1. Renault Clio RS200 Cup
Having grown since the mk1 Clio Williams, the Renault Clio RS200 sits on the fence between lightweight and large hot hatch, but is however the perfect modern interpretation and evolution of the classic, light, nimble, affordable, fun and fast hot hatch. Offered in regular or lighter, cheaper, pared down and more honed Cup version, the RenaultSport Clio slots in comfortably at either end of the spectrum, and in Cup version features less equipment and electronics, but with firmer suspension and even better agility and responsiveness.
Thrilling to drive, the RS200 Cup offers great trademark hot hatch feedback, instantaneous response, talented handling and tautness, while at the same time feeling more accomplished and refined. Powered by one of the world’s great 2-liter naturally aspirated four-pots, the RS200’s engine is free-revving with a mighty 200HP at 7100rpm and 159lb/ft torque at 5400rpm, but is also very tractable and versatile at mid-range, with excellent throttle response and an urgent build up of torque and power. Recently face-lifted to fit Renault’s current corporate look, the Clio Cup is more handsome than ever.
Specifications: Engine: 2-liter 4-cylinders; Power 200HP@7100rpm; Torque: 159lb/ft@5400rpm; 0-100km/h: 6.9 seconds; Top speed: 225km/h; Length: 4017mm; Width: 1768mm; Height: 1484mm; Wheelbase: 2585mm; Weight: 1204kg (kerb)
2. Fiat 500 Abarth Esseesse
Recapturing the diminutive original 1950s magic, the modern 500 boasts its own charisma and is an automotive style icon and favorite of the motoring cognoscenti. Though late to the retro-hatchback game, the 500, like BMW’s Mini, succeeds on emotional and dynamic levels with its feisty design and its handling abilities leading to several road and race versions courtesy of Fiat group’s Abarth skunkworks wing. With 135HP in basic Abarth form, the aftersale Esseesse upgrade remaps the 500’s output to a whopping 160 turbo-charged horses and 169lb/ft. Supremely agile and corner hungry, the Esseesse is both fast and fun pocket rocket, and nippy city car, while its interior is chic, playful and practical.
Specifications: Engine: 1.4-liter turbo-charged 4-cylinders; Power 160HP@5750rpm; Torque: 169lb/ft@3000rpm; 0-100km/h: 7.4 seconds; Top speed: 211km/h; Length: 3657mm; Width: 1627mm; Height: 1488mm; Wheelbase: 2300mm; Weight: 1035kg (kerb)
3. Alfa Romeo MiTo 1.4 MultiAir Quadrifoglio Verde
Smart, stylish and sexy, the Alfa Romeo MiTo shares a stable and agile platform with the Opel Corsa, but adds exotic Italian chic. Every inch an Alfa, the striking and sleek MiTo takes its styling cues from the 8C Competizione supercar, from the shield-style grille tapering to a bonnet bulge, the far-apart tear-drop lights and the round rear lights. With the ultra-hot 240HP GTA version on indefinite hold, the 1.4 MultiAir QV fills in as Alfa’s hot hatch. Featuring Fiat group’s innovative MultiAir technology, the QV is both powerful and economical, with a turbo-charged 170HP at 5500rpm delivering 0-100km/h in 7.5 seconds, while 184lb/ft torque at 2500rpm, ensures the QV is also very muscular and effortlessly versatile.
Specifications: Engine: 1.4-liter turbo-charged 4-cylinders; Power 170HP@5500rpm; Torque: 184lb/ft@2500rpm; 0-100km/h: 7.5 seconds; Top speed: 219km/h; Length: 4063mm; Width: 1720mm; Height: 1446mm; Wheelbase: 2511mm; Weight: 1145kg (kerb)
4. Mini Cooper S
After inheriting one of the most iconic automotive franchises, BMW transformed the British people’s car into a prestige performance car and lifestyle purchase. Beloved by auto aficionados and fashionistas, the Mini skillfully reinterprets the original’s style and as BMW’s first modern front-drive car, is successfully imbued with sublime Bavarian handling and high speed stability. In its second modern itineration, the Mini grew slightly but its look remained virtually unchanged, and enjoys short overhangs and a wide footprint for un-impeachable dynamics. In Cooper S guise, it is the fashionable way to enjoy hot hatchery and offers a creamy wide torque band, great acceleration and 175 maximum horses, while the John Cooper Works version offers 211HP and 207lb/ft.
Specifications: Engine: 1.6-liter turbo-charged 4-cylinders; Power 175HP@5500rpm; Torque: 192lb/ft@1700-4500rpm; 0-100km/h: 7.1 seconds; Top speed: 225km/h; Length: 3714mm; Width: 1683mm; Height: 1407mm; Wheelbase: 2467mm; Weight: 1130kg (unladen)
5. Renault Twingo RS133 (Gordini RS edition)
Masters of hot hatchery since the 5 Turbo, Renault’s light and zippy Twingo RenaultSport RS133 is a small and back-to-basics alternative to the Clio RS200. Though relatively new, the Twingo Twingo pocket rocket finds an individual niche as a fun, feisty and evocatively designed counterpoint to the Fiat 500 and Mini, and features minimalist surfaces, powerful wheel-arches and smoothed edges, while the rich blue Gordini edition pictured is the most elegant guise. With a rev-hungry naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter engine, the RS133 delivers 133HP at 6750rpm and 118lb/ft torque at 4400rpm, and superb handling and agility. Nippy, zippy and high strung, the RS133 is corner-hungry, engaging, stylish, and covers real-world ground with astonishing pace.
