First emerging in the 1970s, hot hatchbacks showed a generation of drivers that they could get their motoring thrills without having to spend astronomical amounts of cash or sacrifice family car practicality. The segment quickly flourished, and has been a permanent, popular fixture in the car market ever since.
By the 1980s there was a wealth of hot hatches to choose from, with greats like the Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2 and the Lancia Delta Integrale among them. Fast forward through the 90s – taking in highlights such as the Ford Escort RS Cosworth and Peugeot 306 GTi-6 – and we arrive at the 2000s.
The millennium was widely seen through the spectrum of fast-moving technology, and so it was with the cutting-edge new hot hatches that arrived between 2000 and 2010. There were plenty of gems over the course of the decade, and we’ve revisited our archives to pick out our favourites.
For something a bit more retro, check out the greatest hot hatchbacks from the 1980s, or the best hot hatchbacks of the 1990s
Scroll down to read about the best hot hatches of the 2000s. Ever owned or driven any of them? Let us know in the comments section!
Renault Clio 182
The Renault Clio 182 launched in 2004, following on from the already brilliant Clio 172 a couple of years earlier. The facelifted car saw power rise by 10bhp, with styling tweaks inside and out and a revised suspension for better handling.
And boy did it handle well. The Renault Clio RenaultSport 182 was the ultimate hot hatch in this regard at the time, with a superb chassis giving it huge amounts of grip and feedback through corners. Yes, the ride was a little on the firm side, but even so the Clio 182 managed to soak up the b-road bumps remarkably well.
With 182bhp from the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine, peak torque of 200Nm arrived at 5,250rpm, while 0-62mph took 7.1 seconds on the way to a top speed of 139mph. Unthinkably given today’s three-cylinder domination of the supermini class – you could also get the Mk2 Clio with mid-mounted V6 in full-fat competition form. The 182 paved the way for the 197 hot hatch version of the Mk3 Clio that arrived in 2006 and was held in similarly high regard.
Fiat Panda 100HP
The idea of a sporty Panda sounds laughable today, but in 2006 Fiat pressed ahead with a 1.4-litre, 99bhp version of its otherwise sedate little city car. The result – the Fiat Panda 100HP – lacked any real performance, with grabby brakes, a bouncy ride and a lack of feel through the steering wheel. Meanwhile, the driving position wasn’t great and the seats offered little in the way of support.
But it was still staggeringly good fun. The lever for the six-speed ‘box was ideally positioned for quick ratio changes, while the light frame made the Panda a hoot on urban roads. And even though the engine lacked punch, it was gutsy from 2,000rpm and could be worked hard everywhere you drove it. With chunkier alloys and tinted windows, it looked the part too.
Renault Megane R26.R
The Renault Megane R26 arrived in 2006 to celebrate the French manufacturer’s Formula 1 constructor’s title the year before, and the R26.R followed it three years later to ensure the model went out with a bang. A significant diet saw a whopping 123kg hauled out of the vehicle, thanks to features like a carbon-fibre bonnet, plastic rear windows and the removal of the rear bench among other measures.
With only 227bhp at its disposal you’d be forgiven for thinking that the R26.R was a bit weedy, but it wasn’t. 0-60mph took 5.9 seconds, while semi-slick tyres, a firm suspension and a clever, limited-slip differential meant you could carry enormous amount of speed into corners. Factor in the virtually fade-resistant brakes and the absence of body roll, and you had one heck of a track weapon.
Honda Civic Type R EP3
The Honda Civic Type R – known internally at Honda as the EP3 – first graced our roads in 2001, and was the first proper hot Civic to be sold on these shores. It contained a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine that produced 197bhp, although maximum power was available at 7,400rpm, meaning you had to really rag it if you wanted to go fast.
This approach was in stark contrast to some of the tamer hatches launched at the turn of the millennium, and the Type R was all the more refreshing for it. The dash-mounted manual gearbox was a joy to use, and the sharp, agile handling made it possible to dance along twisty roads.
The EP3 finished third in our list of the top 10 fast Hondas in 2019. That should give you some idea of the esteem this car is held in.
