Hot hatch comparison guide
How can you compare different hot hatch models in Australia? Find out in our hot hatch comparison guide.
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The term "hot hatch" is a shortened and more common version of "hot hatchback". This style of car first came into existence in the late 1970s, although people didn't start using the term "hot hatch" until the mid-80s. Hot hatches are a type of sports compact car and – along with some sports coupes – can also be classfied as a sports sedan.
What is a hot hatch?
A hot hatch is a hotted-up, high-performance version of the family hatchback. Based on the ever-popular family hatchback style and layout, a hot hatch boasts all the features of a typical hatchback, including an upwards-opening hatch-style rear door that provides access to ample storage space in a shared compartment with the rear passenger seats.
While a hot hatch shares the same basic layout as a family hatchback, including a forward-mounted petrol engine and front-wheel-drive powertrain, it usually surpasses the family hatchback when it comes to engine power, suspension, wheel and tyre size and aerodynamics.
Not all hatchback-style sports cars strictly fit the definition of a hot hatch, especially if they aren't based on an upgraded version of an existing family hatchback model.
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The features of a hot hatchback
Although hot hatchbacks vary depending on the make and model, most hot hatch cars share the following features:
- Three or five doors. Hot hatches come with either three or five doors and include rear passenger seats.
- Hatch-style rear door. It is the upwards-opening rear door that truly defines a hatchback – whether it's a hot hatch or a family model. Unlike sedans, the boot area of a hatchback is a shared compartment with the main passenger area.
- Front-wheel drive. The majority of hot hatches are front-wheel drive, although rear- and all-wheel-drive hot hatches do exist.
- Petrol powered. Some hot hatches are diesel powered, but the majority of hot hatches run on petrol.
The benefits and drawbacks of a hot hatch
- Affordable at entry level. While top-of-the-line hot hatches carry a correspondingly top-shelf price tag, entry-level hot hatches can be surprisingly affordable.
- Storage space. As a form of hatchback, the hot hatch has all the benefits that come with the upwards-opening rear door and collapsible back seats.
- Practicality. Storage space is one thing, but hot hatches also match the practicality aspects of their family hatchback counterparts. Parking a hot hatch is just as effortless as parking a family hatchback, as is navigating through city streets or reversing into a tight spot.
- Speed. As a hotted-up version of the family car, you're paying for performance as much as you're paying for practicality and aesthetics. Top-level hot hatches can rival the speed and performance of any sports car.
- Fuel efficiency. As a lightweight smaller vehicle, hot hatchbacks boast some of the best fuel efficiency on the market today.
- Understating. If you're spending the extra money to get a hotted-up version of a regular family hatchback, you'd probably like your new car to look the part. Although this doesn't apply to all hot hatches, some hot hatch models are almost indistinguishable from their family hatchback counterparts. Whether this truly is a drawback of a hot hatch will depend on the model you choose and whether you're looking to make a statement with your hot hatch purchase.
- Passenger seating. While hot hatches have a row of rear passenger seats, the overall short length of the car translates into limited legroom in the back seat. This may not be an issue if you'll only occasionally have multiple passengers in the back seat or if you've got a young family, but if you're transporting multiple adults or long-legged teenagers, it won't be long before they're feeling cramped and uncomfortable.
- Long-distance difficulties. High-end hot hatches boast firm suspension to give them the sporty power you'd expect in that price range, but the same feature can make long-distance travelling a chore, particularly over uneven surfaces.
How to compare hot hatch models
When comparing hot hatchbacks, consider the following:
- Price. As with most vehicle types, the cost of purchasing a new hot hatch will vary greatly depending on the make and model you choose. Entry-level hot hatches can be surprisingly affordable, while top-of-the-line models can be as expensive as any other sports car. Set your budget before you start test driving, and remember that some makes – like the Mini, for example – have a higher price set point than other makes, regardless of features.
- Features and accessories. Hot hatch models boast a number of impressive features, making it easy to be blindsided by the bells and whistles when comparing hot hatch models. From 18-inch alloy wheels to cruise control, multi-zone air conditioning, LED running lights and inbuilt infotainment systems, there's plenty to choose from when it comes to hot hatch accessories. Make a list of your accessory non-negotiables and nice-to-haves to help you narrow down your choices.
- Passengers versus storage. How many passengers will you regularly be transporting in your hot hatch? Hatchbacks make room for a row of rear seats, but – unlike their sedan counterparts – rear legroom can be limited. Also remember that you will need to collapse or remove your rear seats in order to maximise your storage space, so you can't transport five adults and their suitcases all at the same time.
Are hot hatch cars worth it?
Is a hot hatch really worth it? Everything will come down to what you're looking for in a car and how you plan to use it. If you love the convenience and practicality of a hatchback but aren't looking for performance features, a family hatchback would probably be the more sensible and affordable choice. If you're unlikely to invite additional passengers on your trips and are looking for something sportier-looking, a more traditional sports car could be the way to go.
However, if you want to combine the affordability, fuel efficiency and storage flexibility of a family hatchback with the power, performance and comfort of a sports car, a hot hatch could offer all the features you're looking for. Surprisingly affordable at the lower end and not so flashy that they'll attract unwarranted attention, a hot hatch is as easy to manoeuver in cramped areas as a typical hatchback and as fun to drive as a more traditional sports car.
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