The Volkswagen Golf GTI is the standard for hot hatchbacks and should be on everyone’s shortlist. The Golf GTI was first introduced in 1976 and kicked off the hot hatch trend and made it a segment that is still going strong today.
The modern iteration of the Golf GTI Mk8 has a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 – in use since the Mk6 GTI – which produces 240 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels only via either a 6-speed manual or 7-speed DSG transmission. The GTI accelerates from 0-60 mph in just 6.3 seconds and tops out at 155 mph. The GTI has been the go-to hot hatch since the Mk5 GTI regained the crown, thanks to its handling, power, and practicality. The Golf GTI Mk7 was even regarded by many to be the perfect all-around car, with Jeremy Clarkson even purchasing one to prove the point.
But while the GTI is a great car, it can get a bit clinical. The new Mk8 GTI builds upon the Mk7.5, but thanks to the silly control system for the interior climate, it has been heavily criticized. Due to this, many have looked to other manufacturers for exciting rides – ones that are a bit more playful. With that, here are 8 front-wheel-drive cars currently on sale which are more fun than a Golf GTI.
8 Hyundai i30 N
The Hyundai i30 N has made quite a lot of waves since it was introduced in 2020 and was designed specifically to battle with the likes of the VW Golf GTI and Honda Civic Type R. The i30 N was recently updated along with the regular i30’s mid- cycle refresh.
The updated hot hatch produces 280 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque, with power going to the front wheels only via either a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission. The Hyundai i30 N is a fun car thanks to the pops and bangs from the exhaust, but it beats the GTI thanks to the added power.
7 Mini Cooper JCW GP
The Mini Cooper has had great success since BMW bought the brand in the early 2000s. For every generation of Mini Cooper since then, the company has released a souped-up version of the top-of-the-line John Cooper Works – called the JCW GP.
The current JCW GP has a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4, which produces 302 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels only via an 8-speed automatic transmission, allowing the GP to accelerate to 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds. The Mini Cooper JCW GP is just a more fun-looking car with an aggressive body kit and a huge wing on the roof.
6 Renault Megane RS
The Renault Mégane RS is one of the best of the larger hot hatchbacks currently on sale. Powered by a 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4 borrowed from Nissan, the engine produces 280 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque in RS 280 trim.
The power is sent to the front wheels only via a 6-speed dual-clutch semi-automatic transmission. The front axle is also fitted with a clever electronic differential, helping to put the power down. The Mégane RS is a really good-looking car with great performance. The only negative aspect is that it does not have a manual gearbox as an option.
5 Ford Fiesta ST
The Ford Fiesta ST has been heralded by many to be the best compact hot hatch on sale. Where most hot hatchbacks have embraced overly complicated systems and massively powerful engines, the Fiesta ST has stayed true to the original hot hatch formula.
The current generation Fiesta ST is powered by a little 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-3, sending nearly 200 hp and 215 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels only via a 6-speed manual. (No auto is available.) The Fiesta ST is a great and nippy little car, which is quite easily able to tripod around corners on a racetrack – much like the hot hatches of the 1980s and 1990s.
4 Skoda Octavia vRS
The Skoda Octavia may not seem like a fun car to drive, but it’s based on the Golf. The Octavia vRS is a Golf GTI underneath, featuring all the same technology and features, but in a more practical body and for a bit cheaper.
The Octavia vRS is even available as a diesel and a hybrid – like with the Golf GTD and GTE. Unlike the Golf, the vRS can be optioned with all-wheel drive, making it even more practical and more fun to throw around, all while keeping the poise of the normal GTI. What’s not to like?
3 BMW 128ti
The BMW 128ti is the front-drive-only version of the top-spec M135i – and also revives the ‘ti’, or Turismo Internazionale badge, last used on the 325ti E46 3-Series Compact. Before that, it was used on the 1800 TI and 2002 TI from the 1960s and 1970s respectively.
The 128ti has more grunt than the Golf GTI, and on a track, it is difficult to make the Bimmer misbehave – which is good. While some reviewers have stated that the 128ti felt a bit numb, they also noted that it was a lot of fun to drive – even just in town.
2 Chevrolet Cobalt SS
The Chevrolet Cobalt SS was GM’s take on a fast and sporty hatchback/coupe. The Cobalt SS was fitted with a supercharged 2.0-liter inline-4, which could be upgraded using a dealership package that increased power to 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.
Later Cobalt SSs were changed to turbocharged engines to comply with new emissions regulations, and the dealer upgrade then pushed power to 290 hp, which gave the turbocharged Cobalt SS the highest specific horsepower output of any GM-powered car at the time. How cool is that?
1 Honda Civic Type R
The Honda Civic Type R is the go-to Japanese hot hatchback and has been around since 1997. The first, second and third Civic Type Rs were powered by high-revving 4-cylinder engines before the fourth, fifth, and the upcoming sixth- generation Type Rs adopted 2.0-liter turbocharged engines.
The Type R is a brilliant hot hatch and certainly one of the best purely front-wheel-drive cars in the world – even if the styling of the last two was a bit controversial. The Type R will beat the Golf GTI around any track due to the increased power, but it is also extremely fun to drive in day-to-day life. So, while the Golf GTI may be the best all-around hot hatchback on sale, other alternatives may be a bit more fun.