What Is Considered A Hot Hatch?

Here at Garage Dreams we are massive fans of “Hot Hatches”.

From the original hot hatch (the Golf GTI MK1 – which has best claim to the title) through to the super hatches of today like the Audi RS3 and Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG, there is much to be said for hot hatch ownership.

We covered the reasons for hot hatch popularity in a recent article (read it here) but to recap:

  1. You get superior practicality in a smaller sized car (small cars are great, period).
  2. You generally get great daily drive-ability
  3. It might be easier to sneak a hot hatch purchase past a family member/spouse/partner who disapproves of you buying a performance car
  4. Hot hatches are often more affordable than “true” sports/performance cars

But in this article we want to clear up some misconceptions about what is actually considered a hot hatch.

What Exactly Is A Hot Hatch?

Ultimately, determining what is considered a hot hatchback is actually quite easy.

Firstly, the car needs to be a hatchback (hatch, for short).

Understanding the hatchback bit is easy. Wikipedia defines a hatchback as “a car body configuration with a rear door that swings upward to provide access to a cargo area” and that the hatchback rear door is hinged from the roof, not from the book/trunk as in a sedan.

For example, here is the Toyota Corolla in sedan form.

And comparison, here is the hatchback.

See the difference?

Hatches can come in two door/four door configuration (three or five door if you consider the hatch door to be a door).

But what about the “hot” part? That is much harder to define.

The “Hot Hatch Spectrum”

In theory, a hot hatch is any performance-tuned variant of a regular hatchback (or a new model that doesn’t exist in any other trim/grade but is still a performance-focused hatchback). Performance upgrades tend to focus on power and handling, but will also stretch to areas like exterior and interior trim and specification.

For example, Hyundai sells the i30. A perfectly decent family hatchback, with a focus on economy and practicality.

However, they also sell the fire-breathing i30N, which is a true performance monster:

Both are hatches, only one is hot.

In reality, there is a bit of a spectrum of hot hatches:

  • “Faux” hatches
  • Warm hatches
  • Hot hatches
  • Super hatches

What Is A Warm Hatch?

You might have seen the term “warm hatch” used by some reviewers and commentators.

This is a tricky term to define and understand, but basically refers to hot hatches that are on the milder end of the scale when it comes to performance.

Warm hatches tend to be defined as either a lesser (but still upgraded) model in a lineup or as much smaller, less powerful hatches that have still been upgraded.

For example, the old Fiat Panda 100 is a good example of a warm hatch. With 100hp and a 0-60mph time of 9.5 seconds, it is hardly the fastest horse in the stable. But ask just about anyone who has driven a Panda 100 and they will tell you it is a hoot to drive and a perfect example of a warm hatch; a car where the performance has been dialled up, but still retaining a solid focus on economy, practicality and simplicity:

Another example of the warm hatch – from the same manufacturer – is the Fiat Stilo Abarth (read our review/buyer’s guide here). Due to its focus on being more of a GT hatchback, it sits in that awkward space between warm and hot.

A Fiat Stilo Abarth – this was the top spec Stilo variant and badged as an Abarth, but not technically an Abarth.

Another way to think of warm hatches is as “Hot Hatch Jrs” – either in size (like a Renaultsport Twingo) or in terms of performance, or a combination of both.

What Is A Hot Hatch?

As you can imagine, the term hot hatch can be used fairly broadly in application.

In our view a hot hatch is any serious attempt by a manufacturer to improve the performance (and sporting look) of a hatchback, and the car is often the premier option in the lineup for that particular model.

The Golf GTI is the quintessential hot hatch and is what most people think of when the term is used. Here’s an example of a MK5 Golf GTI – you can read our buyer’s guide for this car here.

Credit: Volkswagen

Another modern example is the Renault Megane RS – this is a blisteringly-quick car but still a practical family proposition.

There is no specific performance criteria for a hot hatch, but we reckon that something like the new Suzuki Swift Sport is on the bottom end of the spectrum (sitting a bit higher than something like the Stilo Abarth we mentioned above) – the older, non-turbocharged models are probably closer to the warm end – you can read our Suzuki Swift Sport buyer’s guide here.

The modern crop of hot hatches tend to dispatch with 0-60/0-100 in anywhere from about 5-7.5 seconds, and will generally be packing upwards of 200hp, often 250-350hp (with the exception of something like the new Swift Sport which has lower power but also very low weight)

Many hot hatches are front wheel drive, but there are also all wheel drive options such as the Golf R and Ford Focus RS. In fact, these are two cars that sit in the middle ground between hot hatch and super hatch due to their substantially stronger performance than the Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST.

What Is A Super Hatch?

As mentioned above, some reviewers/commentators in the car industry like to use the term “super hatch”.

In our view, super hatches sit one level above normal hot hatches, and the term is reserved for hatches that have levels of performance nearing that of supercars or higher end performance cars (and often exceeding the performance of supercars and performance cars from even recent generations)

Take the current model Audi RS3, for example. This “super hatch” dispatches the 0-60MPH sprint in 3.9-4.1 seconds (depending on which source you believe). That is about the same time it takes a Ferrari F430, which was epitome of supercar performance about 15 years ago, with only hypercars like the Bugatti Veyron being faster.

When you consider the RS3 has room for four, possibly five adults and luggage in a decent boot, as well as all the mod cons we are used to in newer cars like radar cruise, smartphone connectivity etc, these super hatches really are in a league of their own.

Performance that would have featured on the lap time board in the old Top Gear in a highly accessible format – what’s not to love?

Sporting Pretensions

One other category to mention is the “faux” hot hatch (or pretend hot hatch).

These are cars that might have a few bits of tinsel stuck on but have no performance improvements over a base spec model.

An example of this is the Suzuki Swift.

There is a base model Suzuki Swift (which is a perfectly decent, entry-level economy hatchback). In some markets Suzuki also sold the “Swift SR3”, which featured nothing more than some visual/aesthetic upgrades.

This car is made to look a lot hotter than it actually is!

There is nothing wrong with buying this type of hatchback if that’s what you want, but it pays to be informed and understand that you might be getting something that is a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

Conclusion – What Is Considered A Hot Hatch?

Ultimately, the “formula” for a hot hatch is relatively simple.

The car needs to be a hatchback, and it needs to be a performance model/variant.

Most hot hatches are just improved versions of a base car (think the Golf GTI – there are many grades/trims that sit below the GTI).

How much extra performance is required to qualify a car as a hot hatch is one of those “how long is a piece of string” questions. Ultimately it comes down to what level of performance you see in a potential purchase as being suitable. For some buyers a warm hatch might be sufficient, others in turn may seek out the super hatches like the A45 AMG or Audi RS3.

At Garage Dreams we are fairly “forgiving” – provided there is a genuine attempt by the manufacturer to improve performance, then it should be classed as a hot hatch although some options on the market are definitely more on the warm hatch end of town.

What do you think about hot hatchbacks? Are you a fan? Do you own one? We’d love to hear from you – just leave a comment below to start the conversation.


  • Sam

    Sam focuses mainly on researching and writing the growing database of Car Facts articles on Garage Dreams, as well as creating interesting list content. He is particularly enthusiastic about JDM cars, although has also owned numerous European vehicles in the past. Currently drives a 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, and a Volkswagen Touareg (mainly kept for taking his border collie out to the hills to go walking)

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