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Best hot hatches of 2021

When it comes to hot hatches, the Audi RS 3 is a 400hp powerhouse. Meanwhile, the Honda Civic Type R retires on top.

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The hot hatch is a UK and European institution, with generations of pocket rockets that cram genuine sports car performance into a shopping trolley hatchback body.

But the segment has shifted over time, with fewer budget hotches providing cheap thrills and minimal frills. Instead, we have a growing number of more expensive, more outlandish, more *everything* models.

We are in the final years of the high performance petrol hot hatch, with electrification yet to really make an impact here. It is inevitably coming as we edge closer to the 2030 cut-off for petrol power, but this will be one of the last categories to fall.

Our awards recognise both the best new models to have been launched over the last 12 months, but also the best overall cars in each category – because newer doesn’t always mean better.

The best hot hatches of 2021

Best hot hatches of 2021 – Audi RS 3

Best new model: 
Audi RS 3

Best hot hatches of 2021 – Honda Civic Type R

Class champion:
Honda Civic Type R

This is the only category in our 2021 awards where neither of the winning cars was the top scorer according to our Expert Rating Index.

The top-rated new hot hatch was the impressive Hyundai i20 N, but none of the new i20 range has yet been put through the Euro NCAP safety testing programme so it is ineligible.

The same applies to the overall Class Champion results. The Toyota GR Yaris has had critics in raptures ever since it arrived, but it has been modified dramatically from the original Yaris Hybrid and does not share that model’s safety rating.

Best new model: Audi RS 3 (74%)

Audi RS 3 (2021 onwards) – Expert Rating

TCE Expert Rating: 74%

Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars

The Audi RS 3 isn’t so much a hot hatch as a rather practical junior supercar. With 400hp driving through all four wheels, there are not many faster ways to get from point A to point B in any conditions.

Despite its weapons-grade performance, the RS 3 can be as perfectly docile and comfortable as any regular A3 when you’re not trying to set lap records on a track day.

The RS 3 wasn’t the highest-scoring new entry on the hot hatch section of our Expert Rating Index, however. That honour fell to the new Hyundai i20 N, which currently holds an impressive score of 85%. Unfortunately, the i20 range has not been assessed by Euro NCAP as yet, so the i20 N is not eligible.

Class champion: Honda Civic Type R (86%)

Honda Civic Type R (2017 onwards) – Expert Rating

TCE Expert Rating: 86%

Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars

The Honda Civic Type R has been a legendary hot hatch for generations, and the current model is probably one of the best cars to wear Honda’s famed ‘Red H’ badge. It has been highly praised for its driving dynamics, both in terms of performance as well as comfort, which are almost universally regarded as best-in-class.

This generation of the Civic Type R ended production in 2021, with an all-new Civic due to be released in 2022. An all-new Type R is expected, so we may see vying for contention here next year.

There was another hot hatch that scored even higher on our Expert Rating Index, however, which was the Toyota GR Yaris. Originally intended as a rally homologation special, the limited production Toyota has won almost every award on offer over the last year. However, it doesn’t have a Euro NCAP safety rating so it’s not eligible for ours.

Notes on eligibility

To be eligible for our Best New Model or Class Champion titles, there are a couple of requirements in addition to having a top Expert Rating score.

Firstly, the Best New Model must have been launched in the UK between 1 December 2020 and 1 December 2021. That means cars registered and on the road, not just available to order for deliveries starting sometime in 2022.

Secondly, a car must have a current Euro NCAP safety rating of either four or five stars. If a car scores three stars or less, we can’t in good conscience give it an award for being best in class. If a new model has not been tested by Euro NCAP by December 2021, it will not be eligible but we will consider it next year if it has been tested.

The Euro NCAP requirement affected both awards in the hot hatch section as both the highest-scoring contenders were ineligible, although for different reasons. The Hyundai i20 N is a new model and will probably receive a safety rating in coming months, while the Toyota GR Yaris is a low-volume model that is unlikely to ever be tested.

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