The best used hot hatches to buy for £10k

A truly great hot hatch delivers a lot of fun for not much money – here's our £10k top ten

By PH Staff / Thursday, December 9, 2021 / Loading comments

The best used hot hatches comes up in discussion a lot, whether virtually or IRL. The quandary is so often a subject of conversation because so many great cars are available for, relatively speaking, not much money. And as a single vehicle to cover a lot of bases – the family car, the commuter car, the twisty B-road car, and plenty more – no genre is quite so adept as the humble hot hatch. Which is probably why so many secondhand options are out there, and why the new market remains so well stocked – we love owning and driving them even more than waffling about them.

This list of the best hot hatches for under £10,000 proves the point. Though all ostensibly three- or five-door family cars, we have hot hatches barely a few years old, a couple of modern classics, tiny tearaways, circuit-ready weapons and the odd curveball or two. From nine different manufacturers, too – that’s how broad the offering is. All for the price of a finance deposit on something new, even in today’s inflated market. It’s easy to see why the used hot hatch debate is never far from our minds – here’s our budget top ten.

  • Ford Fiesta ST (Mk7)

If you had to explain the fundamentals of a hot hatchback to someone with no clue about the segment, the previous Fiesta ST is the perfect place to start. It’s fast, thanks to 200hp from the 1.6-litre Ecoboost turbocharged engine, it’s fun – with a stiffer, sharper chassis than the standard Fiesta’s – and it’s fantastic value for money. As hot hatches continue to get more complex, so the ST proves the validity of keeping it simple: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual, three doors (and three wheels if you tried hard enough) are all you really need (if you did, indeed, need more, then the five-door ST was introduced in 2016.) Buyers simply had to choose how much equipment they wanted (ST, ST-2 and ST-3 specs were offered) plus their favourite colour – the Fiesta was as simple to spec as it was to enjoy.

There couldn’t be a better way to kick off this top ten; even in the current market, £10k opens up a wealth of options. Take this 2014 ST-2: Spirit Blue, the Mountune MP215 upgrade and the Style Pack are all very desirable options for any prospective buyer. The full history and low mileage only add to the appeal. Sure, the interior is a bit naff, but you really will be having too much fun to care.

  • Renault Sport Megane (Mk3)

What more can possibly be said about this era of Renault Sport Megane that hasn’t already been eulogised a hundred times before? We’re struggling, too. But just in case there are some readers that haven’t heard, the Mk3 Megane was one of the most exciting, engaging and thrilling hot hatchbacks of the 21st century. Which is why people tend to go on about them.

The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine provided ample power, ranging from 250hp to 275hp during its seven years on sale, but the real genius – as is so often the way with Renault Sport – was in the chassis. The Megane was simply more focused, more rewarding, and more capable than all its rivals. So what if it looked a tad peculiar? The driving experience was simply too good to ignore.

With hot hatches generally (and Renault Sports specifically) evolving and modernising with time, so the appeal of something so single-minded increases. Those fully committed to the R.S. ethos will want the smaller 18-inch wheels, Cup pack (with limited-slip differential and stiffer suspension) plus the Recaro seats – this one ticks the first two boxes, with 75,000 miles recorded as well. It’s worth doing your research on any Megane purchase – they were built to be driven hard, and the earliest cars are 12 years old now. But a good one will be more than worth the effort – they really are as good as you’ve heard.

  • Peugeot 208 GTI by Peugeot Sport

Don’t confuse the Peugeot Sport with the standard (and rather limp) 208 GTI. Essentially a series production version of the brilliant 30th anniversary model without the two-tone paint, the BPS was a return to great Peugeot pocket rockets. By 2015, we’d all been waiting a while…

Like so many of the legends, the recipe wasn’t complicated. The Peugeot Sport-fettled car was stiffer than the standard GTI, had a limited-slip diff for better traction, bigger brakes for better stopping and even wider tyres for greater corner carving prowess. The power gain for the 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine – from 200hp to a very deliberate 208hp – was inconsequential, because here was a Peugeot pocket rocket with a truly brilliant chassis for the first time since the 306. It was relatively simple (with passive dampers, a manual gearbox and traction control either on or off) but enormous fun: capable and sophisticated, with a lairy side as well.

Sadly, a £22k asking price and the existence of that pesky Fiesta ST meant few BPS 208s sold; a shame, really, as it’s arguably even better than the Ford. And where the ST was replaced, something as focused and as fun as the GTI looks unlikely to leave Peugeot again. Today, £10k is the entry point, with some still commanding as much as £17k. That buys this white one with 60,000 miles and an MOT until November 2022. Perhaps a left-field choice in a list of the best hot hatches, but absolutely worth trying out.

