Great Used Hot Hatches You Can Afford

If you're into hatchbacks that go like the clappers, the past year or so has been the best one in literally a decade. VW just launched a 300 horsepower Golf R that can keep up with an Aston Martin V8 Vantage, while Mercedes-Benz's first 2-liter AMG turbo engine, making 360 hp, means the A 45 is even faster than the British sportscar.
affordable hot hatches 8 photos
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Megane II RSClio RS 200Fiesta ST faceliftGolf GTI PirelliGolf 6 GTI edition 35Clio RS 197Clio RS 200
Mind you, all the technology fitted to these monster pocket rockets comes at a price, one which takes away from the basic idea of owning a hot hatch in the first place: bang for the buck. The fastest Golf ever made starts at €39,000 in Germany, and that's with a manual and only two doors. Most owners will actually be paying closer to €45,000. Not surprisingly, the A 45 AMG is even worse: starting from €50,000 before any of the options boxes are ticket. And my God does Mercedes offer a lot of options – before you know it, the baby AMG becomes a €60,000 car.

But you don't need a big budget to have fun, since there's an abundance of great future classics that equally deserve your loving ownership. We honestly don't believe in "the 80s were the best" slogan, so classics like the Ford XR2 or the Peugeot 205 GTi aren't on our list today. Instead, we're going to focus on the abundance of go-fast cars from the last decade.

The Golf 5 GTI was part of a major revolution in its segment, which also included the Opel Astra OPC, Focus ST and Megane RS 225. Of all its rivals, the Golf has the least power and is the slowest. However, it's probably the one to buy, since it's also the easiest to live with on a daily basis and looks more discrete. Compared to the 2.5L-engined Ford Focus ST, fuel consumption is much better, and trust us when we say the bills can be be a little scary with these old 2-liter turbo cars. Owners have been reporting lots of engine problems with the Megane, but if you know an example with good service history, you can definitely go for it.

Low mileage Mk5 GTIs are almost impossible to find, so find one with a good service book that feels well "glued" together. An honest GTI will set you back around €10,000. For that kind of money, a VW dealer can only offer you a basic Polo nowadays. if you can stretch your budget a little further, the Mk6 GTI has 10 extra horsepower, wider tracks and a cool double exhaust system. A good one from 2011 or so retails for €15,000 in Germany, which is still half of what you pay for a new one.

If you like the sense of occasion created when the turbo kicks in, the old Leon Cupra or Opel Astra OPC might be the car for you.

Most supermini go karts are pretty fast these days, but there are a few that just don't get with the program, the so-called "warm hatches". There's the Suzuki Swift Sport with a 1.6-liter engine, the Renault Clio GT with a 1.2-liter turbo and a twin-clutch gearbox. Chevrolet also offers a 140 hp version of the Aveo, but it's frankly a little weird. We'd avoid all of them and jump straight into the second hand market, looking for one of the old grand masters.

From Ford comes the old Focus ST. It's by no means a scorchingly fast car, but it's dead-easy to drive and packs 150 hp from a 2-liter engine, making it visibly faster than the Clio GT and Swift. Goodies include a 129 mph (208 km/h) top speed, 17-inch alloy wheels, partial leather seats and sometimes racing stripes (they were a €150 option that most people got). And best of all, that 2-liter engine is the same one as fitted to the Focus and Mondeo at the time, so it's bulletproof If anything can go bad, it probably already did. Price? About €4,500 to €5,000, about a quarter of what you'd pay for the Swift.

However, Renault are the true masters of the segment with their Clio RS. You can pick up a second generation model quite cheaply these days, but these cars are beginning to show their age and were never perfect to begin with. Rumor has it the metal used for the exhaust was so bad that signs of rust appeared even during the assembly process, which is probably why most Mk2s have custom pipes. There's also a long list of "crickets" that can appear anywhere from the boot lid to the screws that hold in the dash.

Even though it's a little heavier, you're probably much better off with a third generation Clio RS 197. As the name suggests, its 2-liter engine has 197 hp, making it an absolute screamer at high revs when the variable valve timing kicks in. A good example with low miles is about €8,000 in the second hand market, but check for gearbox problems and a full service history. The Cup chassis is supposed to add an extra layer of dynamism. But unless you want a car with absolutely zero body roll, you're much better off with a normal chassis, which is also cheaper. Avoid the expensive paint finishes that will cost extra to put right when you crash it… and you might just do that if you drive it like you stole it, a thing the car sort of asks for.

If your budget stretches to about €11,000, the facelift Clio 3 RS is an even better buy. We'd pick the Clio RS 200 over just about any of the current roster of supermini hot hatches (Fiesta ST, Clio RS 200 EDC and Peugeot 208 GTi. It's that good. Renault engineers re-tuned the engine for more everyday usability so driving during a traffic jab, for example, is easier.
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About the author: Mihnea Radu
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Mihnea's favorite cars have already been built, the so-called modern classics from the '80s and '90s. He also loves local car culture from all over the world, so don't be surprised to see him getting excited about weird Japanese imports, low-rider VWs out of Germany, replicas from Russia or LS swaps down in Florida.
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