SEAT Leon Cupra
The Cupra name stands alone as an independent manufacturer (settle down at the back) these days, but the term was born in 1996 when it featured in the Mk2 Ibiza GTI Cupra Sport. The 2000s saw increased use of Cupra branding on SEAT’s larier models, including on the first-generation Leon hatchback.
The Leon Cupra contained a 1.8-litre turbo engine boasting 177bhp, propelling it to 60mph from a standing start in 7.5 seconds and then onwards to a top speed of 142mph. On paper it doesn’t really stand out, but crucially it was more controlled through corners and had quicker steering than the Golf GTI upon which it was based, making it the better of the two to drive.
A faster, more powerful version called the Cupra R used the same engine from the first generation Audi S3 resulting in 207bhp or 222bhp on later models. This hike in power made the R able to crack 60mph in 6.9 seconds and raised the top speed to 150mph. A new front and rear bumper and exclusive 'R' wheels help set it apart visually from the regular Cupra.
Volkswagen Golf GTI Edition 30 Mk5
The original Volkswagen Golf GTI was launched in 1977, and so to commemorate the car’s 30th birthday, VW commissioned this Edition 30 of the Mk5 with – yep, you guessed it – 30bhp more than standard car could manage with its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
With 227bhp under the bonnet, the Golf GTI Edition 30 could hit 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds en route to a top speed of 152mph. The extra power meant it needed slightly more revs than the standard GTI in order to flex its muscles, but beyond 2,300rpm that extra punch hit home. Even at a standstill, there was still an air of anticipation thanks to the exhaust’s distinct burble.
There were design tweaks to distinguish the Edition 30 from the pack, too: a unique chin spoiler, 18-inch alloys and a golf ball-style gear knob completed the special look. A memorable birthday, if there ever was one!
MINI Cooper S
The MINI Cooper S was unleashed onto our roads in 2002, with a scoop in the bonnet and twin exhaust pipes setting it apart from the standard model. However, it was the supercharger, combined with a 1.6-litre, Brazilian-built Tritec engine, that gave the car its cult following among hot hatch fans. By the time a Convertible variant had joined the line-up in 2004, power was rated at 170bhp (with 220Nm of torque) and the hard-top Cooper S could cover 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds.
Buyers could choose between six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes, and with all four wheels pushed to the corners of the car, the handling was as agile as you’d expect. However, one drawback of the supercharger was that the battery had to be moved to the rear: that meant there was no room for a spare wheel, so the Cooper S had to ride on run-flat tyres.
Ford Focus RS
The Ford Focus RS is a legend of the hot hatch world. It arrived in 2002 after much fanfare, taking lots of its inspiration from the Focus WRC: 18-inch alloys, flared wheelarches, enormous air intakes and that iconic blue paint made it instantly desirable.
Performance didn’t disappoint either: the four-cylinder engine generated 212bhp and 310Nm of torque, hitting 0-60mph in 6.4 seconds and climbing all the way to 144mph. Show it a corner and you’d never believe that the Focus RS was front-wheel drive, with the brilliant chassis finding unbelievable amounts of grip, even in the wet.
And if that wasn’t enough, fade-resistant Brembo brakes meant you could push the RS all the time, so the fun would never come to an end on a fast road. Well, not until you’d run out of road, anyway.
Suzuki Swift Sport
The Suzuki Swift Sport was something of a bargain when it arrived in the UK in 2006, costing just £11,499 (around £16,750 in today’s money). For that you’d be rewarded with a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with 123bhp, and a driving experience that could match any hot hatch. The ride was, naturally, very firm thanks to its stiff suspension, but that meant the car was eager to turn into corners with minimal body roll. Strong brakes made it a B-road delight, too.
The Swift Sport was an attractive little thing as well. Black A-pillars, gunmetal front bumper inserts and a tidy rear wing added to the kerb appeal, and inside the interior had a clear, modern design. A generous amount of standard kit made buyers feel like they were getting a lot for their money, which was important given that it struggled to reach even 30mpg.
What's your favourite hot hatch from the 2000s? Let us know in the comments below…