go for teeth-rattling suspension and Liquid Yellow paint. But there’s a more mature – and in some ways more satisfying – car there, lurking in the shadows of the range.
Like the Megane, the Hyundai i30N combines hardcore credibility with the option to downplay the looks by simply avoiding the brighter colour options. In its base, non-Performance spec the i30N is considerably less attention-seeking, helped by the fact Hyundai is a new player in the hot-hatch world and outsiders won’t associate the badge with go-faster aspirations as the they would more established players. It’s also cracking value. Which is good news for those who want to enjoy the drive without attracting attention. And enjoy it you most certainly will, Hyundai’s recruitment of BMW M’s chief engineer and his insistence on thousands of miles of Nürburgring testing resulting in a potent hot-hatch with range and depth to its character. Simultaneously both hardcore and usable, beneath the downplayed looks lurks a proper driver’s car of real pedigree.
SEAT Leon Cupra
The Volkswagen Golf GTI and R built on the same platform as the SEAT Leon Cupra are no longer in production, given there’s an all-new Golf coming on stream. Forever the bridesmaid to its more prestigious German relatives, this could be the Cupra’s chance, brand politics dictating it didn’t tread on the Golf’s toes now playing in its favour if you want a seriously fast hatchback without attracting the wrong type of attention. A recent makeover for SEAT’s performance Cupra range has resulted in a classy, understated look but under it the Leon keeps the best of the donated VW bits, including a punchy 290hp engine, DSG dual-clutch gearbox and the sophisticated torque-distributing differential to put that power to the front wheels with maximum effect.
Audi S3 Sportback
The fact even bog-standard Audis are now dressed up with S line trim bits and big wheels simply makes the S3’s attractive ability to hide in plain sight all the more satisfying, especially when you consider it’s effectively a posh Golf R. The type of folk who think hot hatches need to look as wild as a Civic Type R wouldn’t give it a second glance but this is still a 300PS, four-wheel-drive hot hatch with five-door practicality and looks understated enough to be near-as invisible. Whisper it but in some ways it’s actually nicer to drive (and less likely to attract the wrong sort of attention) than its more powerful and overt RS3 cousin.
Ford Focus ST
Traditionally fast Fords have been about as far removed from the idea of mature hot hatches as it’s possible to go, the ‘Asbo Orange’ associated with a previous generation of Focus ST neatly summing up a laddish image dating back to hot Escorts of previous generations. You can still buy the new Focus ST in suitably lairy Tangerine Scream paint. In all other respects this latest fast Ford is a more grown-up proposition than any that’s gone before. But with its 280hp engine, expertly tuned chassis, active differential to put it all to the road and Ford Performance’s expert team of fast car fans behind it there remains the beating heart of a proper hot hatch.
Join our motorsport community
Get closer to motorsport at Goodwood! Join the GRRC Fellowship to be first in the queue for event tickets, to attend the GRRC-only Members' Meeting and to enjoy year-round, exclusive benefits.
Sign up for Motorsport news
Stay in the know with our newsletters that contain all the latest news, stories and event information.