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The five best new hot hatches you need to drive

Check out these five ultra-practical, track-ready, solutions to the one-car-garage.

2023 Honda Civic Type RImage credit: Honda

Why conform to society and get a boring SUV or sedan when you can get a rowdy, obnoxious hot hatch that screams in the face of normality? These bad boys hit that need for ultimate speed while still being practical enough to live with, such as grocery shopping and everyday errands. Trust me, even your grandmother will enjoy driving a hot hatch. Convinced? Here is a list of the five best hot hatches you need to look at for your next car. 

Volkswagen Golf GTI

What’s hot?

  • Practical, premium, and economical, yet with all the performance you need
  • Easy to modify, but the car is almost perfect to begin with 

What’s not?

  • Creature comfort controls are terrible due to being capacitive touch and motion-activated only
  • Reportedly diminished build quality versus prior Mk7 generation

Join the original hot hatch club with the latest eighth generation of the famous Golf GTI. With it being the original hot hatch, the instant street cred you get from it makes it a definite head-turner. The GTI is the perfect blend of sportiness and practicality which is a winner in my opinion.  

Volkswagen has perfected the inline four-banger, front-wheel drive setup with the GTI. The current eighth-generation GTI comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged EA888 engine that produces 241 horsepower. It may not sound like the big numbers you find on a muscle car. However, the GTI utilizes every one of those ponies to maximize the driving experience while still being reasonably economical on gas. You can either get a six-speed manual for spirited driving, or you can remove the third pedal and be generic with a seven-speed automatic gearbox, which will unfortunately be the only gearbox choice going into 2024. But some argue the DSG dual-clutch suites the mature character of the GTI better, anyway. If you want more, you can always look at the GTI’s big brother, the Golf R (see the end of the list).

Even though the GTI is a fast hot hatch, you can still happily use this German piece of art as a daily runaround. With four doors, a spacious boot space, and a premium interior, you would not want to travel in anything you have besides the GTI.  

With over eight different generations of GTIs you can choose from, you can get the technological marvel of the latest generation, or you can get a classic GTI that has that period-correct obnoxious feel to it. 

Honda Civic Type R (also by extension, Acura Integra Type S)

What’s hot?

  • Has that good ol’ Honda reliability and heritage
  • Still a great daily driver but can still outperform most things in its class on road or track

What’s not?

  • Mature styling may be considered quite bland compared to previous generations 
  • No automatic gearbox for people who can’t drive a manual (wah-wah, cry about it) 

You may think a Honda Civic is an old person’s car, but when you see the Type R badge on a Honda, you know this car is something special. By extension, as does its mechanically identical twin, the Acura Integra Type S, which we’ve had the privilege of reviewing here on the site. The Type R and Type S twins are the Japan giant’s answers to the Western leviathans, such as the Golf R, the Audi S3, the Euro-only Renault Megane RS, or the now-defunct Focus RS, and it stands just as tall if not completely towering over them in on-road and on-track performance.

The latest generation of Type R boasts a turbocharged K20C1 inline-four that produces 315 horsepower (320 in Integra guise) through a six-manual transmission, which you’ll definitely feel thanks to short, snappy gearing and a bounty of torque that feels as though it pulls all the way to redline. However, for drivers who don’t understand how the third pedal functions, you’re out of luck. With great speed comes great responsibility, and the Twins are aimed at delivering ultimate performance and purism… or as pure as you can go in a car sold in the 2020s.

The Type R has a bright red carpet and seats, giving the Type R that extra appeal as no other car in the category has that extra pop. The Type S gets less aggressive, leather-wrapped seating in more, uh, tasteful colors for those who aren’t the biggest fan of the R’s hotboi sensibilities. But, while the Type R is a rowdy machine, it still offers refinement for the everyday grind while still stretching the idea of what a hot hatch is. Come on, who doesn’t want a Type R as their daily driver? I do!

Toyota GR Corolla

What’s hot?

  • The all-wheel-drive system comes out of a rally car 
  • The pocket rocket three-cylinder can outperform many other engines for its size 

What’s not?

