Mercedes A45 AMG S
The most powerful hot hatch in the world. The A45’s two-litre engine produces a bit more than 200 hp per litre of displacement. A total of 415 hp can propel it to 60 in 3.9 seconds. It has a mystic all-wheel-drive system which keeps itself busy by fiddling around with the rear wheels all the time. Without rear-wheel-drive or a limited-slip differential, drift mode has little use beyond sick doughnuts. On other settings though, especially the sporty ones, A45 prevails as one of the most exceptional hot hatches on sale today. The grip is remarkable from a chassis so stiff that it weighs a hundred kilos more than the previous generation. Cabin equipment and materials are luxurious and future-proof. Like the S-Class, there is one long screen shared by the infotainment and driver’s display. The nicest hatchback for your money.
Honda Civic Type R
The new Civic Type R looks like a ricer’s wet dream – like a used piece of chewing gum pulled out of a parts bin. We’ve always loved the puppy-dog eagerness of Type R’s. With the 306 hp, 295 lb-ft engine, this iteration veils a serious expression beneath the whacky exterior. This is no sleeper, but it is a quiet car for daily driving. All vehicle controls can be operated with incredible precision, though the raw mechanical feel of EF Civics still seems like a lost art. Twist beams have given way to multi-links. The car now sticks to the road like a baby Koala to her mother. No Honda was ever blunt as a prison shank, and this one is a Santoku knife. They say Chrysler New Yorker makes you look drunk behind the wheel. This is the opposite.
Suzuki Swift Sport
We’ve seen Suzuki cars evolve from being cardboard boxes to decent urban runabouts – but they have never had a Hayabusa on four wheels. This comes close(r). The new Swift is equipped with a turbocharged 1.4 litre engine which makes 162 lbft and 138 hp. An unimpressive 0-60 time of 8.1 seconds is masked by the punchy 1.4’s linear rpm climb. Peak torque is now way down low, making this a properly fast car in town. Twist beam rear suspension brings old-school goodness in the corners. But then there’s the steering, which isn’t communicative at all. It is still precise and appropriately weighted, but it begs the question – whatever happened to hydraulics?
VW Up! GTI
Forget the Golf, forget the Polo. Because they decided to grow up. The Up is the only youthful car in the lineup, and the GTI version makes it the perfect hot hatch. It has 112 hp and weighs a bit more than 2000 lbs. Does that ring a bell? The first Volkswagen GTI was a car they could have kept making. But they didn’t – the greed for power skyrocketed the prices, turning the itty bitty city Golf into a supermini. There is no art in making small cars anymore, and the future looks bleak. For now, we hold cars like the Up GTI close to our hearts.
It’s cheaper to make front-engine cars front-drive as well. It leaves some room for people in the rear seat. But if you grew up in America in the 70’s this is how you knew your hatchbacks – rear drive with a big engine, meagre power and panel gaps. The A45 AMG has drift mode? The M140i knows how to drift. It might be the last straight-six hatchback to ever exist, and the best to drive. There is little leg room in the back, the car and all the desirable optional extras are quite expensive, and it tried to kill Jeremy one time. But if you want practical, cut your losses and buy a Golf already.