Drive Car Of The Year
Major Sponsor
carconnect – majorsponsorlogo

Best Hot Hatch 2022

The number of hot hatches available in showrooms has diminished over the past decade, but those that remain are truly special.

The hot hatch formula hasn’t changed since the original pint-sized Peugeots and Volkswagens created a new vehicle category in the 1970s.

Add a lot of power to a small lightweight body, run a spanner over the suspension, add sticky tyres and better stopping power, and fit sports seats to keep the driver and front-seat passenger pinned in. The result is a potent performance car that doubles as a grocery-getter and daily driver.

These cars are so good at what they do, we almost take them for granted. 

But in recent years, engineers and marketing departments have had to fight tooth and nail to get these cars into showrooms amid the shift towards SUVs and electric cars, which soak up most new-vehicle development budgets. 

This is why we are approaching a turning point for the hot hatch as we know it. The examples in showrooms today are likely the last analogue models.

From here on, successors to these hot hatches are likely to have some form of electrification – whether it is hybrid or pure-electric power – to meet stringent emissions rules in Europe and other parts of the world.

Translated: enjoy these cars while you can, because we believe they truly could be the last of their breed.

Conspicuous by their absence among our hot hatch contenders: the Renault Megane RS has temporarily been streamlined to one model in Australia and, although it is holding its age well and is still highly regarded, it’s not as fresh as the newer competition.

The Ford Focus ST and Ford Fiesta ST were in the middle of their model changes as we commenced testing, and the updated versions weren’t here in time.

As much as we love the Ford Focus ST and Ford Fiesta ST, we didn’t want to publish a contest that included the pre-facelifted models as the updates were rolling into showrooms. 

Plus, in the case of the Fiesta ST, we still need to have a long conversation with Ford about a factory-backed brake-and-tyre upgrade (hopefully recent spy photos from the Nurburgring point to a final send-off edition that will also be available in Australia and not just Europe).

The Suzuki Swift Sport got a regular mention in our discussions – there are more than a few fans of that car in the office – but although it offers a lot of performance and fun for the money, we reckon the Hyundai i20 N (its nearest rival on price) out-guns it in a number of areas. 

The Subaru WRX isn’t here because it’s a sedan and at the end of its current model cycle. But the new-generation Subaru WRX will be available as a sedan and a wagon in 2022, so maybe it will make the cut next year.

The Hyundai i30 Sedan N is absent because it’s a sedan, but by all accounts it’s sharper than its Hyundai hot hatch siblings, so perhaps we need to broaden the definition of this category next time around.

The other curve ball considered at the eleventh hour was the Hyundai Kona N. Although it is listed as an SUV in official vehicle categories, we all know it’s a high-riding hatchback, and debated whether or not to include it.

In the end, we figured the lower-slung Hyundai i30 N hatch (with which the Hyundai Kona N shares its mechanicals and underpinnings; they are effectively twins under the skin) would outclass its stablemate in high-speed handling due to the lower centre of gravity. 

But make no mistake, the Hyundai Kona N is an epic car, and is another one pushing us to consider renaming this category to include more than just hatchbacks. 

Let us know in the comments if we should have brought it along as a finalist for 2022. However, had we done so, the other issue would have been three Hyundai hot ‘hatches’ versus one Volkswagen Golf GTI

So that’s how we ended up with the finalists you see here: the just-released eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI, the recently updated Hyundai i30 N, and the new kid on the block, the Hyundai i20 N, the South Korean carmaker’s first pint-sized hot hatch.

Let’s get into it.

Winner: Hyundai i30 N DCT

What we love
  • Epic handling and grip, but comfortable day-to-day
  • Strong engine power, rapid-fire eight-speed auto
  • That exhaust note
What we don’t
  • Elements of the interior still a bit downmarket
  • Badge snobs won’t understand
  • As good as it is, there’s room for an even hotter version

The Hyundai i30 N is Drive’s hot hatch of the year for 2022.

While this may seem a surprising outcome given the arrival of the latest Volkswagen Golf GTI – a previous winner – and the highly regarded Hyundai i20 N (which took out Top Gear UK’s best driver’s car award), the updated Hyundai i30 N snuck up on us.

The latest update brought significant changes that came with a facelift – new steering and suspension, more power, sticky Pirelli tyres and, crucially, a new fast-acting eight-speed twin-clutch auto that transforms the car's breadth of ability compared to earlier manual-only versions.

Until Drive Car of the Year, we hadn’t driven it in anger on a test track against its nearest rivals, or any other hot hatch contenders.

As a result, this was one of the most hotly contested categories in Drive Car of the Year 2022. But in the end, seven out of eight judges voted in favour of the Hyundai i30 N DCT.