  • Odd exhaust tone due to it being a small inline-three
  • The lovely six-speed manual also gatekeeps those not fluent in the way of the third pedal

When someone states that they want to get a Toyota Corolla, you may wonder what has caused their soul to be sucked away to want such a pedestrian car. But you are forgetting one of the best cars coming from Japan right now: the GR Corolla. This rally-engineered car for the road can trace its roots back to the World Rallying Championship with the homologation special Toyota GR Yaris, and who doesn’t want to drive around a roadgoing rally car?

You could call the GR Corolla a spiritual successor to the almighty Subura Impreza WRX STI and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, both rally-bred specials that have bit the dust within the past decade, as the GR is a purposed-bred rallyist made commercially available. It may sound strange to say that this AWD monster only has a 1.6-liter three-cylinder turbo engine, yet this pocket rocket of an engine produces a whopping 300 horsepower. That is a mind-blowing 187.5 horsepower per liter! For reference, that’s roughly the same horsepower per liter as a Ford GT (188.5 horsepower per liter as of the current engine revisions).  

That 300-horsepower figure is transferred to all four wheels through a manual six-speed transmission. The GR Corolla only comes with manual controls, such as the gearbox, and surprisingly, it has a manual handbrake. Oh, the implications that carries. What I appreciate from Toyota is that they haven’t included those annoying electronic handbrakes that don’t allow any of those sneaky skids and fun activities. Because, you know. Rally car stuff.

Mini Cooper JCW

What’s hot?

  • The unique styling of the Cooper will make you stand out 
  • The excellent handling can still outperform many other cars 

What’s not?

  • They are expensive for what you get 
  • Not many dealers, so getting spares can be a nuisance

The European’s answer to a hot hatch does not disappoint. Sure, it may not be the fastest or most popular option for many people, but it should be. Why? It’s because the John Cooper Works Minis handle like go-karts and goes like stink, even if Mini is more “Medium” nowadays. Thankfully, that mediumness translates to a somewhat spacious cabin, which can be brought way into the realm of upscale with boujee interior materials and tech packages, albeit at a steep cost.

The BMW-sourced B48 four-cylinder of the JCW Mini Cooper produces a respectable 228 horsepower that goes to the front wheels through its electronically-controlled front differential. So you can still lay elevens, even if it’s just with the front tires. A six-speed manual is standard, but a snappy Aisin eight-speed auto is available for those who want to live out any sort of World Touring Car Championship fantasy. But if you’re more of a zip-around-town, wind-in-your-hair sort of person, you’ll be excited to know this is also the only entry here with a droptop convertible variant.

Fun little easter egg! A very clever little styling cue on most of the new Minis is the rear lighting. If you pay close attention to the taillights, you will see the Union Jack flag, where the Mini brand originated and where they’re still assembled to this day.

Volkswagen Golf R

What’s hot?

  • The all-wheel-drive system is excellent. 
  • Still practical with four doors and a spacious boot. 

What’s not?

  • It is very expensive for the experience you get 
  • It has the same infotainment issues that the Golf GTI has 

I can not make a list of the best hot hatches you can get without talking about the Golf R. The big brother of the Golf GTI can be seen as the current king of the hot hatches you can get in the US car market, with 315 horsepower going to all four wheels, not like the front-drive-only GTI. 

Some people may see the Golf R as hatchback-ified Audi S3… And it is, as they both share the same Volkswagen Group MQB platform and EA888 engine. You get similar interior quality with a more practical central screen layout, plus all the same performance in a more practical body. So while the Audi S3 may carry that prestigious badge, you could argue the Golf R is the stronger value. And that’s a great way to look at it since the Golf R’s sticker price mirrors the Civic Type R, yet the R lacks its track-focused purism, positioning itself as a more well-rounded alternative should you find its peers too hardcore.

You can view the Golf R as the ultimate canyon carver money can buy, as the all-wheel drive system can shift the power to each wheel when it is needed. Making the handling of the GTI almost the best there is on the market and a car that you need to get behind the wheel of!

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