The hot hatch is a modern-day phenomenon.
Not too long ago it was supercars that youngsters wanted as posters on their walls: Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and McLarens.
But now it’s the GTI and RS which owns smartphone and PC wallpapers.
This has much to do with how pervasive the fast hatchback has become and also how easy it is to get huge power out of their turbocharged engines.
Many “purists” who previously hated dual-clutch automatic gearbox changes – and automatic gearboxes in general – have changed their minds, and this transmission is now highly sought-after in fast cars which can be used as an everyday driver.
The result is that all of the top manufacturers now have some sort of hot hatch in their line-up – including Toyota, with the most bonkers GR Yaris coming to South Africa later this year.
To see what the GR Yaris will compete against when it arrives, we have rounded up our favourite hot hatches under R700,000 below.
VW Golf GTI – R659,000
The OG – the one that started it all.
VW’s Golf GTI is considered by many to be the most accomplished fast hatch ever made.
It’s comfortable on a daily commute and precise through a twisty pass.
At one point, Volkswagen in South Africa was selling as many Golf GTIs as it was other variants of the Golf combined, which makes it relatively easy to find and to keep maintained long-term.
The Golf 8 GTI is set to launch in Q1 of 2021, so we’ll have to wait a bit for the latest and greatest version.
Renault Megane R.S. 300 Trophy – R634,900
Carrying a lot of inspiration from F1, the Renault Megane R.S. is a popular fast hatch in Europe – but still relatively rare on South African roads.
Renault, like Volkswagen, is one of the original madcaps that stuffed large engines into small cars back in the 1980s and has continued to do so ever since.
The Megane R.S. is powered by a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder putting out 205kW and 390Nm, with a broad range of boost from the twin-scroll turbo.
It’s then available with a six-speed manual or dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
Inside you get some properly racy bucket seats, and a race telemetry system for track times, acceleration, G-force, and real-time performance data.
Hyundai i30N – R679,900
Hyundai is carrying its motorsport credentials from the World Rally Championship onto the road.
It’s latest hot hatch is the i30N, and packs a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder mated to a six-speed manual box – putting put 202kW and 353Nm.
This takes it from 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds.
Ford Focus RS – R629,900
No list of hot hatches will be complete without a fast Ford.
Unfortunately, the Focus ST is no longer on sale as new from dealers in South Africa, nor is the new model scheduled for release locally.
You might do well to scour the classifieds and pick up a second-hand model, though.
A 2017 model with 39,000kms on the clock retails for R629,000, and provides 257kW and 440Nm laid down through an all-wheel-drive system.
This takes the Focus RS from 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds.
Volkswagen Polo GTI – R437,300
The Polo GTI remains a popular choice for hot hatch fans.
It’s more closely aligned to the ethos of the original Golf 1 GTI – with a powerful engine, practicality, and comfort.
It hasn’t been over-fettled by the motorsport engineers at VW and therefore maintains a good balance of comfort and sportiness – and relatively affordable replacement parts and service costs.
A 2.0-litre turbo puts out 147kW and 320Nm, and is only available with the dual-clutch automatic DSG transmission.
Suzuki Swift Sport – R336,900
The reality is that not everyone can afford close to R700,000 for their automotive thrills.
Thanks to the likes of the Suzuki Swift, Abarth 500, Renault Clio, and Fiesta ST, affordable fun is still in the realm of the “everyday” driver.
Putting out “just” 103kW and 230Nm from its 1.4-litre turbo four-cylinder, what the Swift Sport lacks in outright power it makes up for in weight saving.
It weighs in at under a ton and despite its diminutive power figures it still manages a respectable 0-100 km/h time of 8 seconds.