Drive enough cars and you start to realise there are few that can handle every aspect of motoring without some gaping compromise, but hot hatches get very close. Ben Griffin rounds up the best of 2015.
Think about it. Sports ars are immense fun to own, but hugely expensive. SUVs are practical, but often dull. Then there are saloons, but high performance versions will cost you a pretty penny.
No wonder many of us go for a hot hatch – and never has there been a better time to take the plunge. The latest generation are faster, more efficient and more practical. Check out the Recombu Cars favourites.
BMW M135i (rear-wheel drive stupidity)
Love or hate the looks, the BMW M135i is a modern classic. Not only does it offer mind-bending performance and one of the best engine notes in the BMW range, courtesy of a 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo, all 326bhp and 450Nm goes to the rear wheels for maximum hooliganism. The steering is a bit numb, but chuck this thing into a corner and fun is guaranteed. At 35.3mpg and 188g/km of CO2, it’s not too expensive to run either, though the boot space (360 litres) is rather average.
VW Golf R (best all-rounder)
Arguably pick of the bunch is the four-wheel drive Golf R, mainly because it’s blisteringly quick, reassuringly practical and looks much like a standard Golf. We find ourselves choosing the M135i with our hearts and the Golf R with our heads because the latter is the more sensible choice. Well, as sensible as a 296bhp Golf that hits 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds can be. Not only that, it offers 39.8mpg and 159g/km of CO2, bettering the Bimmer, but the boot is smaller at 343 litres.
Audi RS 3 Sportback (for those who crave performance)
At a smidge under £40,000, the Audi RS 3 Sportback faces stiff competition. It shares the same underlying platform as the Golf R but has 362bhp generated by a 2.5-litre five-cylinder TFSI engine and can send 100 per cent of power to the back wheels instead of the R’s 50 per cent. Not so long ago supercars had that sort of power. 0-62mph takes 4.3 seconds, which means it will embarrass most cars, but it’s also eerily quiet and smooth when it wants to be. Mercedes is about to take away the crown as the fastest hot-hatch with the new A45 AMG, but until then this is the fastest money can buy.
Renault Megane GT 220 (wallet-friendly Frenchie)
It may seem like a strange choice in such strong company, but the stylish Renault Megane GT 220 is only a slightly watered down version of the Renaultsport 275, which itself is formidable. On paper it looks slow but in reality it hammers along with confident handling and a wonderfully throaty engine bark. At £6,000 less than some of the competition, it’s hard to be too harsh, even if the 217bhp and 340Nm of torque is off the pace in this company. Admittedly the rear is a bit pokey, too, but only those above average height will care.
Mercedes A 45 AMG (the premium option)
Even with a new Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG on the horizon, the old one is still a riot. The price of the older model will drop when its replacement arrives, meaning 355bhp of German insanity with the best interior in its class. Like the Audi, it’s eye-wateringly expensive, but it is capable of around 40mpg and has adequate interior space for people and shopping. The downside is the new A-Class gets Apple CarPlay, but those who care little about infotainment will find a stonkingly fast motor that can handle family life.
Honda Civic Type R (lairy and proud)
Whereas every other manufacturer has matured with their audience, Honda is still keen to make the Civic Type R look lairy, mean and slightly childish. In the flesh it’s got real presence, helping you forget how awful the interior is. Topping out at 167mph, it’s fast enough for any trip to the Autobahn in Germany, yet handles with enviable confidence in the bends. As for the boot, it’s a whopping 498 litres, making it easier to forgive the 170g/km of CO2 spewed out of the quad-exit exhaust system. If you still look young, the new Type R is worth a test drive.
Ford Focus ST (fast enough for most)
Even though the Focus RS is looming, we still think the ST is a worthy hot-hatch, mixing competence and pace with practicality and reliability. Even if you opt for the top-spec ST-3, it’s still a bit of a bargain, owing to a rather generous list of standard extras. There is a diesel but for hot-hatch fans the 247bhp EcoBoost is the only choice, complete with a six-speed manual gearbox and a 0-62mph sprint time of 6.5 seconds. 40mpg and 169g/km of CO2 round off the package.
Mini Cooper John Cooper Works (practical go-kart)
Mini’s John Cooper Works Cooper is extremely capable, both on a track and on UK roads. Sure, the boot is smaller than its rivals but headroom is plentiful for such a small car. We are kind of thankful the design extras over the standard car are tasteful and subtle, while the 2.0-litre four-cylinder TwinPower Turbo has a mighty 230bhp – a substantial increase on the 189bhp Cooper S. Go-kart-esque handling, meanwhile, makes it a whole lot of fun.
Seat Leon Cupra (fast and fun)
The Seat Leon Cupra 280 was the fastest car around the Nurburgring until Renault reclaimed its crown, which is a very big claim considering it was faster than a Porsche 911 Carrera S. Admittedly the car was fitted with the optional Performance Pack to achieve the time, but there’s no disputing the 2.0-litre TSI is extremely potent. 0-62mph comes and goes in 5.7 seconds with the DSG automatic gearbox, while the top speed is limited to 155mph.