In a world where supercars are becoming so powerful that you can barely unleash them on a public road and fast yet heavy electric cars are slowly becoming the norm, sometimes all us car fans want is to jump in something built purely for driving thrills and take it to our favourite section of b-road.
That car is the hot hatchback and for the past 45 years it’s been an affordable way to get behind the wheel of a proper performance car. And 2020 has been a superb year for the hot hatch, seeing the introduction of a limited-run version of a front-wheel drive hero and a once-in-a-decade rally special.
So here they are, the best hot hatches of 2020.
Nobody’s driven a production version of the Hyundai i20 N just yet, but given that it was announced in 2020 and could be a real threat to the Ford Fiesta ST now that the Renault Clio RS is no longer a thing, it makes our top five list.
And by studying the numbers, it’s clear Hyundai has the Fiesta ST in its sights. The i20 N’s 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine churns out 201bhp, some 4bhp more than the ST. And while its 275Nm torque figure is down on the Ford, the i20 N is 92kg lighter than the five-door Fiesta ST at 1,190kg.
Remarkably, the i20 N is actually 0.2 seconds slower to 62mph than the Fiesta at 6.7 seconds, but it should feel pretty much identical in reality and, possibly, a bit more fun in the corners thanks to its lighter kerb weight.
Let’s not forget that Hyundai’s N division is headed up by former BMW M boss Albert Biermann, resulting in the superb i30 N. With prices set to start at £20,000, the i20 N could give the Fiesta ST a real headache.
Let’s face it, crossovers are here to stay whether we like it or not. But think of it like this, they’re essentially hatchbacks with a taller ride height and a bit more bodywork. Take the Ford Puma, which is essentially a Fiesta on stilts. And given that the Fiesta ST is arguably the benchmark hot hatch of this generation, Ford decided to bring some of that magic to the bigger hatchback for 2020.
The Puma ST is a hot hatch of the modern era. It comes with the same 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine as the Fiesta ST and churns out an identical power output at 197bhp, though torque gets a slight bump from 290Nm to 320Nm to handle the extra weight. The added torque allows the Puma ST to jump from 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds, 0.2 seconds slower than the Fiesta ST.
For the most part, the Puma ST replicates the hot hatch formula well. It’s great in the corners and the engine is far punchier than the figures suggest. It isn’t perfect, as the ride can be a tad firm, but if the crossover is the future, then the Puma ST proves they’re capable of being just as fun as their supermini siblings.
The Honda Civic Type R is quite possibly the closest thing you’ll find to a road-going BTCC car. It’s got big wings that actually work, wider wheel arches and a bonnet scoop, but there’s still enough room inside for a family of five.
Of course, the FK8-generation Civic Type R has been with us for some time now, but Honda updated the car for 2020 and released a new, limited edition model called the, er, Limited Edition. Differences to the regular, facelifted FK8 include a weight saving of 47kg courtesy of lighter wheels and the removal of the infotainment system, plus a reworked suspension set-up and a bespoke Sunlight Yellow paint scheme.
It’ll come as no surprise that it’s brilliant, taking everything that makes the standard FK8 a great driver’s car – such as superb body control and traction – and turning it up to 11. That all comes at a cost, though. The Limited Edition comes in at £39,995, nearly £10,000 more than the regular car. Not that you can buy one new, anyway, because all 20 examples coming to the UK have been sold.
Hot on the heels of the new Volkswagen Golf is an all-new GTI, the eighth iteration of the hot hatchback that started it all. And it’ll come as little surprise that it fulfils the GTI brief perfectly. It’s pretty quick, comfortable and is loaded with all the tech you could want.
But let’s cut to the chase. The new GTI gets an updated version of the old car’s four-cylinder turbo engine, albeit with a slight power increase from 227bhp to 242bhp while torque comes in at 370Nm. Naturally, power is sent to the front wheels either through a DCT gearbox or a six-speed manual.
On a section of b-road the new GTI is superb, dampening out all the harsh bumps in the road while offering plenty of grip to give you the confidence to crack on. Sure, it’s portliness means it’s not nearly as fun to drive as most of the cars on our list, but if you’re after a performance car that isn’t as shouty as the Type R and can function as an everyday commuter or family car, then the GTI reigns supreme.
All the cars on our list are spectacular hot hatches, but one stands above the rest. It could only be the Toyota GR Yaris, a car designed from the ground up to give the Japanese car giant an advantage in the World Rally Championship.
The GR Yaris gets a new, 1.6-litre three-cylinder turbo engine producing an impressive 257bhp and 360Nm of torque. In true rally fashion, it’s sent to all-four wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox and, if you’re as geeky as we are, you can change the torque distribution between the front and rear wheels on the fly.
It’s one of the most enjoyable hot hatches we’ve driven in years, feeling perfectly suited to British roads and always up for a good hoon. True, it’s expensive at £30,000, but the GR Yaris really is a one-in-a-decade car that we’ll remember for years to come.