Best of 2021: Hot hatches
Thursday 30th December, 2021 - 6:20am
It was a big year for the small cars, with a plethora of new hot hatches arriving for those looking for big performance on a (relatively) small budget.
It was the big names that came to play too, with a new GTI from Volkswagen, Toyota’s first true hot hatch and Hyundai launching three new models.
Here, in no particular order, are our favourite pint-sized, pocket rockets.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
The car that arguably started the hot hatch genre entered its eighth generation. The new Golf GTI raises the bar again, at least in terms of technology and style.
The new ‘Innovision Cockpit’ looks very smart but hot hatches are about performance, which the GTI delivers on too. The engine only offers 180kW/370Nm, which is relatively modest by modern standards, but has the punch you need to launch out of corners.
The chassis and suspension set-up remains a hi-tech load of acronyms, and while it may be complex it makes for a fun car to drive.
Hyundai i20 N
The South Korean brand enjoyed a busy year in 2021, launching the updated i30 N as well as three all-new N models. One of those was this compact i20 N, inspired by its WRC success with the same model.
Slotting beneath the i30 N, the i20 N is powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, has a six-speed manual gearbox and a limited-slip diff – all the classic hot hatch items.
But it’s other major appeal is its price, starting at $32,490 it undercuts its big brother – the i30 N. At a time when hot hatch prices are on the rise, the i20 N is a reminder that driving thrills don’t have to cost a fortune.
Mercedes-AMG A35 Sedan
Not technically a hatchback, this is a performance sedan for those who want to move up from the likes of a Subaru WRX but don’t want a bigger car.
While the ‘45’ range of AMG models pack more punch (310kW/500Nm), the A35 is hardly under-powered thanks to its 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine making 225kW/400Nm – enough to out-muscle most hot hatch rivals.
With an AMG-tuned chassis and the kind of luxury you expect from Mercedes, the A35 Sedan has the feeling and sophistication of a big car in a small package.
Toyota GR Yaris
Few cars have arrived with as much hype and expectation as this one, the latest addition to Toyota’s expanding Gazoo Racing range of performance cars. Despite having never played in the hot hatch space before Toyota went big for its first model, building a homologation special for its 2022 WRC entry.
While technically called a ‘Yaris’ this pint-sized pocket rocket features a unique three-door body, with wider wheel arches for a special stage-ready stance. Toyota even used a mixture of carbon fibre and aluminium for the panels to save weight.
Under the bonnet the 1.6-litre three-cylinder engine sounds small on paper, but with 200kW/370Nm it packs more than enough punch to make the GR Yaris a serious performance car.
Unfortunately, with a starting price of $49,500 and disappointing Dunlop tyres it’s a slightly compromised proposition for a hot hatch of its size. But on driving thrills alone it was a stand-out performer.