  • Ford Focus ST (Mk2)

The only manufacturer with two cars in this list is the Blue Oval, and with good reason. For more than 20 years now, Ford has made some of the best handling front-wheel-drive hatchbacks out there. Once it realised a great chassis needs a great engine as well, there was no stopping the fast Fords. The five-cylinder Focus ST, launched in 2005, was proof of just how good they could be.

The Volvo-sourced engine was the USP back then, and remains so now. Lusty and tuneful in best five-cylinder tradition, it gave the ST an emotional pull lacking in many of its four-cylinder rivals. And nobody needs reminding nowadays how appealing a soulful engine can be, even if the subsequent tax and fuel economy is rather less of a joy.

With a characterful powerplant, entertaining chassis, enticing RRP and that trademark orange paint option, the Focus ST soon won plenty of fans. A decade and a half from launch and that enduring popularity means plenty of choice when it comes to a used Ford Focus ST, too. Higher-mileage facelift cars are on offer for £10,000, but we’re drawn to this 2007 three-door ST-2. It’s yet to breach 40,000 miles and presents beautifully, with what looks like next-to-no wear inside and out. This ST was a popular hatch in the late 2000s for very good reason – it should be no less charming a decade or so later.

  • Audi S3

First things first: the original Audi S3 is not going to thrill the motoring enthusiasts like some others on this list. Even when launched at the end of the 20th century, the S3 was a mature mile-muncher rather than an outright thrill seeker. Not great for a week-long thrash with merciless journalists, but awfully appealing to actual buyers. Which is probably why the S3 – and, indeed, the whole premium hot hatch sector it helped create – hasn’t altered a great deal in the past two decades.

Think about it. Here’s a smart, sophisticated Audi hatchback, one with abundant turbocharged performance, quattro four-wheel-drive security, plus subtle good looks and reasonable practicality. Now consider a lot of the most popular hot hatches on sale today, from Golf R to AMG A35: turbo power, four driven wheels, and an interior your friends will be jealous of. Sure, the new cars will be faster – and the days of three-door manuals are done in this sector – but the template was there for all to follow in the original S3.

Which makes it intriguing in 2021; the first S3 remains the best looking, and the eminent tuning potential of the 1.8-litre turbocharged engine makes the standard ones prized. The market seems to agree, with even high mileage cars above £5k – and the best for sale at almost £15,000. The S3 is in fact more valuable than the TT coupe with which it shared so much. In the middle are cars like this one, a Ming Blue 2002 example (meaning 225hp) available for £8,995. Hot hatches don’t all have to be hellraisers, y’know.

  • Volkswagen Golf GTI (Mk5)

Another perennial in lists like this, it can start to feel like the whole Mk5 Golf GTI thing is overdone. On the contrary, with the latest Mk8 having not quite hit the spot – blame an infuriating interior and curious styling – the progenitor of the great modern GTI easily retains its allure. Budget for an Apple CarPlay upgrade and you’d have a better driving environment, for starters…

Banishing memories of the turgid Mk4, the 2004 VW Golf GTI met and surpassed the lofty expectations for both the model and the genre. It looked sporty yet sophisticated, was refined yet fun to drive, and was a capable family car while still entertaining for a solo driver. The hot hatch should be, simply, an all-rounder; an unenviable task, but one the Mk5 Golf GTI pulled off with aplomb.

Available with manual or DSG gearboxes, three or five doors, 17- or 18-inch wheels and leather or the famous tartan upholstery, GTI buyers had plenty of choice. Nowadays, the models that appealed to purists remain the most desirable; even with a pretty sturdy DSG and in handsome five-door guise, it’s hard to look past a Golf GTI with three doors and three pedals. With so many sold, there’s a host of Mk5s to choose from, starting at less than £5k; given our budget is double that, the very best ones are in reach. The Edition 30 celebrated three decades of the Golf GTI with 30 extra horsepower from the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine (230hp in total), snazzy 18-inch wheels and some extra leather. This one has had just two owners and remains less than 100,000 miles – surely a savvy way to spend fifty quid less than £10k.

  • Vauxhall Astra VXR

We’re pushing it a bit here, but the VXR was too good to ignore. To spend less than £10,000 on an Astra VXR will require buying one with a six-figure mileage – typically you’ll spend £12k-plus on one. But this Arden Blue example proves the four-figure Astra VXR is a reality – and certainly warrants consideration

It’s the most powerful of this bunch, with 280hp and 295lb ft from its 2.0-litre engine. However, far from being the wild-child Astra like its predecessor, this VXR could make the most of its potential; a Drexler limited-slip diff, bespoke suspension struts and ZF Sachs adaptive dampers ensured a much more sophisticated drive. 0-62mph took less than six seconds and the top speed was 155mph – not bad for £26,995.

