5. Renault Sport Mégane RS
The fourth-generation Mégane RS isn’t a hot hatch for pretenders; with Cup chassis specced, this is a hard-riding, sharp-edged B-road weapon that demands some serious commitment, and not a few wider compromises, if you’re to get the best out of it.
Four-wheel steering virtually shortens its wheelbase through tighter bends and makes for super-incisive handling, while hydraulic bumpstops ensure the suspension can take any punishment you’re prepared to dish out. Meanwhile the car’s 1.8-litre four-pot provides plentiful performance – though not quite as much outright pace or high-range flexibility as the very best turbocharged four-pots around.
Ergonomics aren’t great, neither’s the cabin in general. The shift quality of the manual ‘box could likewise have been improved, although Renault has solved that problem by making the car a two-pedal ‘EDC’ automatic option only.
Still, on the right road, in the right conditions – or better still, on track – there’s a lot to like here. And if you’re confident enough to plough your own furrow, ignore the wider market’s preference for the firmer cup version of the car, and order a sport-spec car instead (with its softer suspension much better-suited to everyday use and fast road driving), you’ll get a Megane RS that knows moderation as well as thrill, and is that bit easier to live with.
6. BMW 1 Series M135i & BMW 128ti
You might think it odd that a 50 per cent drop in engine cylinders and a switch away from rear-wheel drive should have made the performance version of the new BMW 1-Series, the M135i xDrive, a better hot hatchback – but in many cases, that’s what happened.
By better, we clearly don’t mean more powerful or, at its very best, more exciting. The old M140i’s powertrain and chassis certainly both had their moments, but the M135i xDrive became a more composed performance car, easier to drive, faster along a testing stretch of B-road, and more communicating of its adhesive limits, when it came along in 2019.
BMW then refined the car’s handling and specification, chucked away half of the four-wheel drive system, and gave birth to the 128ti in 2020: a car whose auto-only driveline is a bit of a turn-off and which doesn’t excite as viscerally as some cars in this class, but which has plenty of high-speed purpose about it. If you like your hot hatchbacks desirable, usable and a shade more dynamically sophisticated than the norm, the 128ti is worth considering.