What is a Hot Hatch? A Comprehensive Guide to Hot Hatches

Originally coined in the 1980s, the term hot hatchback is used for a high-performance hatchback. Learn more about hot hatches today with Keith Michaels.
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Hot hatches are some of the most popular cars in the UK and Europe, with models like the Ford Fiesta ST,  Honda Civic Type R and  VW Golf GTI regularly appearing in top lists.

Originally coined in the 1980s, the term hot hatchback is used for a high-performance hatchback. While created in the 1970s, hot hatchbacks have risen in popularity over the years. Their size and speed are perfect for UK roads, especially when you could be on a narrow country lane one minute and in the centre of a busy town the next.

As specialist hot hatch insurance providers, we get to insure a wide variety of hot hatches, from factory spec to highly modified. And today, we’re covering everything you need to know about what a hot hatch is, how they’re classified and even some of the most popular models!

What is a hot hatch?

A hot hatch, also referred to as a hot hatchback, is a performance-tuned version of a hatchback. The Ford Fiesta ST is the hot hatchback, and the Ford Fiesta is the hatchback, for example. They’re affordable sports cars that can also be daily drivers.

Hot hatches are commonly front-wheel drive with a front-mounted petrol engine, although other layouts are used. They’re nimble cars, with three or five doors and are always based on an existing hatchback. There are other variations, like warm hatches and super/hyper hatches.

Hot hatches vs warm hatches

Warm hatches is a newer term describing the middle ground between hatchbacks and hot hatches. They’re often cars that have an element of performance but aren’t fully designed for optimal driving. Cars like the Ford Fiesta Zetec S are often considered a warm hatch, as well as the Twingo RS and VW Up GTI.

Hot hatches vs super/hyper hatches

A super hatch is again another newer term, which changes between ‘hyper’ and ‘super’ depending on the context. It defines a hatchback that is maximised for performance. Looking at the VW Golf, the GTI would be the hatchback and the Golf R the super hatch.

The history of the hot hatch

The creation of the hot hatch is contentiously argued, but many can trace back the origins to 1966 when the Ford Lotus Cortina and the Renault R8 Gordini were first launched. These weren’t necessarily true hot hatches by definition, but it was definitely a good beginning.

1970s beginnings

In 1971, the Autobianchi A112 Abarth, also called the Lancia A112, was introduced. Many argue that this was an example of the first true hot hatch, and so a new breed of car was born.

Moving into 1973, and we have the Simca 1100 Ti and the Alfa Romeo Alfasuad Ti. These two were also early examples of hot hatches, and the use of more powerful versions of standard engines as a defining factor of a hot hatch became more apparent.

However, the first truly popular hot hatch was the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Still sold today, the GTI premiered at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1975 and was released a year later in 1976. The GTI and Renault’s Gordini went on to have unparalleled sales success until the 1980s, when more competition to rival these two powerhouses was introduced.

The 1980s

1984 and onwards brought the next generation of hatchbacks. Cars like the Ford Fiesta XR2, the Peugeot 205 GTI and the Fiat Ritmo are all prime examples of the hot hatch boom of the 1980s.

The 1980s really cemented the hot hatch as a European favourite, and ever since, Europe has loved these small, sporty models.

In to the ‘90s

The 1990s saw the introduction of some our most well-loved models today, such as the Seat Ibiza, Renault Clio and the Ford Escort RS Cosworth. The popularity of the hot hatches never dipped during the 1990s, and it was a great era for the beginning of some of today’s truly iconic models.

The 21st century

In the early 2000s, we saw the rise of the Focus RS, as well as manufacturers from outside the traditional markets creating their own hot hatchbacks (Subaru WRX STi as a prime example).

The 21st century also saw the divergence of the hot hatchback into a sliding scale from warm to super. As manufacturers pushed the boat out on what a hot hatchback could be, we needed more than one term to define them.

Popular Hot Hatches from the History Books

Throughout the years, we’ve seen many iconic hot hatches. Here’s just some of the best hot hatches of all time, in no particular order.

1. Ford Escort RS Cosworth

A firm favourite of many, including some of our customers, the Ford RS Cosworth is a truly iconic hot hatch. Loved by many over the years, the RS Cosworth first came on the scene in the early-90s.

With a fantastic racing background of rally and touring car success, the Sierra Cosworth boasts a top speed of 149mph and a 0-60 time of around 6.5 seconds, with the Escort RS model at 137mph and 0-60 in 6.2s.

Both the Sierra and Escort Cosworth’s are rightful future classics, and truly iconic for their time.

Ford RS Cosworth

2. Renault Gordini

The 1976 Renault Gordini, called the Alpine in every other country, was launched at the same time as the Golf GTI. For better or for worse for the GTI, this car was a true legend of the hatchback game.

With a design on the bonnet matching what was underneath (read: epic racing stripes), the Gordini graced our roads for too little time.

3. VW Golf GTI

From 1976 onwards, the Golf GTI has been THE hot hatch for the ages. It’s lasted for years and is as popular now as it was when it was released.

Some say this is the hatchback that kicked off the popularity of the hot hatch, and not many can argue at that with a car that’s been hugely popular for nearly 50 years.


4. Peugeot 205 GTI

A Peugeot that has never been beaten by Peugeot themselves, the 205 GTI is probably one of the most legendary Peugeots ever made. In the few short years that Peugeot made the 205 GTI (1984-1992/4), it cemented itself in history.

Now one of the most desirable models, Peugeot are beginning their factory restoration project with the 205 GTI, using 3D printers to replicate parts that can no longer be bought.

5. Renault Clio Williams/RS

The Renault Clio Williams was a limited run inspired by the Renault Sport (RS) division of the company, who were powering the Williams racing team at the time. The Clio Willams has become a hugely popular hot hatch, so much so that they built a total of 12,000 over the years. The Clio Williams was even the F1 safety car in the 1996 Argentine Grand Prix!

The RS models of the Clio have, over the years, become increasingly popular as well. In fact, Gary Moulson, our modified car insurance specialist owns the Clio RS that used to be the Keith Michaels staff car.


6. Ford Focus RS

The Focus is still one of the most popular cars on the road today, and the RS version is just as sought-after. It is an easy car to drive, and one that’s a great base for modification.

From the original design to today’s modern and sleek look, it’s a truly fantastic specimen of a car. The future of the RS is up for discussion, as concerns grow over carbon emissions put hot hatches under the spotlight. Maybe a Focus RS-e?

7. Fiesta ST

With some serious rallying history and maybe one of the most iconic cars ever on British roads, the Fiesta ST line is a well-known hot hatch. Now in its eight generation, it’s one that’s set to last as its popularity hasn’t run out.

Popular with boy racers and petrolheads alike, there’s not many people that can argue that the Fiesta ST isn’t one of the greats.

Subaru Impreza

8. Subaru Impreza

We couldn’t finish the list without an honourable mention to a classic hot hatch – the Subaru Impreza. Famed for its status as iconic rally car delivering high performance and endless modified looks, the Subaru has been a favourite amongst hot hatch lovers for nearly 30 years.

Hot Hatch Insurance from Keith Michaels

Looking for a car insurance specialist that cares for your hot hatch as much as you do? Look no further. We’ve had 30 years’ experience in insuring cars, and we are one of the few car insurance providers to provide hot hatch insurance. Contact us today.