The hatchback has always been a staple of the sport compact tuning scene. Generally, these cars are small, light, quick and nimble, and include the convenience of hatchback payload carrying at no extra cost. The hot hatch concept was started by the Golf GTI in the 1980s, but took off in the tuning scene with the Honda EG Civic and CRX in the early ’90s.
The hatchback has been in and out of favor in the U.S. in the last 15 years (just ask Subaru WRX fans) but the pendulum is now swinging its direction. There are a number of enticing, performance-oriented hatches on the showroom floor or in the pipeline. They all have different attributes from driveline to power output to price tag, but they all share a taste for tuning. These are the best and brightest.
1) 2016 Honda Civic Type R
Price: $32,000 – $45,000 est
Engine: 2.0-liter Turbo DI
Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive
Honda’s slogan says “Earth Dreams”… Meet the American Honda enthusiast’s wet dream. The Civic Type R has been an overseas-only affair for decades: yet another high-end Japanese model that we can’t get in the U.S. Well, all that has changed and the all-new 2016 Type R has been cleared for takeoff here. The car is a racer dressed down for the street. It has an aggressive, angular, wide look, runs 13.7-inch Brembo brakes up front, and 19-inch alloys all around. Its impressive 153 horsepower per liter specific output is better than a Lancer Evolution’s, so the exclusively six-speed manual-equipped Honda definitely has the bite to back up its considerable bark.
From a tuning standpoint the market will reach from here to eternity as the current flock of Honda-centric manufacturers will build the bandwagon for this car. King Motorsports should have some Mugen gear, Skunk2 will be primed, Bisimoto Engineering, Speedfactory Racing, and DRT (Drag Racing Technologies) are just a tip of the iceberg sampling of the Honda tuning market. We will see some wild rides when this thing hits the road.
The tipping point will be price. The Type R is an expensive date with prices of around £31,000, or $47,000 USD. Heck a Civic EX Plus is $38,000 USD in the U.K. We see $47k for a Civic, even the Type R, as a non-starter if Honda expects any kind of volume. A price in the mid-to-high $30k range seems to fit the competition in the U.S. market.
2) 2016 Ford Focus RS
Engine: 2.3-liter EcoBoost
The Focus RS is another of those long lost or “never made it here” cars that is coming finally to the U.S. The RS was a Ford of Europe creation that battled the Type R Civic on tracks all across Europe. This car is the goods. It’s all-wheel drive and pounds 345 horsepower from its 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine. That’s 35 more than it makes in the Mustang EcoBoost and the top output on our hot hatch list. Its 150 horsepower per liter specific output is right in line with the Type R. The RS version of the EcoBoost is revised with a better intake, different low-inertia twin scroll turbo, and better flowing exhaust than the Mustang mill.
The RS engine is torquey, producing 324 lb-ft compared to 295 lb-ft in the Type R. The Ford also has an overboost button that provides up to 346 lb-ft in 15-second spurts. The Blue Oval is the most expensive ride on the list but it also packs the biggest wallop.
As it stands now, tuners in the U.K. have a decade head-start as they have been developing go-fast parts for this platform since Day One. But the use of an EcoBoost tips the scales in our favor.
Focus Power has been fiddling with Focuses since the SVT days at the turn of the century. The company offers flash tunes for all models and seems to be well positioned to address the needs of the RS. Roush and Cobb Tuning also have ECU tuning, suspension solutions, and accessories galore for these Blue Ovals. See the tuner list for the Focus ST for more tuning options as there is considerable crossover.
3) Volkswagen Golf R
Engine: 2.0-liter Turbo
Along with the Focus RS and Type R Civic, the Volkswagen Golf R is an alpha specimen, a top dog hot hatch that peaks in performance and price. Compared to the GTI the R is more powerful, .20 inches lower, more refined inside, has four doors, and rides on larger 18-inch rolling stock. It has a base price that’s $10,655 more than its entry level stablemate but $80 less than the Focus RS. The V-Dub’s 2.0-liter engine comes straight out of the Audi S3 and the R sports VW’s tasty 4MOTION all-wheel drive setup. Gearbox choices include a six-speed manual, or a DSG dual clutch.
There are plenty of tuning avenues for the Volkswagen. APR Tuning offers staged ECU tunes, performance intakes, high-flow exhaust systems, Brembo-based brake upgrades, and more. ECS Tuning offers a wide selection of performance parts like intakes, boost controllers, and suspension stuff as well as VW-spec maintenance parts. See the tuner list for the Golf GTI for more tuning options as there is considerable crossover.
4) Volkswagen Golf GTI
Price: $24,995 (2 Door)
Price: $25,595 (4 Door)
Engine: 2.0-liter Turbo
The GTI was a complete redesign in 2015, and we love the red stripe styling cue that harkens to the original GTI of the 1980s. It can be had in two-door or four-door configuration and flexes the tried-and-proven 2.0-liter TSI engine. Sporty buyers can opt for the optional performance package that increases output to 220 horsepower, but we see enthusiasts getting much more bang for the buck in the aftermarket.
Neuspeed has been making quality parts for Volkswagen platforms for more than 40 years. Along with the basic bolt-ons, Neuspeed sells intercooler upgrades, wheels, cool carbon fiber aero parts, and a deep selection of race-spec suspension components. See the tuner list for the Golf R for more tuning options as there is considerable crossover.
