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Extreme hot hatches: Top 10

We take a look at ten of the most extreme hot hatchbacks to ever hit the road (and track)


Hot hatches are so versatile, but when the performance dial is turned up to 11, magical things can happen – generally at the expense of comfort and practicality. Looking for a great all-rounder? We’ve covered those cars already; this list is all about the most compromised, and uncompromising performance hatchbacks.

Renault 5 Turbo

Renault’s small city car was a truly great basis for a front-wheel drive hot hatch, especially in the form of the Gordini and Gordini Turbo models. Later GT Turbos were rather good too, but Renault also had us covered at the more extreme end of the spectrum. As the basis for a monster rally car, the French company mounted a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine mid-ship, driving some very wide rear wheels. It looked mad, and cornered like it was on rails.

Mini JCW GP

When Mini first announced that it was producing a hardcore track-oriented Mini Cooper S, expectations were high. This was a car that had been honed at the Nurburgring, and featured some serious aerodynamic modifications, weight saving measures (no rear seats) as well as a huge rear spoiler made from carbon fibre (back when that was quite a big deal). Thanks to the very stiff adjustable suspension, and a limited slip differential, this Mini was a serious performance machine with some seriously addictive supercharger whine.

Lancia Delta Integrale

Lancia Delta Integrale Evo

Continuing on the rallying theme, we have another hot hatch born out of a desire to win on the rally stage – and that is exactly what the Integrale did. It was, and is to this day, the most successful rally car of all time. After Lancia emerged from the Group B era, it found the perfect basis for a rally winner in the four-wheel drive Delta HF Turbo. Regulations meant that as the car evolved, the company had to build a certain number of road-going variants. The last-of-the-line 16v Integrale Evo 2 models were the most extreme, although all offer a fantastic driving experience.

Vauxhall Chevette HS

Yet another hot hatch born out of a desire to go rallying. The Chevette HS, and the evolution HSR, was a rear-wheel drive hatch with some attitude. Built to satisfy Group 4 regulations, the Chevette featured a 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine with a 16-valve cylinder head and more sophisticated rear suspension from the Opel Kadett. If you like tartan interiors, wide wheel arches and going sideways, then this car fits the bill nicely.

Peugeot 205 T16

Peugeot 205 T16

We might be stretching the definition of hot hatch here, but if you thought the Renault 5 Turbo was extreme, then the 205 T16 was on a whole new level. Group B regulations and massive popularity in rallying caused manufacturers to pour huge amounts of money into developing these hugely complicated, advanced and monstrously fast rally cars. The T16 shared barely anything with the regular 205, featuring a mid-engined turbocharged engine, powering all four wheels. In road going form, the car was de-tuned to around 200bhp, although in rally tune it could easily push over 500bhp.

Renault Clio V6

In 2001 Renault was looking to inject a bit of life into the Clio range by introducing a new high-performance model to take racing. This time on track rather than the gravel stage. TWR did a lot of the development work, slotting a tuned version of the Laguna V6 engine into the back of the Clio shell, with a new spaceframe chassis. Looking something like a junior supercar in real life the V6 was initially built by TWR, and it doesn’t take long to see the influence that the original 5 Turbo had on the design. Later Phase 2 versions were built by Renault and are much better to drive.

Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG

Mercedes A45 AMG

The A45 AMG has a particular skill, which is really rather impressive. Attack any road, in the best or worst conditions, and you will get out at the end of the journey completely unflustered, having covered ground with the sort of ferocity that 911 Turbo drivers would find surprising. It’s not emotional or particularly engaging, nor is it unpleasant. This is a car that transports you from A to B as quickly and trouble-free as you can expect and car to do.

Subaru Impreza CS400

It’s fair to say that enthusiasts were extremely excited to hear news that Cosworth were building a highly-tuned Impreza model in 2010. The hatchback Impreza had a warm (at best) reception, and it failed to hit the spot. As the first road car developed by Cosworth since the Escort Cosworth, the CS400 was quite a big deal. Although the car was still a little bit overweight, some chassis tweaks and a dollop of extra power (up to 395bhp) means that it made more sense of the hatchback Impreza. Costing a controversial £50k when it was new, just 75 were built, making tracking one down a difficult task today.

Audi RS3

Audi RS3

With 362bhp on tap, this is currently the fastest hatchback on the market. 0-62mph comes in 4.3 seconds, and if you specify the optional performance package it’ll soldier onto a top speed of 174mph. Pretty quick then. The new RS3 retains Audi’s characterful five-cylinder engine, but there’s a new version of the Haldex four-wheel drive system that makes the car much more interesting to drive than the original RS3.

Renaultsport Megane 275 Trophy-R

Do Nurburgring lap times really matter? To some they do, and Renault has been battling recently to retain its crown of the fastest front-drive car to lap the Green Hell. A lap time sitting firmly below 8-minutes gives this stripped out Megane plenty of bragging rights, although some still rate its predecessor – the plastic-windowed R26.R – as the better car.

Words: Matthew Hayward // Images: evo and Octane magazine

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