Six Performance Hatchback BargainsWe're in the midst of an SUV and CUV craze, and small cars are on the ropes thanks to cheap gas prices and a glut of crossovers. This is a shame, because there are a handful of exceedingly interesting and capable hatchbacks on the market right now that offer the sort of practicality and fun this genre is known for.
The truth is, there aren't quite as many hatchbacks on sale as there once were. Some of our favorite performance hatches are gone – we're particularly missing the WRX and STI five-doors. But new contenders like the Focus RS return some sex appeal to the segment. Surveying the field, there's a broad spread in both price and performance potential, so there's a hatchback for every enthusiast need. These are the six we think you should know about.
Research the 2016 Ford Focus
Volkswagen Golf GTIThis is, simply put, one of the best everyday performance vehicles you can buy today. It combines a perfectly-sized and practical Golf five-door form factor with 210 horsepower and, more importantly, 258 lb-ft of torque. Our recent long-term tester returned a remarkable 28.6 MPG average over the year we had it, and we were not shy about romping on the go pedal. It's also very comfortable, with great sightlines, and it's a relative performance bargain that starts under $27,000.
Research the Volkswagen Golf
Ford Focus RSFord's monster RS, with extra scoops of both power and traction thanks to a 345 horsepower turbocharged engine and advanced all-wheel drive, is the top of the heap in this segment right now. It's just as practical as the more pedestrian Focus and slightly hotter Focus ST, but with the juice to haul itself to 60 mph in less than five seconds. $37,000 may not seem like a "bargain" unless you consider that it's not easy to find a hatch at any price that can keep up.
Research the Ford Focus
Ford Fiesta STThe Fiesta ST might be getting on in years, but it still hits a really sweet spot in the US market. If you don't need the space of the somewhat larger B-segment hatches, save your money and have just as much fun in the Fiesta, if not more. And before you start making arguments about how the Fiesta is only rated at 179 horsepower while every one of its larger hot hatch competitors has more grunt, know this: The Fiesta ST has a better power-to-weight ratio than a Volkswagen GTI, and while the Focus ST still wins this math equation, it doesn't do so by much. It's a pleasure to drive, and the best is yet to come: we expect some revisions and possibly more power for the upcoming 2018 Fiesta ST.
Research the Ford Fiesta
Fiat 500 and 500C AbarthThere aren't many hatchbacks with Italian flair in this country, but the 500 Abarth's enduring charm shows there's still room for at least one. The tradeoff for cute bulldog looks and an addictive fun-to-drive quotient is a somewhat high sticker price. But what price, emotion? The deep, guttural growl of this Abarth model is both distinctive and entertaining. From a practicality standpoint, the minuscule 500 is easy to park.
Research the Fiat 500
Mini Cooper HardtopPretty sneaky, really. The base Mini has, without much fanfare, evolved into the best of the bunch. The turbocharged inline-three has an offbeat snarl, and it has all the handling (as well as the optional and completely worthwhile Dynamic Damper Control suspension) of its more expensive and powerful stablemates. Save the cash and get 90 percent of the Cooper S's charm for a lot less dough.
Mazda continues to build cars that are great to drive above all. The Mazda3 offers the best of the brand's Skyactiv powertrain DNA, housed in a package with features and technologies that stand up to every other car in the highly competitive C segment. It doesn't have a turbocharged engine or an outsized amount of power, but in either 2.0- or 2.5-liter flavors oomph is adequate but handling is superb for what's ultimately a consumer-grade hatch. And yes, you can shift it yourself. It is everything the Corolla is not. And it's fantastic.