Hatchbacks with the Best Performance
If you want sporty performance, but need a fair amount of utility in your car, opting for a performance-oriented hatchback can be very rewarding. Many hatchbacks are built with driving enthusiasts in mind. That means something with taut, planted handling, ample power and -- oh, yeah -- a practical cargo area won’t be too hard to find.
Best Performing Hatchbacks
Keep in mind that most hatchbacks aren’t built to win pinks at the drag strip. While there are great performers among hatchbacks, the performance emphasis tends to be on handling, not raw power. Most hatchbacks have four-cylinder engines making between 150 and 250 horsepower. That may not sound like much, but because performance hatchbacks tend to be small, it’s enough power to get them up and moving.
Handling is where most performance-hatchbacks excel. Several performance hatchbacks have available all-wheel drive. You may think all-wheel drive is good only for wet weather, but on dry pavement it adds and extra measure of stability that helps cars take corners faster. Hatchbacks that put an emphasis on performance also tend to have responsive steering that’s much more precise than what you’d find in a larger car. Taut-suspension tuning also gives hot hatches a ride that may seem a little stiff over rough pavement, but keeps the car planted in turns.
An added benefit of performances hatches is that they can provide a lot of driving enjoyment without a huge penalty in gas mileage. While a muscle car relies on a huge engine for its performance thrills, sporty hatchbacks can combine smaller engines with impressive handling for a ride that’s just as satisfying when you fill up as when you’re on the road.
If you’re balancing performance and a budget, the Ford Fiesta is a great option. The base price for the hatchback is just over $15,000, and most car reviewers say the Fiesta delivers satisfying performance for the money. While the power isn’t breathtaking, the Fiesta is plenty zippy enough to provide thrills around town -- and to attack back roads with gusto.
For buyers with a stronger desire for performance and the means to pay for it, the reviewer-favorite Volkswagen GTI makes a good choice. It perennially makes Car and Driver’s 10Best list, with several reviewers saying it’s the sportiest hatchback you can buy. While the GTI makes 200 horsepower, reviewers are more impressed with its handling, and the GTI’s steering gets special praise.
The Impreza WRZ is the performance-tuned variant of the Subaru Impreza. While the Impreza is satisfying enough in its own right, the WRX kicks things up a notch with a turbocharged engine that makes 265 horsepower. Standard all-wheel drive gives the WRX planted handling. The only downside is that the WRX starts at just over $25,000.
Although it’s a little short on practicality compared to other hatchbacks, the Mini Cooper is long on performance. If the base Cooper’s 121 horsepower isn’t enough for you, you can trade up to the Mini Cooper S for 181 horsepower. If you’ve just got to have more power, there’s the 208 horsepower John Cooper Works edition. Even with all that power, the Cooper’s calling card is its handling. Reviewers say the Mini is athletic in curves, with steering that’s precise and responsive.
Buyers looking for an upscale hatch that can keep up with sport sedans in the corners should take a look at the Audi A3. Though it’s expensive for a hatchback, the A3 shares much of its architecture with the GTI -- which means it’s as thrilling to drive. An available diesel engine doesn’t have incredible horsepower numbers, but it does make 236 pounds feet of torque, which is the force that gets you going from a stop. If you go for the gasoline A3 you can get Audi’s renowned Quattro system, which helps hold the A3 to the road no matter how hard you throw it into turns.
The Mazda3 hatch could be technically called a small station wagon, but it’s cross-shopped against so many hatchbacks that leaving it off this list would be a major oversight. The Mazda3 and its performance variant, the MazdaSpeed3, have plenty of engine power for their weight and manual transmissions that make rowing through the gears yourself a pleasure. Though their starting prices are a little high (just over $20,000 for the 3 hatch and just over $23,000 for the MazdaSpeed3), most reviewers say that either hatch from Mazda is worth the money.