Top 10 greatest hot hatches of all time

Hot hatchbacks are a huge part of car culture, with 'power to the people' machines punching well above their weight. Here's our top 10 from the world of the hot hatch

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Top 10 greatest hot hatchbacks of all time

The hot hatchback breed is just as significant as the cult of supercars — arguably more so. While a Ferrari draws a crowd and causes many enthusiasts to go weak at the knees, hot hatches are real-world heroes that garner just as much respect amongst true petrol heads. With performance to punch well above their weight, a well-sorted hatchback can produce a bigger grin on a country road than anything from Maranello.

Here are the top 10 greatest hot hatchbacks of all time.

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Citroën AX GT

The Citroën AX was conceived as a cheap and economical car to go about your business in. But some engineers thought that its tiny 720kg kerb weight could be put to better use. In 1987 the Citroën AX GT was born and, while only possessing 85bhp, its 1360cc engine nested in an agile chassis.

A faster GTI variant soon joined the range.

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Subaru Impreza STi CS400

When the third generation Subaru Impreza WRX STi debuted as a five-door hatchback only, hardcore ‘Scooby’ fans were aghast (though later appeased with a traditional saloon variant). Despite initial trepidation, it didn’t take long for the car to prove its all-wheel drive and boxer heritage was still present and correct anyway. However, the real highlight of the Impreza hatch was the CS400.

This limited edition car wasn’t engineered by Prodrive but tuning rivals Cosworth, making it the first production car the British tinkerers had worked on since the Ford Escort RS Cosworth. The car’s 2.5-litre engine featured new pistons, bearings, con rods, gaskets, a reworked turbo, new intake and exhaust. This 395bhp pocket rocket could get you from 0-62mph in just 3.7 seconds, although the Subaru did cost £50,000 ($63,000) when new.

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Renault Clio V6

There have been a lot of crazy hot hatchbacks over the years, but the Clio V6 is amongst the most bonkers. It was developed by Tom Walkinshaw Racing as a road going variant of the Clio V6 Trophy racer that populated a one-make series. While it does share some parts with a regular Mk2 Clio, TWR totally re-engineered this car.

Sitting where the rear bench used to is a 3.0-litre V6 engine which sends 227bhp to the rear wheels. Large side-mounted intakes cool the beast in the boot and add to the generally anti-social nature of the car’s aesthetic. A more potent 257bhp variant was offered before the model was discontinued.

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Ford Focus RS MK3

The recently departed third generation Focus RS presented a remarkable value for money proposition. Here was a car with all-wheel drive and a 0-62mph time of just 4.7 seconds priced at just over £30k ($38k), or about the same price as an entry-level Jaguar XE. Just like its predecessors, it became a champion of the people, delivering sports car humbling performance for half the price.

The final Heritage Edition cars celebrated the end of this model by harking back to Ford’s historic Escort Mexico in a matching shade of orange. One of these limited edition examples was recently listed for £100,000 ($127,000).

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Honda Civic Type R EP3

Today the Honda Civic Type R is well known for its record breaking lap times and ability to put all-wheel drive competition in its place. But the generation that really lit the Civic Type R fuse was the EP3.

It wasn’t just its on-paper figures that made people take note, but how it acquired them. Its 2.0-litre VTEC engine churned out an impressive 197bhp – and did so via a stratospheric 8,000rpm+ rev limiter. Its intoxicating kick of power as its valve timings changed is the stuff of legend today.

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Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione II

This car might be an icon of Group A rallying, but its homologated road-going variants became household names all of their own. First appearing in eight-valve guise, this heavily turbocharged all-wheel drive hot hatchback packed 185hp and could get from 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds. However, its most potent Evo II variant landed in 1993 with 212bhp and 221lb ft of torque. This heavily revised engine used many technologies developed in rallying.

A recent restromod of this iconic car, the Automobili Amos Futurista, is causing quite a stir.

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Renault Clio Williams

Combining a manufacturer of great hatchbacks with an iconic Formula 1 team was always going to yield great results. Sceptics might write this off as a cynical marketing exercise, but the Williams Clio was a serious hot hatchback.

Born out of racing homologation requirements for Group A and N, Renault had to produce at least 2500 examples of a punchier Clio for it to qualify. Reworked suspension, hardier gearbox, and low weight made the car agile, but its torquey 148bhp engine was the real jewel in the crown.

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Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

Some see this car as the ultimate Ford hot hatchback with Sierra RS Cosworth putting over 200bhp in the hands of the public. Built so Ford could homologate and compete at the top level of Group A racing, the collaboration between Ford and Cosworth created an icon that fetches eye-watering auction values today.

The Cosworth YBB engine sat inside a boisterous body featuring a huge whale-tail spoiler at the rear. It became a hero on road and track with buyers for filling the ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday' prophecy.

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Volkswagen Golf GTI

When it came time to replace the Beetle, Volkswagen developed the hugely popular Golf hatchback. However, some engineers felt that this new model could be destined for more than just the local supermarket car park. A secret cluster of enthusiastic employees set about plumbing a 1.6-litre Audi engine into the Golf’s body. Modern fuel injectors were then added to the hatch helping it produce 110bhp, up from 75bhp in the standard car.

This after-hours project was then presented to VW bosses who were sceptical about its future. That was until the 1975 Frankfurt Motor Show, where the prototype made its debut. People loved the idea of a peppy Golf and so the GTI was born.

Its combination of large footprint, lack of weight, and strong engine are the ingredients that make it one of the greatest hot hatchbacks ever. It might not have been the first of its breed, but it was certainly the car that popularised its segment.

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Peugeot 205 GTI

The Peugeot 205 GTI is an incredible hot hatchback for many reasons, but its enduring fame still has it squaring up to the latest models of today. It is championed for being an engaging drive with plenty of poke to induce a grin, all while retaining the ability to put children in the back and shopping in the boot.

In many ways the Peugeot 205 GTI remains the purest expression of what a hot hatchback is.

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