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Best superminis 2018 – quick compact hatchbacks reviewed and rated

Antony Ingram
4 Jan 2018

The best high performance superminis on sale now, offering hot hatch thrills in more compact and affordable packages

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As hot hatchbacks grow ever bigger and more powerful, some may choose to look to lower classes for more approachable thrills.

Thankfully, the supermini class is well-stocked with appealing hot hatchbacks, from the excellent Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport, to all-rounders like the Audi S1 and hardcore track-biased options such as the Mini JCW Challenge.

Below we've selected some of the best fast supermini options currently on the market, and suggested a few alternatives along with cars to wait for should our main picks not quite hit the spot. Click through the links to read our full reviews on each model.

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Best superminis to buy now

1. Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport

The Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport is our favourite compact hot hatchback of all. And even when the new Ford Fiesta ST  arrives, it’s not guaranteed to steal the Peugeot’s top spot.

Here’s why. The 208 has the most engaging chassis of any small hot hatch currently on sale and could teach most of the class above a thing or two about adjustability and fun, too.

It’s also indecently quick, adding to the reactive (but not hyperactive) feel to all the controls. There’s grip to exploit, but not so much that you can’t adjust your line with a well-timed lift of the throttle, while the mechanical limited-slip differential claws you around the tightest of turns.

The interior design and layout aren’t to all tastes but it does feel fairly well-built and well-equipped. Above all, it’s a sign that, in combination with the old RCZ-R and the current 308 GTi, the team at Peugeot Sport really knows what it’s doing.

> Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport review

2. Audi S1

It’s easy to forget that Audi produces a hot hatchback below the bellowing five-cylinder RS3. But the S1 deserves attention, offering a compelling combination of a compact footprint, muscular 2-litre turbocharged engine, and something not offered by any other car in this sector – all-wheel drive.

On outright thrills, it’s not quite in the same league as cars like the 208 Peugeot Sport, but when the road conditions turn nasty there’s little else here you’d prefer to be driving, yet it’s still more fun than most of Audi’s other S-badged models.

The S1 is undoubtedly quite expensive, and at 1315kg it’s quite heavy too, which hampers it on drier roads. On the flip side, there’s a real sense of quality to the Audi’s build and at 5.8sec to 62mph, it’s as quick as you’re likely to need from a car this size.

> Audi S1 review

3= Mini Cooper S/JCW/Challenge

We’ve decided to cover the sportiest Minis with a broad brush here since there’s so much choice, and each offers its own merits and carries its own negatives depending on your choice.

The basic Cooper S is the most affordable, and combines typical Mini chuckability with a strong engine and numerous options when it comes to specification – from automatic gearboxes to a choice of three- or five-doors and numerous personalisation options.

The John Cooper Works, or JCW, turns up the wick – it’s a little quicker and a little sharper, and a little more fun. Unfortunately it’s hamstrung slightly by unimpressive Pirelli tyres and, like most current Minis, slightly uncomfortable styling.

If you can find one – brand new, they’ve all sold out – the Challenge is our favourite. Some of us have reservations over its ride quality on the third-party Nitron dampers, but on smooth roads or the race track it’s a riot, with searing turn-in (on lightweight Team Dynamics wheels and Michelin Cup 2 tyres), a biddable chassis and a naughty exhaust note. If you can live with the ride, it’s among the most exciting hot hatches around.

> Mini Cooper S review

3= Renault Sport Clio 220 Trophy

It was always going to be tough, changing the formula of one of the most exciting hot hatchbacks on the road. And even after tweaks and improvements over the last few years, Renault Sport still hasn’t quite nailed the current Clio 220 Trophy.

There’s little wrong with the basic ingredients of an attractive five-door body, potent 1.6-litre turbocharged engine and dual-clutch transmission, but getting them all at once – and following the previous three-door, naturally-aspirated and manual RS – was a bit of a mis-step for enthusiasts like us.

