The seven best affordable hot hatches

31st August 2023
Russell Campbell

A hot hatch is ideal if you're taking your first steps on the performance car ladder, or if you want a cheap track car you can use and abuse. Here, we've assembled a motley crew of some of the most keenly priced available, with prices starting from less than £2,000. We've got everything from superchargers to silky six-pots, LSDs, and turbos, so keep reading as we explore the charming world of the cheap hot hatch. 


1. R53 Mini Cooper S

Once considered the BMW abomination of a British four-wheel institution (by some, not us), the R53 Cooper S is now a classic. While some will never get over the BMW Mini's supersized body compared to the original, others loved the R53's train-on-rails cornering, thanks to its independent rear suspension and retro styling that time has been incredibly kind to.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of the R53 is its engine. The Mini will gleefully pull to the redline accompanied by the novelty whine of the supercharger and the raucous rasp of its dinky, twin-exit centre exhaust. Inside, you get the same retro theme as the outside, and while it's smaller than your average hot hatch, it's a handy load lugger with the back seats down. Prices start from less than £1,500, although we'd pay double for a good one.


2. Renaultsport Clio

The third generation of the Renaultsport Clio had a challenging task. With a bigger body and not much more power than the beloved model it replaced, on paper, it wasn't much quicker – something journalists keenly highlighted at the time – and it also did without the original’s cheeky looks.

However, the bigger body brought structural integrity that the old car couldn't match, allowing the third-generation car to make the most of its sorted chassis. As well as having stiff suspension, the Clio nicked its four-pot, Brembo front brakes and subframe from the Renaultsport Megane of the time and also got a low-ratio six-speed gearbox and a diffuser that produced 40kg of downforce at "very high speeds". The result was probably one of the most sorted track cars you can buy on a budget of less than £2,500.


3. BMW 130i M Sport

While it's easy to have your head turned by the power of the later BMW M135i, ignore the 130i at your peril. Sampling a BMW straight-six in naturally aspirated form only accentuates its creamy power delivery, lusty low-down torque and a progressive top end that demands you to use the higher echelons of the rev counter.

The rear-wheel drive 130i has a handling balance that no other car on this list can match, and its chassis never feels overawed by the power on offer – like its turbocharged alternative can. Okay, so the 130i's softish setup makes it more of a GT than a GTI, but that suits its big-lung engine, and, with prices for the car starting from £5,000, you’ll have cash left over to spend on the wide variety of parts available on the aftermarket. 


4. Honda Civic Type R

The FN2 Honda Civic Type R was another car that filled the big shoes vacated by a much-loved predecessor – the EP3. The FN2 had nearly identical power to the EP3 and ditched its independent rear suspension – to the horror of motoring journalists – in favour of extra boot space.

Time's a great healer, though, and now the FN2's sharper looks and lower price (they start from under £2,500) make it the more appealing of the two. Nowadays, the FN2's much-publicised deficiencies seem over-egged. Its rock-solid chassis makes it formidably capable in corners, and its engine delivers the kind of VTEC rush that, sadly, will soon be long forgotten.


5. Volkswagen Scirocco R

When looking for a fast, easy-to-live-with hot hatch, it's easy to sleepwalk into the hands of the Golf R. There's no reason why you shouldn't, but the Volkswagen Scirocco R is an appealing alternative. It's more interesting to look at than the Golf and gives very little away in terms of practicality, while it always felt older on the inside, that's less of an issue now.

The best parts of the Scirocco are the parts it shares in common with the Golf. Its turbocharged engine delivers a broad band of torque that makes it very usable, and while the chassis isn't the sportiest here, it makes the Scirocco an easy car to live with every day, albeit with a severe turn of pace.

While the Golf R featured four-wheel drive, the Scirocco sent all its power through the front wheels, making it a more challenging car to extract the best from next to its fire-and-forget sibling. Prices start from around £7,500.


6. Renaultsport Megane

The big-booted Megane Renault Sport (based on the second-generation Megane) got off to a slow start when it launched in 2004 but was gently improved through its life to become the hot hatch to have of its era – culminating in the Perspex-glassed R26.2 winning Evo Car of The Year in 2008. Sadly, our budget won't stretch to one of those beauties, but £6,000 will buy you 230 F1 R26, which has many of its esteemed sibling’s qualities.

Chief among those is a mechanical limited-slip differential that means the Megane's punchy turbocharged engine can haul you out of corners in a way that's highly addictive. Excellent body control and powerful brakes add up to a competent machine, which makes the interior's heavily bolstered Recaros all the more welcome.


7. Renaultsport Twingo 133

Glaringly, the Renaultsport Twingo 133 is the third Renault on our list, which we’ll make no excuses for – it gives you an idea of the firm's hot hatch dominance in the 00s and 2010s. Arguably, we've saved the best until last because Twingos in (very) clean condition start from less than £3,500. What does that buy you? Well, you get a car that holds the road like a sucker fish and a 1.6-litre engine that revels in being revved to within an inch of its tiny life.

Chassis adjustability – a quality all the Renault Sports here have – is the defining feature of the Twingo, allowing you to choose between neat lap times or lairy lift-off oversteer, making it the ideal starter hot hatch (and a significantly more serious machine than the likeable Fiat Panda 100hp). The super stiff setup of Cup models makes them ideal for track work.

  • List

  • Mini

  • Cooper S

  • Renaultsport

  • Clio

  • Megane

  • Twingo

  • BMW

  • 130i

  • Volkswagen

  • Scirocco

  • Honda

  • Civic

  • Type R

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