Also, and not for nothing, the Vauxhall Astra VXR looked great – or it did when optioned with the £995 Aero Kit (that 85 per cent of buyers were forecast to) that brought bigger wheels and more prominent bumpers. That will count for at least as much now as when new, because who wants a dull hot hatch? The interior may age the Astra VXR, but the exterior styling could still cut it today. To further sweeten the deal, this one is being sold with 12 months’ warranty and a fresh MOT. Nobody needs to know you paid less than £10k…

  • Mini Cooper S JCW (R56)

Before the current dumpy iteration, the Mini Cooper S was a gem: a hoot to drive and stylish from every angle. Probably why they’ve held onto their value so well.

The turbocharged ‘R56’ Cooper S launched in 2006, with the Works package arriving two years later. It was worth getting, boosting power from 175hp to 208hp with upgraded pistons, more boost and an all-new exhaust from the manifold back (with accompanying sweetened exhaust note), among other modifications. That made the Mini John Cooper Works a near-150mph hatch, albeit an expensive one – £24k is a lot now, leave alone 2008.

With engine woes affecting the earliest R56 turbocharged Minis, it’s worth buying as late a model year as possible; the less troublesome N18 1.6 was used in the Cooper S from 2010. Post-2011 cars received a tougher timing chain tensioner, too, so they’re the ones to seek out. This JCW ticks all our boxes, though does come in a tiny bit over budget at £10,780: a 2013 car with 91k, aftermarket wheels and colour scheme celebrating the best wine gums, fans of a frisky front-wheel-drive fun need look no further. It should continue to hold its value well, too.

  • Abarth 500

We could compile a top ten of Abarth 500/595/695 special editions quite easily; even then, it would barely scratch the surface of the past 13 years when it comes to Fiat’s tearaway. From humble 135hp origins as a Renault Sport Twingo rival to the crazy two-seat, plastic-windowed, £50k Biposto Stradale, there’s been an Abarth 500 for almost everyone since 2008. And they keep coming – did you not see the 695 Scorpion?

Fundamentally, however, there’s plenty shared amongst all of them: a feisty, fruity 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, the go-kart feel from behind the wheel and timeless good looks in whatever specification – even all these years later. Here isn’t the place to work out whether a Turismo, Trofeo, Competizione or Yamaha Factory Racing is the Abarth for you, because it’ll take forever. But those after a hot hatch that will raise a smile from the moment it’s started to looking back longingly at journey’s end could do a whole lot worse.

It says much of the Abarth’s reputation that even the earliest cars of a spectacularly popular run still cost more than £5,000 – and they were only £13,500 new. Naturally we’ve opted for the most powerful option in the price range, giving us this 2016 Competizione with 180hp, which should mean 0-62mph in seven seconds and 140mph potential. In Gara White with red accents, it looks just as an Abarth should, while one owner, a full service history and 11 months’ MOT should ensure some peace of mind – soon to be ruined by the lack of peace and quiet…

  • Honda Civic Type R (EP3)

There’s all manner of choice when it comes to buying the Honda Civic Type R for £10,000. You might opt for an FN2 Championship White, with a limited-slip differential that really improved the regular car; or a standard one for less that you could spend on modifying; £10k may even get an original Japanese Domestic Market car if you looked long enough.

Our £10k Civic Type R would be one of the EP3s, however: the first CTR for the UK launched 20 years ago this year. If not as feral as those JDM cars of the 1990s, it was cheap – just £15,995 at launch – fast, thanks to a 200hp, 2.0-litre VTEC engine, and thrilling in a way no hot hatch buyer had experienced before, because it revved all the way past 8,000rpm. A Renault Sport Clio was probably the more resolved driver’s car, but there was never going to be a dull journey with a powertrain as effervescent as the Type R’s.

Values have been climbing for a while; cars that beg to be thrashed tend to get crashed, after all. Others have been turned into race cars, meaning a smaller pool of standard Civics for buyers to fish in, with asking prices going up all the time. But this was the Honda hooligan that really established the Type R brand in the UK. Not so long ago you’d have laughed at the notion of paying more than £5k for one, but how many hot hatches have we collectively rued passing up when they were cheap? Now, a used car like this one – a 2004 facelift with just over 70,000 miles – costs £8,500. It looks fresh as a daisy, too, even down to the famously frail seat bolsters. As a reminder of hot hatches like they used to be for many more years hence, the Civic will be ideal.

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