It isn’t all bad news. In fact, the 220 Trophy is still a very good car – just one that isn’t capable of topping the excellent 208 GTI by Peugeot Sport and the outgoing Fiesta ST. The driving position feels good, the steering is responsive and the chassis offers a good combination of grip and adjustability.

Unfortunately, the 1.6-litre engine is a little bland, and the paddleshift gearbox is pretty poor – even in Race mode it’s only just responsive enough, and then only on track when you can really use the revs.

> Renault Sport Clio Trophy 220 review

4= DS 3 Performance

The basic mechanical makeup of the DS 3 Performance is much like the 208 GTi – and you’d expect it to be similarly entertaining once the roads turn twisty.

Only it’s not quite there. There’s clearly a decent hot hatch locked somewhere inside the DS 3, but the Performance gives us mixed messages, with a stiff setup and strong engine reminiscent of a proper hot hatch, but understated styling and a pseudo-luxury vibe to the interior.

Likewise, you get Brembo brakes, a Torsen limited-slip differential and sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sports, but also curiously lightweight steering and over-indulgence on trim bling.

The result is a car that can be fun in the right circumstances, but lacks the layer of dynamic depth that we crave and doesn’t really speak to us on an emotional level either.

> DS 3 Performance review

4= Vauxhall Corsa VXR Performance Pack

The Vauxhall Corsa VXR is something of a victim of circumstance – that of existing at the same time as the outgoing Fiesta ST and the 208 GTI by Peugeot Sport.

In isolation, it’s actually an entertaining and talented hot hatch, though does need to be specified with the Performance Pack, adding a Drexler limited-slip differential, Koni dampers and Michelin Super Sport tyres, to be at its best.

The styling has plenty of attitude, the cabin feels well-built (and like all the best hot hatches, boasts a pair of winged Recaros) and at £20,155, it’s among the more affordable cars in this class.

It’s also quick and grippy, with an aggressive attitude that reminds us of the Peugeot Sport-tweaked 208. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite have the depth of talent of the Peugeot, being slightly less adept at the limit and less entertaining, but if you have your heart set on the VXR then you’ll find much to like.

> Vauxhall Corsa VXR review

4= Volkswagen Polo GTI

The old VW Polo GTI – in fact, every previous Polo GTI – was a bit of a disappointment. The ingredients all seemed to be there, but the recipe didn’t quite work, giving us smart styling and decent performance but a notable lack of thrills.

The latest car is certainly an improvement, but still doesn’t quite hit the heights we know VW’s engineers are capable of. Once again, it’s handsome, well-built, performs well and should prove a pleasure to use day-to-day, but it isn’t capable of entertaining like our favourite supermini hot hatches.

Perhaps it’s a case of holding back a car that otherwise might give the more expensive Golf GTI a run for its money – after all, the Polo GTI sits on the same MQB platform as the Golf and uses its EA888 2-litre four-cylinder engine, albeit detuned.

The control weights are good too, while the Polo rides well and steers quickly. It falls down in the details – the lack of steering feedback, the benign, unexpressive balance, and the ineffectual electronic differential compared to the mechanical diffs in several rivals. A good car then, but not a great hot hatch.

> VW Polo GTI review

What else is there?

We didn’t quite feel like putting the Nissan Juke Nismo RS in the list, but in spirit and size it’s closer to a hot hatch than it is a crossover and still warrants a look if something more conventional doesn’t appeal. It’s a bit unruly, but can be entertaining in the right circumstances.

We expect two more cars to make this list when they debut later in 2018. One is the new Ford Fiesta ST, while the other is the Suzuki Swift Sport. The ST brings about a significant change for the model, going from four cylinders to three. It’s almost certain to have a good chassis, but whether the engine feels appropriate for a hot hatch remains to be seen.

We’ve included the Swift Sport in our list of small cars, given its likely price and performance figures, but while it won’t match the cars above for punch, it has a real chance of leaving a few with bloody noses in terms of good old-fashioned fun – the new Swift is small, far lighter than most superminis, and Suzuki knows how to tune a good chassis.

evo best superminis 2018

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