Specifications: Engine: 1.6-liter 4-cylinders; Power 133HP@6750rpm; Torque: 118lb/ft@4400rpm; 0-100km/h: 8.7 seconds; Top speed: 201km/h; Length: 3607mm; Width: 1688mm; Height: 1470mm; Wheelbase: 2368mm; Weight: 1049kg (kerb)
6. Citroen C2 VTS
Designed with fun and low insurance premiums in mind for an early-twenties male clientele, the C2 VTS pushes the fun factor without financially alienating its core market. However, with low 1049kg weight, stiff suspension, razor sharp responses, nimble agility and a rev-happy engine with good mid-range urge, the VTS is a delight to drive hard. Utterly communicative, grippy, dynamically predictable and with supportive seats, one delights in every corner and chance to sink the throttle to 6750rpm and 133HP in this budget thriller. Style-wise the VTS walks a fine and feisty line that is both cute and aggressive.
Specifications: Engine: 1.6-liter 4-cylinders; Power 125HP@6500rpm; Torque: 105lb/ft@3500rpm; 0-100km/h: 8.3seconds; Top speed: 203km/h; Length: 3666mm; Width: 1659mm; Height: 1451mm; Wheelbase: 2315mm; Weight: 1083kg (kerb)
7. Suzuki Swift Sport
Swift by name and nature, Suzuki’s cute lightweight hatch may only be a warm in outright performance, but delivers a truly intimate driving experience. The Swift is one of the most entertaining, responsive and agile in its class, and with diminutive size and crisp and clear communication, feels similarly endearing as an old-school hot hatch – albeit with more refinement, safety and stiffness. With its responsiveness, agility, sensitivity and rev-hungry 1.6-liter 123HP naturally-aspirated engine peaking at 6800rpm, the Swift is even fun at low speeds and gives a very accurate sensation of speed.
Specifications: Engine: 1.6-liter 4-cylinders; Power 125HP@6800rpm; Torque: 109lb/ft@4800rpm; 0-100km/h: 8.9 seconds; Length: 3765mm; Width: 1690mm; Height: 1510mm; Wheelbase: 2390mm; Weight: 1060kg (kerb)
8. Opel Corsa OPC
Among the largest, heaviest and most powerful cars here, the turbo-charged OPC is the ultra-hot version Corsa version, and offers 41HP more than the 103kg lighter naturally-aspirated GSi. A performance hooligan, the OPC offers one of this list’s best 0-100km/h times at 7.2 seconds, but more central to its character is its rich and wide 170lb/ft mid-range torque band and relatively low rev maximum 191HP, making it a brutally responsive hot hatch with plenty of urge. On fast-paced backroads, the Corsa’s big footprint makes it very stable, agile and hungry for the next corner, while its solid ride and thrust make it an autobahn cruncher.
Specifications: Engine: 1.6-liter turbo-charged 4-cylinders; Power 191HP@5850rpm; Torque: 170lb/ft@1980-5800rpm; 0-100km/h: 7.2 seconds; Top speed: 225km/h; Length: 4040mm; Width: 1703mm; Height: 1488mm; Wheelbase: 2511mm; Weight: 1203kg (kerb)
9. Seat Ibiza Cupra
From the most exciting, youthful and extrovert of VW group’s brands, Spain’s Seat Ibiza Cupra uses familiar German underpinnings and mechanicals but adds Latin zest to a predictably decent formula. With garish or solid colors best complementing its stylized design, the Cupra is a head-turner and a brute of a performer. With only 1.4-liters to play with, the turbo-charged Seat squeeze out a mighty 180HP and 184lb/ft, but best of all, the Cupra combines wide and generous mid-range torque with zippy high rev power.
Specifications: Engine: 1.4-liter turbo-charged 4-cylinders; Power 180HP@6200rpm; Torque: 184lb/ft@2000-4500rpm; 0-100km/h: 7.2 seconds; Top speed: 225km/h; Length: 4061mm; Width: 1693mm; Height: 1420mm; Wheelbase: 2469mm; Weight: 1172kg (kerb)
10. Ford Fiesta Mountune Zetec
With the expected 180-200HP Fiesta ST version delayed until probably 2012, exploiting the Fiesta’s exquisite chassis and hot hatch potential falls to Mountune (aka Rouch in the US), a company long associated with fast Fords. The warmed-up Mountune Fiesta Zetec-S basically consists of aggressive cosmetic changes, a howling exhaust set-up and engine ECU tweaks taking power from 120HP to 140HP and reduced 0-97km/h acceleration by two seconds to 7.9 seconds. While the power increase isn’t enough for suspension upgrades, the Fiesta is however renowned for great and engaging handling, while in terms of character, Mountune’s upgrades are best felt when wringing the engine hard. Sold through some UK dealers, the Mountune upgrade doesn’t invalidate Fiesta warranties.
Specifications: Engine: 1.6-liter 4-cylinders; Power 140HP@6750rpm; Torque: 120lb/ft@4750rpm; 0-97km/h: 7.9 seconds; Top speed: 194km/h; Length: 3950mm; Width: 1722mm; Height: 1481mm; Wheelbase: 2489mm; Weight: 1109kg (kerb)