The best hot hatches you could buy for £50k

Feb 21, 2023

Hot hatches are all about providing plenty of performance and practicality at a price that undercuts a comparative sportscar – but what do you get if you pay top dollar? That’s what we’ll uncover in this guide to the best hot hatches available for £50,000.

You’ll find everything here from classic hot hatches that offer a pure driving experience, modern classics languishing in the trough of their value curve and the latest machinery offering the best performance available. Even mid-engine lovers are catered for, so kick back and relax we guide you through the world of the £50,000 hot hatch.

Renault Megane R.S. Trophy-R

Track-focussed Renault Meganes always take things to the extreme, but the 300PS (221kW) R.S. Trophy R takes this ethos to a whole new level. The Renault’s spec sheet reads like a track day enthusiast’s shopping list and includes Ohlin dampers, Sabelt bucket seats, carbon-ceramic Brembo front brakes and a titanium Akrapovic exhaust. The bonnet and functional rear diffuser are made from carbon-fibre, you get a smaller and lighter infotainment screen, thinner glass and a rear-seat delete. Spec all the options and, new, you’d be paying more than £70,000 – a lot even if only 32 were ever brought to the UK. Now, you can pick up a Trophy R for less than £50,000 if you pass on the optional (and not very practical) carbon-fibre wheels, which seems almost reasonable for one of the most extreme hot hatches ever made.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S

If there was ever a complaint about the Volkswagen Golf GTI it would be that it’s a little too sensible – some may say boring – for its own good, although that’s not a criticism you’d ever level at the Clubsport S. It’s an example of what VW can do when it lets its hair down, shedding 30kg compared to a standard GTI – thanks to losing its back seats – and gaining a 310PS (228kW) engine that made it the most powerful GTI ever sold at the time. Meanwhile, a front splitter and subtle rear wing cancelled out the lift generated by the regular model, allowing VW to get creative with the suspension settings and build a Golf GTI that will oversteer on demand. It’s character that makes the asking price (you can pick them up for around £35,000) hard to ignore, even more so when you realise only 400 were ever built.

Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition

The old Honda Civic Type R was the best hot hatch of its era, which must make the rare Limited Edition version one of the best hot hatches, period. Honda shaved 45kg from the car’s weight by removing sound deadening, the car’s infotainment and air conditioning system, as well as replacing the standard wheels with a set of BBS alloys that shaved 10kg alone. On top of that, Honda tweaked the suspension, steering and gear change – adding a 90g counterweight for even slicker shifts than the standard model. The fruits of this labour? A car that raises the regular model’s sky-high bar even higher – it accelerates faster, grips harder and is more playful on the limit. If you can live with the Max Power looks and exclusive Sunlight Yellow paint, the Type R is worth every bit of our £50,000 budget.

Mercedes-Benz A45 S

While the old Mercedes A45 was an explosive way to get from A to B, it lacked the fun factor so central to the hot hatch experience which is where the new A45 S picks up. Like the old model, it combines a highly tuned turbocharged four-cylinder engine and four-wheel drive to produce some startling numbers (421PS (310kW), 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and 168mph flat out), but unlike the old model, its four-wheel drive system is tuned to allow for mid-corner adjustability and even slides if you’re in the mood. Or, to put it another way, it’s mind-blindingly fast but also hilarious. It’s also a Mercedes which means that it’s exceptionally easy to live with. Inside, it feels plusher than a billionaire’s living room with a pretty dashboard and high-res infotainment screens. Sure, you pay for the luxury – it costs more than £55,000 new – but the wonders of depreciation mean you can have one for well under £50k now.

Audi RS3 Sportback

Much of what we said about the Mercedes A45 applies to the latest Audi RS3, which takes the straight-line performance of the car it replaces and adds an engaging handling setup courtesy of four-wheel drive that’s been tuned to drift. Central to the RS3 experience is its 401PS (295kW) five-cylinder engine which delivers performance in spades, backed up by a warbling soundtrack that belongs on a 1980s rally stage. The RS3 is no stripped-out competition car, though. Inside, you get an interior that would look at home in a car costing double the price, while adjustable everything means the RS3 can be transformed from racer to cruiser at the flick of a switch. A hefty price tag would be the main barrier to RS3 ownership but thankfully (for the purposes of this article) prices are starting to creep under £50,000.  

Renault Clio V6 Phase 1

The Renault Clio V6 could surprise, delight and terrify in equal measure. Unlike the supermini it was based on, the V6 had a mid-mounted six-cylinder engine, no back seats and a puffed-up body that made it a poster child for junior exotics. The handling, however, was less than ideal. Phase 1 models (sold from 2001-2003) famously gave very little warning before pirouetting you into a hedge, although Phase 2 cars (2003-2005) weren’t exactly immune to this issue. It made for a challenging driving experience if you were really on it. A modern equivalent to the Clio V6 doesn’t exist – and likely never will do – which makes the £40,000 you’ll pay for a clean Phase 1 example hard to resist.

Ford Focus RS Mk2

The Ford Escort Cosworth landed the Blue Oval a reputation for building performance cars for the masses and it’s a baton that was picked up by the Mk1 and this, the Mk 2, Focus RS. With a nose-heavy feel, the RS lacked the handling finesse of the most-sorted of hot hatches, but the firepower of its warbling 305PS (224kW) five-cylinder engine more than made up for this – giving the RS startling performance in period. Then there were the looks. The combination of a road-scraping front bumper, blistered wheel arches, a huge rear spoiler and exhausts that could double as drain pipes means the Focus RS looks every inch the junior supercar – something Ford fans will find hard to resist. And while examples of the limited-run RS500 sell for well over £50,000, clean versions of the ‘standard’ car start from less than £30K.

Peugeot 205 GTI

Spending anywhere near £50,000 on a close-to 40-year-old French hatchback sounds like madness. So the fact that some examples of the Peugeot 205 GTI have gone for even more gives you some idea just how special this hot hatch is. It’s been crowned the best hot hatch ever on numerous occasions. Why so? Well, to start with, it looks the part. It takes the perfect proportions of the standard 205 and adds to them with pepper pot alloy wheels, a subtle body kit and lashings of sporty red highlights. Inside, you get more red trim, a lovely three-spoke steering wheel and a snickety gearshift. Hit the road and the 205 feels every inch the classic hot hatch. At 860kg, it weighs close to half as much as some modern alternatives, meaning the 130PS (96kW) 1.9-litre provides plenty of performance and the chassis works with the road, rather than pummelling it into submission. It’s a snapshot into a bygone era, which is why it holds so much appeal.

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