A hot hatchback is the perfect compromise – a sports car with room for the family and some flat-pack furniture in the boot. We’ve picked five of the best on a budget of £10k.
The idea of dropping a tuned-up, powerful engine into a small family car was pioneered by the 1961 Mini Cooper, but the Volkswagen Golf GTI of 1976 was, strictly speaking, the first ‘hot hatchback’. Those VW engineers who built the 1.6-litre, 100bhp ‘Sport Golf’ had little idea that their after-hours project would spawn an entirely new class of car – one that inspires enthusiasm and splits opinion perhaps more than any other.
In the 1980s, the success of the hot hatch also became its downfall. Suddenly, high-performance driving thrills were within reach of the average motorist, and insurance premiums shot skyward as hot hatches became the transport of choice for boy racers and joyriders across Britain.
Fortunately, the hot hatch has now come of age, and today’s cars are safer, more practical and – yes – more powerful than ever before. Insurance costs are still steep, but shouldn’t be out of reach for drivers over 25 years old. Our top five list looks at used cars for around £10k, a couple of which (the Seat and Volvo) are still current models. Whichever hot hatch you choose, you’ll get all the benefits of a family car with driving excitement to spare.
1. Volkswagen Golf GTI
The Mk5 GTI of 2005 was a welcome return to form after the insipid Mk4, with pace and poise that befitted its iconic badge. Build quality was also much improved, making the Mk5 Golf one of our Best Buy used cars. Under the GTI’s bonnet is a 197bhp turbocharged petrol engine mated to six-speed manual gearbox – or optional DSG semi-automatic. The 0-60mph sprint takes 7.2 seconds (6.9 secs in the DSG) and claimed fuel economy is 35.3mpg, although we managed just 31.7mpg in our test. For maximum practicality, go for the more popular five-door version.
2. Seat Leon Cupra
The Leon is effectively a rebodied VW Golf – but that’s no bad thing. In fact, with an extra 40bhp from its 2.0-litre turbo engine, the 0-60mph sprint takes just 6.4 seconds and the Leon tops out at 153mph. That makes it both faster and cheaper than the VW. So why doesn’t the Cupra win here? Well, for our money the Golf’s nicer interior, better Euro NCAP safety score (the Leon only gets four stars), higher resale values and DSG gearbox push the Seat into second place.
3. Ford Focus ST
With all the hype about the full-fat Focus RS, it’s easy to overlook the semi-skimmed ST. However, with 221bhp from a raucous 2.5-litre turbocharged engine, the ST is still a pukka fast Ford. Top speed is 150mph and 0- 60mph takes 6.8 seconds – that’s just 0.6 seconds slower than the iconic Escort RS Cosworth of the 1990s.Being a Focus has its advantages, too. Britain’s best-seller has a good reliability record and low servicing costs. But beware the ST’s voracious appetite for unleaded; many owners struggle to top 25mpg.
4. Mazda 3 MPS
Having 256bhp going through its front tyres makes the turbocharged Mazda3 MPS as powerful – and as unruly – as an angry rottweiler. On a smooth road its 2.3-litre engine will blast you to 60mph in 6.1 seconds and on to a limited 155mph. The first generation MPS was only on sale for one year, from January 2007 to January 2008, so used examples are rare. There’s plenty of standard kit, including part-leather sports seats, Bose stereo and climate control air-con, but car tax is a top-rate £425 a year.
5. BMW 130i
BMW’s 130i has two pretty persuasive USPs. Firstly, it’s the only medium hatchback with rear-wheel drive. And second, there’s that 265bhp 3.0-litre straight-six engine; it delivers 0-60mph in just 6.1 seconds and a (limited) top speed of 155mph, transforming the 1 Series from humble hatchback to a cut-price M3. An update in May 2007 saw a three-door model introduced, the base-spec SE version phased out, and all 1 Series fitted with BMW’s fuel-saving Efficient Dynamics technology.
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