It delivers next-level performance on and off the track, and yet is liveable in the daily grind.

In many regards, the Hyundai i30 N sits neatly between stripped-out hardcore hot hatches and the plushness and refinement of the VW Golf GTI – and this formula ticked all the right boxes for most judges.

The Hyundai i30 N was also the fastest hot hatch in this contest, stopping the clocks in a 0 to 100km/h test on our VBox timing equipment in 5.5 seconds (versus 6.1 to 6.3 seconds for the Golf GTI, and 6.6 seconds for the i20 N).

The Hyundai i30 N has true racetrack capability when you need it, but is not a chore to live with day-to-day.

The exhaust note, while not quite up there with a Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG, is the best of the trio tested – and delighted the senses whether on a racetrack or driving through a freeway tunnel. 

Helpfully it has a loud mode – as well as a mode that won’t wake the neighbours – all at the press of a button.

While the original Hyundai i30 N was close to the mark for many, the updated version has gone to finishing school, giving it a breadth of capability that’s as much at home commuting as it is cutting racetrack laps in the hands of weekend warriors. 

The aforementioned changes to the steering, suspension, power, lightweight wheels, sticky tyres – and the epic eight-speed twin-clutch auto that can really take the punishment – combined with a mechanical limited-slip differential and countless driving modes, have elevated the Hyundai i30 N to a new level. 

It is a worthy winner.

Finalist: Hyundai i20 N

What we love
  • Fun and agile handling
  • Epic brakes and tyres
  • Personalised performance modes
What we don’t
  • Rev hang
  • Tyre roar
  • Muted exhaust

This is the car many judges tipped prior to testing would win this contest. In many regards, the Hyundai i20 N is the closest to the original hot hatch formula, a subject of much debate.

The Hyundai i20 N is pint-sized, relatively affordable (a key factor for many in the judging team), and extraordinarily capable and fun to drive. It also brings a level of adjustment and personalisation to the city-sized hot hatch class not seen before.

The grip from the Pirelli tyres is profound and the brakes can take plenty of punishment on and off a racetrack. The handling is so neutral, it is forgiving in novice hands.

And while we initially couldn’t get near the Hyundai i20 N’s 0 to 100km/h claim, we have since been able to record a repeatable 6.6-second time, which is line-ball with Hyundai's estimates (hint: don’t use launch control, it fries the front tyres). 

If you have your heart set on this car, buy one. In fact, one of our team is already in the queue.

But this contest was so tight, minor issues weighed against the Hyundai i20 N in this company. Some buyers may not deem these to be a concern, and that’s fair enough, but in this battle we had to split hairs.

The Hyundai i20 N exhaust note is nice and has hints of hot hatch, but is not as raucous as the Hyundai i30 N. 

The rev hang (the delay for engine revs to settle between manual gear changes) was a source of annoyance.

And while firm-ish suspension is to be expected in a car like this (and was deemed liveable), the tyre roar began to grate on us after a while.

While the Hyundai i20 N is a brilliant example of a pure hot hatch, it was less suited to the day-to-day than the others here.

Finalist: Volkswagen Golf GTI

What we love
  • Performance in a luxury package
  • Excellent stopping power and tyre grip
  • Upmarket interior, roomy cabin
What we don’t
  • Infotainment and AC controls via touch only
  • Less suited to track days
  • Muted exhaust

It’s apparent that hot hatches have now split into two categories: hardcore purist and fast luxury.

The VW Golf GTI is so competent and so capable, it does so without raising a sweat – with reflexes that get the job done without jarring the body.

During our hot laps, the VW Golf was top of its game, but did so with more refinement and composure than the other two. 

On the road, it delivers a life of luxury – and yet you're also able to unlock its true potential at the press of a button or a squeeze of the throttle. Steering precision, tyre grip, braking performance, and engine power are all top level. 

And the twin-clutch auto buys critical fractions of a second if a stopwatch, VBox or lap timer are involved – once on the move.

From rest, however, the twin-clutch gearbox loses valuable fractions of a second (stopping the clock in our 0 to 100km/h test in 6.1 to 6.3 seconds if you can get a clean start, and frying the front tyres if you don’t).

The seats are snug without breaking a rib on the way in, and the interior had the best presentation of all the hot hatches in this contest.

For many buyers, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is what a hot hatch should be: fast luxury. 

But other enthusiasts – who are prepared to be less pampered – want something with a little more edge.

In the end, as much as the judges loved the VW Golf GTI, they could see it was outclassed by another all-rounder.

Chat with us!

Chat with Agent