5) 2016 Ford Focus ST
Engine: 2.0-liter EcoBoost
Much like the Golf R and GTI, the Focus ST and RS are little brother, big brother propositions. The Focus ST has all the sexy angular styling of the RS, a turbo mill, heaps of sportiness, and technological tidbits. The wrinkle is the ST has 93 fewer ponies in the corral and lacks the all-wheel-drive prowess of the RS. It’s also a whopping $11,360 less than its RS brethren. It’s definitely a cost versus reward quandary.
Drivers who want more Boost and less Eco out of their EcoBoost engines have options. Steeda, FSWerks, and CFM Performance have a long list of performance parts for the Focus. See the tuner list for the Focus RS for more tuning options as there is considerable crossover.
6) Mini Cooper S Hardtop
Engine: 2.0-liter Turbo
Though diminutive on the outside, the original Mini Cooper was an accomplished race car and when BMW revived the brand, the retro looking Mini retained its go-kart handling. The Cooper S is the turbocharged model in the lineup and its 1.6-liter four churns out 189 horsepower. Mini has introduced a four-door to the Hardtop line, giving buyers more flexibility. This car seems to fly under the radar in the sport compact scene but it has a good deal of potential.
There are two routes to go when it comes to upping the performance ante. Step up to the John Cooper Works model at $30,600 and get 228 horsepower, sharper suspension, and some exclusive amenities, or take an S model to the aftermarket. Companies like Mini Mania, M7 Speed, ECS Tuning, and Burger Motorsports will gladly boost up this overachieving hot hatch.
7) Fiat 500 Abarth
Engine: 1.4-liter Turbo
When it comes to Fiat, the moniker no longer stands for Fix It Again Tony, as these cars are robust and reliable. Abarth is Fiat’s tuning wing, akin to John Cooper Works for Mini or Nissan’s Nismo. The 500 is the smallest car on the list but a great city car that can zoom through traffic without missing a beat. The Abarth comes with exclusive body tuning, a sport suspension, four-wheel disc brakes with red painted calipers, and Fiat’s rev happy MultiAir turbo engine. It also represents a $5,650 premium over the standard Fiat 500.
There are a surprising number of U.S.-based Fiat tuning outlets ready to boost up and deck out the 500. They include 500 Madness, Eurocompulsion, and Road Race Engineering. These outfits offer engine tuning goods and personalization accessories for every part of the car.
8) Ford 2016 Fiesta ST
Engine: 1.6-liter EcoBoost
This is the mighty mite of Ford’s EcoBoost hot hatches. The Fiesta ST is the basis for Ford’s rallycross racers on both sides of the Atlantic and there is a lot to like about the spunky hatch. It has the same mission statement as its Focus counterparts, namely an engaging drive with the power and efficiency of turbocharging. The ST’s 1.6-liter is the smallest displacement EcoBoost currently in Ford’s lineup and the car is the cheapest date on our list.
The Veloster comes in three turbo flavors. All the variants are equipped with a 201-horsepower twin-scroll turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, Torque Vectoring Control (TVC) drivetrain, and nifty body accents.
The regular turbo model’s biggest advantage is access to more option packages than the other two variants. It also offers an optional sunroof, proximity door locks, and push button starting that the others don’t. It rolls on smaller 17-inch alloys, has a regular suspension, and lacks the interior flash of its brothers. But it does have boost.
The R-Spec includes a unique front fascia, grille, and body kit package, six-speed manual transmission with B&M Racing sport shifter, 18-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned steering and suspension, projector headlights with unique LED headlight accents, front fog lights, rear LED taillights, Dimension premium audio system with 450 watts and eight speakers, unique interior seating with red leatherette bolsters and cloth seat inserts, alloy pedals, and R-Spec floor mats.
The Rally Edition is a limited production run Veloster featuring a distinctive Matte Blue paint, Rays Engineering 18-inch wheels, upgraded springs, shocks and stabilizer bars, and a tricked out interior with blue accented leatherette seats, carbon fiber trim, and a host of audio and technology goodies.
Being a Korean make in a world of JDM has been a handicap of sorts for Hyundai enthusiasts. But in recent years the quality and performance of the brand has been on the rise. Consequently, there are some very talented Hyundai-dedicated tuning options out there. Shark Racing is a promising outlet for those that want more velocity from their Veloster. The company, established in 1999, offers pipe kits, intercooler upgrades, big brake packages, lighting upgrades, and a number of body kits. KDM Project and Pro Import Tuners are also good sources but we found a number of companies with parts for the Genesis but not for Velosters.
10) 2018 Mazdaspeed3
Price: $30,000 est
Horsepower: 280 – 300 est.
Engine: 2.5-liter Turbo
Under the ‘Worth The Wait’ banner we find the Mazdaspeed3. The return of one of the better hot hatches, but one that has always seemed to fly just below the tuner radar, is an ongoing rumor. There has been a constant buzz of this happening in 2018, with the resulting car perhaps seeing the showrooms in 2017. The strength of the Mazda3 (pictured) are its light weight, build quality, and outstanding interior attributes … toss a turbo into this mix and you are on to something.
CorkSport, JSC Speed, and Racing Beat are a few of the companies that were into the previous Mazdaspeed3 and would most likely embrace a second coming.
In the market for a new car? Want your commute to include an adrenaline rush? These hot hatches will be worthy rides and they all have ample tuning support to feed your need for speed when you want to up your adrenaline intake. Happy hunting.