Hot hatches have come a long way since their 1980s pomp, when sporty versions of the Ford Escort and Vauxhall Astra quivered the heartstrings of Essex boys, joyriders and traffic cops with targets to meet.
The new breed is more stylish, more luxurious, but still mind-blowingly fast. So just keep an eye out for speed cameras.
BMW no longer offers the 1 Series in full-blown M guise – that honour is reserved for the 2 Series coupé – so the M135i is the hottest hatch Bavaria’s finest offers. Its looks are, let’s say, divisive. But the BMW certainly has presence, with a long bonnet and kidney grill that make it something of a land shark.
But it’s not just looks; the M135i is equally aggressive, hitting 62mph in a shade over 5.1 seconds. And BMW’s claim to be the ultimate driving machine stands up, with handling that’s pin-sharp, with grip to spare.
Priced from £30,000
Mercedes A45 AMG
BMW’s arch-rival also has a rep for very fast cars and its junior AMG doesn’t disappoint. The A45 AMG is faster than the BMW, hitting 62mph in 4.6 seconds, although that extra grunt carries an £8,000 premium. But for your outlay you get something that’s just as impressive standing still.
The A-Class design works better beefed-up than it does on the standard car and it looks like a don on 19-inch alloys (just avoid the optional rear wing to stay the right side of the 1980s).
The same goes for the inside. Mercedes’ interiors are always class-leading and this is no exception, even if the carbonfibre-effect dashboard is a touch boy racer. But once you introduce your brogue to the carpet, you’ll find those details leave your mind rather quickly.
Priced from £38,000
Volkswagen Golf GTi
This is the one that started it all. VW invented the hot hatch with the original GTi and the latest is perhaps the finest iteration in a great lineage. The Golf is everything you’ll ever need in a car. It seats five comfortably and behaves with complete decorum when the family’s aboard. But once you drop them off, things get rather more debauched, with enough grunt to cross the 150mph barrier.
The original has become a classic almost despite its styling, but this new model lavishes rather more attention on aesthetics. We particularly like the tartan seats and red stitching, a nod to the original GTi of 40 years ago. Just avoid a white paint job.
Priced from £27,500
Fiat 500 Abarth
We’re not alone in being fans of the 500; it’s the car that turned Fiat from forgotten marque back into a global player. The cutesy car is proof of our love of all things retro and it’s been a runaway success. In Abarth form, though, it’s anything but sweet.
This iteration is the automotive equivalent of Anakin Skywalker embracing the Dark Side, only arguably even more aggressive. But just like Darth, the Abarth still manages to retain its charisma. It’s a pocket rocket too, reaching 62mph in under eight seconds and charging on to nearly 130mph. No mean feat in a car the size of a large armchair.
Priced from £14,500
Mini Cooper S
Another exercise in retro that’s set the world alight, the ‘new’ Mini is a universal favourite. And, if you can forget the estate agent undertones, has – in hatch form at least – always looked good.
It’s not so mini anymore – indeed the 500 is far closer in size to the original car. Regardless, the Cooper S has always been the model to aspire to. It’s a rollocking ride, hitting 62mph in just under seven seconds and powering its way to 146mph.
Inside, it’s a fun place to be. The giant, circular central display is a particular favourite, but it’s full of fun touches. As it’s essentially a BMW, build quality is excellent, and it’s easy to live with day-to-day.
Priced from £19,000